Just say NO.
I’m not a frequent blog reader, and I’m definitely not a blogger. I prefer to manage expectations.
I am, however, an artist turned maker that has a lot of opinions and thoughts about the industry. And recently, I’ve been compelled to put pen to paper, or fingers to keys, to share some of the ideas and issues I’m passionate about!
Hey. I’m Emily, the owner of The Good Hippie. If we haven’t met, it’s because I’m an introvert that prefers to stay out of the direct light that is my business. After spending most of my life on the stage, in front of a mirror, and struggling to make ends meet as a professional dancer, my current professional choice is very intentional.
Unfortunately, I’ve found that there are many similarities in regards to the industry struggles. Dancers are expected to give their art away, to be paid little, and to take pride in struggle financially- all in the name of ART. These are the reasons I left my dancer life and entered a world in which I can control my decisions, opportunities, and hopefully encourage change.
I started saying “no” as a dancer. I thought I was making a change, explaining my worth, and exposing the disappointing practices and expectations in the artistic world. Unfortunately, I didn’t start a revolution. SURPRISE! When I started working for myself, I thought that a tangible exchange of goods would be an obvious way to earn my money while maintaining creative autonomy. “This costs this much to make, it takes me this long to make it, I’m going to sell it for this.” Easy enough. This would be a way to escape giving parts of myself or my craft away for nothing, or close to nothing.
DISCLAIMER: Supporting charities, non-profits, and giving my energy to wonderful causes are excluded from the idea that we need to constantly look for reciprocity. I do not give to good causes for exposure- indeed, the opposite. We’re all trying to make a difference, and if I can help an organization further their idea of a better world, I’m all in.
Here are some reasons I’ve said no, and continue to say NO today. There’s something so powerful within the idea and action of declining. Don’t get me wrong, though. Declining is often partnered with fear and regret.
Hopefully these ideas give you strength.
1. You’re in high demand.
Shops need product to sell. Romantic restaurants need guitar players. Award shows need dancers. Coffee shops need artwork. As passionate artists, we’re so eager to take any opportunity to be seen. I have my BFA in dance performance, and when I was expected to dance for free, I did it! I was honored to do what I loved with an audience!
Spoiler alert, it gets old. Money is energy. My degree wasn’t free, and neither is my craft. My point is that artist struggles transcend industry.
Every single product that comes out of The Good Hippie studio is touched by me. It’s not mass produced over seas with cheap ingredients from a recipe used in thousands products world wide. When I’m asked for an order of tens of thousands of products at cost, I STILL have a weak moment- a moment where I consider the exposure worth the financial hit. But I’ve always said no (mostly with the help of my friends and family.) I don’t want to be a part of the problem and perpetuate the expectation that artists are willing to give whatever they have to offer without an equal exchange.
2. Exposure rarely pays the bills.
Speaking of reciprocity, many will dangle the carrot of exposure or their impressive instagram following.
Listen, I understand they’re running a business and they have a budget too. I understand that there are companies that are capable of mass producing for pennies. BUT if you’re not that kind of business owner, if you’re a maker with an ethos, you have a responsibility to educate the public, protect yourself, and hold yourself to a higher standard.
When I have agreed to work with larger companies with whom I've felt that my craft is being honored, the promised “exposure” is never the reason I’ve agreed. I’m not getting paid in exposure, I’m getting paid with money.
Maybe my expectations are too high in regards to large companies, but I’m okay with that. I want to hold the bigger names and corporations to a higher standard. If we don’t, they’ll have no reason to change their practices.
But let’s get real, I wouldn’t turn down Oprah’s endorsement. ;)
If you’ve had a different experience with exposure, please share your story!
3. Your time is money.
If you have taken out loans, if you have a degree, if you have an inventory, or even if you’ve taken lessons to perfect your craft then you should get paid to share your talent. If you drove your car to an event, if you bought a plane ticket, if you paid a booth fee- you should have high expectations for this opportunity. Who knows! While you were on your way to a show for which you’re not getting paid, you could have missed Oprah’s phone call!
There are so many companies and people that will respect you and give you the energy (money) you deserve, so keep looking. Our world is shifting and quality is beginning hold more authority.
The many deals I’ve lost by “just saying ‘no’” and by simply demanding the respect I know that I, and my brand, deserve? Several. If the companies that have approached me with these “opportunities” have spent 10 seconds on my website, they’d know that giving my product away isn’t a part of my business model.
The clients that I’ve pursued and the companies that have approached me with respect and a mutually beneficial deal? Harder to find, but also several.
4. Art is valued less and less.
This just hurts my heart. If we don’t pay for the artists we so desperately want/need for our businesses to thrive, then we’ll lose our artists.
Now, I live in the nice little bubble called Austin, TX. And in my little bubble, artists are valued- for the most part. Companies with ethical practices are held in high regard! THANK GOD. But there are still plenty of starving artists because artists have accepted the romanticized expectation.
Now, flip it and reverse it- please don’t get it twisted.
Experience is important. It shows dedication, perseverance, and loyalty to your art. And I DO believe that you shouldn’t expect to be paid the same amount as a seasoned professional without that education or experience. However, doesn’t mean you always have to work for free.
5. Passion is great. But so is money.
You can’t continue to pursue your passion and put your stamp on your industry without making a living. No matter how humble.
6. We’re setting the expectation that we will work for free.
Just say no- if you don’t say no for yourself, say no for whoever is expecting you to give away your art. Maybe they will reconsider their pitch for the next artist they approach. Imagine the world we’d live in if we set that standard for each other.
7. It took money to build your business.
HONOR your business. You have bills, you have debt, you have dreams. Lin Manuel Miranda says "Everybody's got a job, everybody's got a dream," in the musical In The Heights. I could sell a product at cost, but I wouldn’t be able to pay myself. Your art and trade may be more of a service with very little overhead, but your time is still your money. Remember, Oprah could be calling! And that phone call is a much better use of your time. #oprahisagoddess
Because I’m the maker, I have a price tag on everything simply because everything in my inventory had a price tag. And yeah, what I have in my studio is more expensive than the ingredients in a mass produced face mask.
8. Making someone else’s money.
If someone is making money off of your talent, then awesome! How cool is that?! But, listen… how much are you making in comparison?
9. Power in numbers.
My biggest piece of advice is to consult with other makers and artists if you’re struggling with the idea of a gig or an account. If you feel like you’re capable of professionally articulating why you’re unable to commit to a deal, please do it. Speak your truth. Hold yourself to a higher standard.
10. Art will never die.
You’ll always be needed. You’ll always be wanted. You’ll always have to negotiate your worth. We’re all in it together.