Feed the Soul or Feed the Kids?

For a lot of people, there are two kinds of “income”. The type that feeds the soul and the type that feeds the kids. We tend to think more of the latter than the former, but they are both important and creative people need a balance between the two.

What do I mean?

If you work 12 hours a day as an investment banker, you take home a load of money. Feeding the family is not a problem. But after a time, the creative soul inside you starts to complain. You’re neglecting an important part of who you are. So what to do? Give up the day job and sit on a windswept hillside writing poetry instead? No. That’s not going to work is it, but just feeding the family is not a life fully lived. Offered in this way, the dilemma seems particularly stark but it’s a dilemma many people find themselves in.

So you can do something creative, like writing music, in what passes for your spare time, that little sliver of time in between getting home from work, having dinner and spending time with the family. This works but leaves you feeling a yearning need for more. To do more means chipping away at another part of “life” to make room. It’s not going to be family is it, so the spotlight falls on your working week. How can you make more time for what you love?

Suppose you went down to 4 days a week. That means two things. One: You might end up working in a more freelance, consultative capacity. Freelance is a scary word loaded with associations like lack of security, lack of a predictable income and difficulty getting credit. All true but if you want more freedom it comes at a price and that is part of it. Two: You will probably, pro rata, earn 20% less than you did before, as you are working 20% less time. Possibly true, although the unpredictable nature of freelance income can cut both ways and some people can earn more, but it is not unreasonable to assume you will earn less.

Now what?

Well you have a clear choice what to do with your spare one day a week. And the choice is art or craft. If you want to do something creative, you can do it for its own sake, with no intention of making a business out of it. Any income will be incidental to the chief aim which is to explore the creative space in your life and fill it with ideas – feeding the soul. The artist can do what she or he wants and follow their creative curiosity wherever it may lead. The downside is however that there is no money for all that creative effort.

Plan B: Craft. What do I mean? That’s really what those of us who write film, games and TV music do. We are doing something creative but in the context of working within someone else’s creative vision. The film-maker or game producer who hires us calls the shots and we explore our creativity within the confines of their project. This is a more limited creative vision but we get paid and work on projects collaboratively with other people.

There is a fundamental difference between the two. The artist can indulge their own creative passions and interests whereas the craftsperson has to focus on what the market wants to buy. Doing anything creative for a living is extremely competitive and, like any market, you are only going to sell what people are buying. That often means reinventing your creative self to align more closely to market trends. For artists, financial income is incidental to the main goal of creative fulfillment. To craftspeople the income is the goal and the creative journey is the method.

OK so suppose you go for the craftsperson route – how much will you make?

This is a question I was asked the other day. He drew a bell curve on the whiteboard with zero income at the bottom and loads of money at the top and asked – perfectly reasonably – what is the average for a reasonably successful media composer. I gave him an answer as well as I could, but there was something in this whole idea that bothered me. What bothered me it turned out was the bell curve. There is no bell curve in creative industries like music, photography, painting, poetry, creative writing and film-making. Why? Because the vast majority of people undertake these pursuits for the love of it, not for the money. Nobody works in a bank for nothing but every day millions of people write songs or paint pictures because they love it. The real shape is a wedge with the largest number of people indulging their passion for free. Out of that vast number of artists, some successfully turn their art into a business and start the steady journey to the right along the graph as they grow their income.

The black line represents various working professions and the red line represents working creative professionals.

People who do it just to feed their soul are on the left. They make no money but they are rich in a lot of other ways. There is then a gradual transition as you move to the right as people embrace the commercial culture and transition into professional craftspeople, often working part-time on a few jobs a year but letting their creative soul out to play and fulfilling their creative potential. Lots of people are perfectly happy striking a balance between these two lives – feeding both the soul and the family in different ways. A very small number of people manage to pursue their artistic inclination, ignoring the market and just by chance, the market loves what they do and gives them loads of money anyway. This is wonderful but it’s not a business plan. This is luck.

So these are fledgling creative businesses. Some will only ever bring in a small amount of money while repaying the investment many times over in creative satisfaction. Others will go all the way, eventually becoming full-time professional craftspeople. The Faustian pact you make by pursuing a creative craft however is a loss of creative autonomy in exchange for an income. Finding your own spot on the graph where you are most comfortable, is what we should all aspire to.

Feeding the soul and the kids.

About the Author

Guy Michelmore

Course Director Guy Michelmore is an award winning film composer. He has scored over 8 animated films for Marvel and over 200 episodes of TV for networks all over the world. He also has a detailed knowledge of sampled orchestration and contemporary techniques in film scoring.

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