If you’re one of the many people living in the land of paychecks on the 15thand 30th, you may not get what I’m about to say, but you should read on anyway.
It seems everywhere I turn, I’m bumping into creatives frustrated with having their talents exploited, their time wasted and their invoices rejected.
I’ve heard my fair share of “worst clients in the world” stories from musicians, artists, writers, dancers and photographers, all of whom have had to deal with people and companies who feel their talents simply aren’t worth paying for, or that they should somehow be rendered in exchange for exposure.
We often hear people boast of The Bahamas having some of the most talented people in the world. They’re right about that. Too bad they don’t want to pay them.
As someone who has teetered between the two worlds – as a nine-to-fiver in white-collar environments and as a working creative – I’ve seen both sides and was able to navigate both worlds.
What I have observed by working in the former, though, is a basic lack of respect towards creatives. Companies are in love with the idea of using creatives to promote their brands, but they’re not in love with the idea of paying them what they’re worth.
Feeding The Starving Artist
Several years ago, I interviewed singer Sammi Star on a talk show I used to host on Love 97FM. It was one of the most memorable discussions I have ever had with a Bahamian artist because it really gave me great insight into what singers have to deal with on a daily basis.
During our hour-long chat, we discussed his career highs and lows and the attitudes toward Bahamian artists. Then, towards the end, Sammi said something that I still remember and reference to this day. Despite his success, he would often get requests to perform at weddings, parties and other life-celebrating events. He was happy to oblige. But, when the discussion about compensation surfaced, these individuals would offer him a plate of food in exchange for work rendered. They took the phrase starving artist in the literal sense.
Here’s a guy who at the time had a solid following, had worked with some of the biggest names in Bahamian music and has since gone on to win Music Masters at Junkanoo Carnival and sign with Sony. Yet, he was being offered a plate of food.
I’m not saying that people should never work for free. Sometimes, there is great value in doing so. It may be for charity, a passion project, or to get your foot in the door. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve done it and it has paid off exponentially. However, the difference is when there is an expectation that a creative should work for peanuts – or rather, a plate of food.
I once worked with someone who was completely dismissive of paying creatives. He wanted a photographer for an event he was hosting and asked me for suggestions. Because this individual is a person of means, I thought there would be no issue in paying. When I produced some of the work that the photographer had done over the years, the gentleman was enthralled. He was convinced that he wanted that photographer. Once I told him the price – which was painfully low based on industry standards – the man scoffed. “He wants all that to snap a couple of pictures? I could do that,” he said.
That’s the problem right there, the attitude. This gentleman didn’t think the photographer should be charging any money, it seems. Readers, if I told you how much the photographer was charging, you would feel ashamed. It was extremely low. Secondly, he demeaned the profession and the photographer’s skill by suggesting that he was merely snapping a couple of pictures, as if that’s all it took. Photography is as much art as it is science. It’s quite technical.
Thirdly – and this is an attitude that a lot of people have – they think something is so simple that they could do it. Sure, the gentleman could have taken photos. I suppose anyone could. But, not everyone can take great, high quality pictures. That’s the difference.
Approach Is Everything
I often get quotes for services. I’ve had to do it for myself, as well as my clients. I’m sure you’re the same way, whether it’s to buy items for your home or your car, you shop around. Nothing wrong with that.
I’m often hit with steep prices. If I cannot afford someone’s services, I let them know that I can’t afford it and I tell them that I will consider them in the future when I’m in a position to do so. Ninety percent of the time, the person wants the business, so they will try to work out a deal with me. I appreciate that, but I don’t try to talk them down or question who they think they are for charging me that price. That is their price. I can either afford it, or I can’t.
A lawyer didn’t blink when he quoted me several thousands of dollars for his services, but grew quite squeamish when I presented my quote for several hundreds. I valued his services. Clearly, the feelings weren’t mutual after I hit him with my invoice.
Creatives often don’t like the business side of business. You read that correctly. They like to create and often shirk away from the daily tasks of bookkeeping, paying taxes, website maintenance and SEO optimization. But, they’re necessary. All of those things cost money. So, they have to charge you to cover costs.
The Creative Is Partly To Blame.
At the end of the day, no one can take advantage of you unless you allow them to.
The world will not see value in what it is that you do if you don’t see value in it. Trying to undercut the competitor does yourself and the industry a disservice. Both you and the client are running a business. It’s imperative you act like it.
You also have to remember that all money ain’t good money. Sometimes, you have to walk away from certain offers.
Anyone who nickels and dimes you upfront or demeans what you do to get you to feel guilty about charging a certain amount is going to be problematic in the end. You’ll end up resenting every penny.
Creative work is valuable. So, start acting like it.
Love love love this article! Thank you for shedding light on such a sore topic for creatives! As a creative myself, it is incredibly difficult and insulting at times to receive some of the responses we receive. But you’re also so right about the fact that we are partly to blame. I’m learning to stick to my guns on my value and what I have to offer!
Rogan Smith says
Thank you, Candi. You are absolutely welcome. You would not believe the amount of creatives who have approached me in the last week about this very issue. I meant it when I said I blame the creatives. I cannot negotiate the doctor’s price. Nor do I attempt to. Sometimes you just have to walk away from a bad opportunity. It’s better than agreeing to something you’re only going to regret later on.
Mechelle Sweeting says
Very well written and expressed article Rogan! It was a much needed depiction of what the Creative goes through daily and often, at times, we start to feel as though we should always negotiate rather than holding steadfast to the value of our talent and work. Thanks for sharing!
Gio Archer says
This article is on point , it’s like our Bahamian people don’t value themselves or each other. Black crab syndrome it is in full effect !! They would bargain you down to 0 dollars , but when they go abroad or even rite here with the popular businesses they will pay FULL PRICE… I so feel u on this ???
Rogan Smith says
I absolutely agree. I don’t know what the problem is in this country. There is a huge lack of respect for creatives. But,it’s important that creatives be serious about their business and hold firm on their prices.
Patricia Chatti says
Thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece
Rogan Smith says
Thank you so much, Patricia. All the best!