If you want to make a living from any kind of creative work – art, writing, photography, performance – then you’re almost certain to end up doing at least some work for free. This isn’t invariably a bad thing, but you do need to be careful. (And always be extra careful about influencers and marketers wanting free stuff. They can raise your profile, but the reputable, professional ones would rather negotiate a cash fee with you than score some of your product, however delicious it is.)
One aspect of the pandemic lockdown that is slightly concerning is the amount of free work being expected of artists and performers, especially at a time when huge numbers of them have seen their incomes all but vanish. The ‘just move your whole life online’ trend is all very well, but performers who would normally get paid for gigs shouldn’t be scolded for charging those who want to access their work online, or for including a request in any video or other content they do provide free for people to drop them a tip or buy some merch.
While it might seem hyperbolic and paranoid (but, come on, this is 2020 and almost nothing seems too far-fetched any more) the authorities’ active neglect of and indifference towards the arts, events and the people who create them might be even more sinister than the general get-a-proper-job-and-stop-whining previous approach. If lots of people are reading, watching or listening to entertainment online but not paying directly for it, the tech companies are still making money. The tech companies have, after all, got enough digitized music, text, imagery, footage of performance etc to keep the population entertained, and they already acquired a lot of this – along with the bulk of their profits – by underpaying or refusing to pay the people whose labour created the ‘content’. Doing away with that whole tiresome business of having to reward creative people with anything other than exposure might simplify things for Big Tech, to the extent that they might fancy encouraging governments to cage the public for much longer than is necessary or remotely beneficial…
Keep a lid on what you give away free of charge. If you’re asked for freebies, consider who else is going to benefit from your work, and whether that’s OK with you or not. Goods or services for a charity raffle, for instance, is reasonable (though, again, you are not evil, greedy or selfish for setting limits on how much you give per year.) If you are in the lucky position of not needing to make more money from books, performing, running workshops or whatever, it’s nice to make some of your stuff available to those who might be unable to afford it but, again, be careful that you are not undercutting and crowding out those who need – and are perfectly entitled – to make money from what they do.
(The books in the bookshop are not free, but they are reasonably priced…)