We are truly living in wonderful times, where we can follow our passions or purpose and actually be able to make a living out of it.
Whether you are a photographer or writer, a researcher or a sneaker customizer, the economy is allowing for you to be whatever you want to be.
There has been conversation about compensating our creatives what they are worth, and I am 100% behind this movement because if I am producing work of value then surely I should be making money doing this work. We see our tastemakers creating great projects that put them in a position to charge, whether it be selling to the audience or being commissioned by businesses.
There’s a fundamental problem though with this movement, and that is entitlement. Stay with here, cause this may become controversial depending on which side you are going to take. I truly believe that certain people in this creative economy who are still aspiring should be working for free, you cannot be entitled to money you haven’t proven you are worth.
Let me explain, and this will be very simple to understand. Experience and merit is the most important weapon that you have in your arsenal. What you have already done will be a primary factor when a third party decides if they want to work with you. I don’t know of any enterprise, correct me if I’m wrong here, that will employ someone that they do not know has the ability to actually do the work required of them.
Here is where working for free, or essentially, peanuts comes into play.
It gives you the room to build up the resume that you are wanting to have and give you the ever so valuable experience that you need to ensure you more work. As a creative, it is difficult to get jobs, may it be that the market is overly saturated or that the people that have been getting the jobs continue to be the ones getting all the new gigs coming along. We’ve seen this in the entertainment industry, where the same group of media personalities keep getting all the new gigs. This is a weak point that should be getting addressed, and has continuously been getting coverage.
But pause for a second, have you ever questioned why this is happening?
The fickle economy we find ourselves in, where money is tight and brands want to get the highest outcome for the lowest input they can possibly muster, the brand will do what is right for business and go for the trial and tested person who they know will deliver. Now, for us who are still trying to climb the mountain, it can be challenging and near damn impossible to get the work. We find ourselves between a rock and a hard place.
Working for free is essentially the way that we can close this gap. Again, I urge to hear me out because these are facts. Brands don’t give a fuck how good you think you are, if they do not know based on merit that you can actually do the job, you will not be employed. Facts.
You can come with your most compelling argument but that is the truth.
Working for free allows you to build that merit, and also, you get to work as hard as you want to work since you are not getting paid, there isn’t extremely high expectations put on you. This message is specifically targeted to those starting out. Those who are nobodies in their respective creative industry trying to become somebody. We have all heard the term, “you have to pay your dues”, and this still reigns king because it is the truth. Before someone ridiculously successful garnered that success they had to pay their dues, or as Malcom Gladwell puts it, put in their 10 000 hours before becoming a master of their craft. And brands only want to work with masters because as I said, in the creative economy, money is hard to get and must be invested in the best option available.
When you are starting out, you have little to no network, your resume is deserted and your experience is null. You are kind of stripped of any other choices. You have to let go of your pride and actually put in the work, you have to eat the dirt so that you can get yourself in the room. It is the way to build the relationships you need and get the experience that is required. And even though, you can work as hard as you want, the smartest move would be to work your hardest only because reputation is everything.
Now, there is a cut-off point to this, I don’t believe people with measurable experience should be getting work and not being paid for it because that is pure exploitation. If you have the merit to prove your abilities then by all means you should be getting money for your efforts. And not only that, but you should be paid what you are truly worth.
Working for free as a new entry into the industry gives you an upper hand that many fail to see, you can learn on someone else’s dime. You can understand how to bring value to a brand, what consumers want and how you can give them that. These are invaluable traits that you can take to any business big or small, and you will be rewarded for it. This is called being practical, if you take the time to study the creative economy you will know that there is a lot of money in it but almost all of it is flowing to the top, where the Beyoncés and the Dave Chapelles sit. Now ask yourself, how many free shows and competitions did Beyoncé have to do before amassing her multi-million-dollar net worth, how many open mics and free stand up gigs did Chapelle have to do before becoming the household name that he is today.
This is simple, if no one knows you no one will hire you. If you do not pay your dues, you will lose. This is so true, it even rhymes.
Written By Negasi