Gird your loins: An Artist’s Lament and a Warning to the Newbs…

will-work-for-foodI’ve been a freelance digital media professional for over six years now, but I’m always looking for the right opportunity to explore the possibility of going full-time with the right company. Running my own business certainly has it’s advantages, but after six years of it, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are just some aspects of the process I would simply rather not deal with. Let’s face it, as a designer, I want to spend my time BEING CREATIVE, not doing the billing, making collection calls, and playing salesman (among other things).

As someone who’s always out beating the bushes for new opportunities, I encounter a lot of things I’m sure many digital media artists have experienced, which leave us scratching our heads over where others apparently have theirs. How many of you have encountered “potential clients”, who want you to work for:

1) Free

2) Promises for the future

3) A stake in their sketchy start-up

4) Trade for services you don’t want or need

5) Your own experience and the opportunity to build your portfolio

The reason that these kinds of “opportunities” keep presenting themselves is because there’s always someone fresh out of school who’s willing to bite off on them, which may seem like a good idea at the time, but you have to think further down the road to the day when your portfolio is able to stand on it’s own. Eventually, you are going to want to capitalize on the time you’ve invested (and pay back your school loan(s)), and you may find it challenging because the people coming up behind you are “giving it away” just like you did. Remember, each service you provide for free is literally costing your fellow designers money. Sooner or later, that shoe could very well end up on the other foot.

We have to stop the madness… Students, you should be working on developing your portfolios while you’re still in school... At school, you have access to a bevy of like-minded, creative individuals with whom you can work to the greater benefit of us all. Your goal should be to hit the ground running the minute you get your degree, because the second that thing hits your hand, the clock starts ticking on paying back your school loan(s). To do that, you need the confidence to expect to be paid for the work you do. If you haven’t done your due diligence at school and you still have holes in your portfolio to fill, use your family and friends for photography and video. If you’re doing print work, go pick up a magazine and emulate the styles that interest you. Whatever the medium, take the initiative to do it on your own. One thing about the visual arts… Quality speaks for itself… If you’ve got “it”, you can demonstrate “it” without having to give “it” away.

Now, of course there are exceptions to every rule, and yes, there may be opportunities worth bargaining for, but if you’re going down that road, do yourself a favor and find out all you can about the people you’re going to be dealing with. Do they have a track record of demonstrated success? Can you get something in writing as to the nature of any agreement you may make? Remember, you have something they need, and if you don’t see the value in what it is you have to offer, chance are, no one else will either.

A recurring ad for (more than) a video editor keeps showing up online which states the following:

“____________ is experiencing explosive growth and is always seeking “A Players”. We strive to hire the “Best of the Best”, and we have to turn down about 95% of those who apply…”

I call attention to this ad because these gentlemen are offering a whopping $10/hour for the “Best of the Best”… Now, let that one sink in for a minute… Since when do the “Best of the Best” at anything settle for ten bucks an hour? I suggest you be wary of companies like this because there’s some kind of disconnection here… They’re grossly undervaluing our skills as professional video editors, and under further contemplation, one simply must wonder what kind of mindset is at work here that these individuals are willing to place the future of their video identity, potentially the source of their first impression online, into the hands of a ten dollar an hour employee? Do they really want their company to look like ten bucks an hour?

Digital media and video production can be an incredibly satisfying and rewarding career, you just have to be prepared to do your part to make it so.

Gird your loins, newbies! Prepare in school to be your own best advocate for a proper wage and remember that “a rising tide lifts all boats…”

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