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Wouldn’t it just be the greatest thing to live full time off of your art? Think about it. If you could make an actual income that not only allowed you to live off of it, but also allowed you to put back those same resources into bettering your craft? Bet it would.

But for every creative who is privileged to live their best creative life, there are five more who can’t afford to dedicate 100% of their time to their craft because it isn’t providing enough income to afford them a decent living; let alone a comfortable one. Most of these individuals will work another job to make ends meet.

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This side of the creative arts isn’t my particular favourite side of the arts to focus on if I’m being entirely honest because it casts this gloomy shadow over possibilities that most times aren’t even allowed to see the light of day. Si you remember that nephew of yours who told you that they wanted to be a full-time music producer and you held your chest in shock pain? When you yourself thought you wanted to pursue a course and career in animation and your parents thought you were in depression or on drugs? And with the quickest succession you told your nephew how he was ‘safer’ pursuing something more ‘marketable’ like – sing it with me – ‘medicine’, ‘law’, ‘engineering’, ‘architecture’ or ‘financial accounting’? And you yourself convinced your mind that the animation dream was probably just a side effect of overdosing on Ed, Edd and Eddy? Your funny bone and illustrator skills be damned!

At the heart of it, I believe that these choices were informed by either fear and/or misinformation. Not all artists starve. I promise.

Let me tell you Maina. I know animators and film makers who make more money in a month, than I do in a year – and folks, I studied law. So there, there’s that.

And in as much as I agree that we should make smart choices about our futures, who says you can’t apply this same smart-thinking to finding ways to pursue the creative arts and make a living from it? Just a question, please don’t come for me.

See creative entrepreneurship is a whole area that I deeply feel hasn’t been given the attention it deserves and is highly unexplored i.e. how to make a sustainable income from our art.

Granted, talent is important. No squabble there. But without basic business sense to support this talent, it makes it a lot harder to break career boundaries you’re very capable of breaking a lot faster, and a lot less painlessly. I’m talking about things like financial management and actual book keeping, learning how to save, stuff like legal counsel to help you negotiate contracts, things like broadening your investment portfolios with the help of a financial advisor or even approaching investors. Stuff like that – the business side of art.

So when I see gatekeepers giving up-and-coming artists a chance – artists of whatever kind – it genuinely restores my faith in the creative industry.

Please note that when I say ‘gatekeeper’ in this context I’m not talking about the guys who sit next to the President at morning breakfast pale State House or the infamous ‘cartels’, I’m talking about guys like you and I who have been in the industry a little longer than Mwangi, the up and coming artist who just left high school juzi juzi and is thinking of a full time career in fashion design or fine art. You and I, who have experienced the industry a bit more than Mwangi has, who can give him some advice on one or two things.

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It is in the fact that you can help someone who was where you were two or three years ago with either knowledge or better yet, resources. Not money but tools; and tools can be in the form of equipment that you may no longer need, or knowledge you possess.

I’ve seen some of my clients do this, particularly within the music industry.

I have witnessed music producers who are incessantly approached by musicians who have incredible talent but no money to pay for studio time or the music production of their projects.

**** STORY TIME! ****

Let’s call him Bonnie.

Bonnie is a multi-talented music producer whose passion for music led him to opening and setting up a music production studio late last year. Not a bedroom studio, no, a fully-fit, state of the art studio; with uncracked Logic pro. U.N.C.R.A.C.K.E.D. Do you know how much Logic Pro costs?? Abi.

(For those who don’t know what this means – cracked software is software that has been illegally downloaded without making any payment to the owners of the software. Uncracked means the person paid good tender for the software’s worth. Software infringers we see you.)

Fortunately for Bonnie, his studio has already received such amazing reception from both music producers and musicians alike because, for producers, they can now book studio time without having to buy equipment; and for musicians, they now have a place to record their projects. Part of this positive reception is capable of being attributed to the fact that he knows tonnes of artists and producers and also to the fact that his studio is in a very prime and easily accessible location.

But here is where it gets interesting. The way Bonnie’s heart is set up, it’s the ‘giving’ type of heart. There’s nothing wrong with being a giver by the way; the only caution that I give to individuals with this personality inclination is that you must learn to set boundaries, because takers have none; and he has unfortunately had to learn this the hard way.

He is, however, still really keen on helping up-and-coming musicians.

He therefore wanted to find out how he could do this while still making sure that he also wasn’t completely losing out and going broke in the process because let’s face it – studios still have to run on electricity and employees who need to be paid dues; just like any other business. So, he asked for some advice.

Before I go any further, here’s where I’m meant to put a disclaimer notifying you that this information is general and not tailored to a specific individual. If you place any legal reliance on this information, that, my friend is kinda on you. Sorry. (This is/is about to or may become an LSK regulation, so I’m complying in advance.)

Alright, back to Bonnie.

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He can decide to do any of the following things:

  1. Lower his rates for up-and-coming artists i.e. open himself up to negotiate on amounts that would possibly work for both parties without actually hurting the studio’s operations;
  2. Maintain his rates and notify the artist of these rates and allow room for instalment payments until said artist can clear his fees whilst Bonnie maintains full ownership of the artist’s copyright in the projects recorded in his studio. Think of it like a loan. He won’t use the artist’s copyright for anything else but as collateral. But with this kind of arrangement, you would be safer to have a contract between you that will dictate these terms i.e. how much you want to be paid as a producer, the frequency of the instalments and the conditional assignment of copyright. Make sure that it is signed by both you and the artist because copyright assignments must be in writing according to Kenyan law; or,
  3. Negotiate to own a percentage of the artist’s copyright in the project for a period of time and treat this arrangement like an investment that can accrue returns in form of royalties. For this kind of engagement however, you must have split sheet agreements drawn. Split sheets will basically document each parties right to the song in split form – be it 60% to 40% or whatever figure you both come up with.

Please note that this list is not exhaustive.

Here’s the risk with No.2 and No.3 though. You may not get your money or your investment back. This artist may record music with you that isn’t necessarily ‘selling’ i.e. being bought by the market as you hoped it would.

Another risk with option No.3 is that if you and the artist don’t open a joint account, then you have no way of knowing whether the artist is giving you your due royalties or a true account of such.

My advice therefore? Understand the risks involved and analyze whether or not you’re ready to incur these loses as a bad debt that may be unrecoverable. Don’t go in blindly. And make sure that the artist’s music is easily marketable i.e. they’re a great singer/rapper/composer with actual marketable potential, and that they are willing and able to put in the work.

If you think about it, this is how record labels work.  Record labels will only sign artists they feel will ‘make it’ in the industry depending on certain criteria that may vary from one label to another. Before signing you, the Record Label’s A&R department would have already listened to your music and maybe even attended your concerts to see that you were a worthy investment to acquire.

So next time you see an artist with a lot of potential, why not share this information with them? And if you know any producers stuck in these tight situations, let them know that there are actual options that exist.

Image courtesy Biruk Maresha

Let’s not sleep on our Kenyan Sam Smith because they didn’t have recording/production money.



p.s – Have a great rest of your week please? You deserve nothing but the good stuff.

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