Any artist knows that moment… it comes up so often… at parties, family gatherings.. basically anytime that small talk goes beyond your name and the weather.

“So… what do you do?”

“I’m an *insert name of art you practise here*.”

*Confused look*  “You can make money at that?”

Here’s the thing, my well-meaning friend… the answer I want to give is …

“Yes, I easily fulfil all the financial needs in my life, making money is simple in the arts,  in fact I am killing it financial-styles.” *drops mic*

… But the truth is often much more complicated than what you want to talk about at your partner’s 5 year old cousin’s birthday party.

I recently wrote about how THE ‘AVERAGE’ ARTIST DOESN’T MAKE THEIR MONEY SOLELY FROM THEIR ART. Which is true, but begs the question: How do artists make a living?

So… to answer this question I reached out to a few friends and asked them for a list of all the side jobs that they’ve had throughout their careers. Basically, anything they had used (or still use) to help them make a living. About 20 of them got back to me.

So now I have an answer! Apparently, this is how an artist makes a living:

Take a ton of income streams and mash ’em all together!

How does an artist make a living

Here are a few overview stats (of 20 people):

– Over 65 different jobs (with a ton of repeats)
– Average number of jobs supplied per person: 9
– In total over 200 jobs listed (including repeats)

Look, I know there’s nothing definitive about my poll. It’s a small group of largely classical singers. But even from that pool we get some really cool information.

First, a few disclaimers. Like I said, I asked these 2o folks to include any job that wasn’t their ‘chosen’ artistic focus. So my list ended up including a bunch of arts-related jobs, many of them jobs that other people may be trying to do full-time! One thing I thought was really cool is that a few people mentioned how not getting the jobs they wanted actually led to them to a part of the arts industry they turned out to like more.

What’s neat about seeing all the different jobs listed, is that even though there are a lot that I expected, there were some that I never would have thought of in a million years.

Since money can still be a taboo conversation, we don’t talk about how we make ends meet… which keeps us from sharing with each other the creative ways we have all found to pay the bills.

Some people looked for more stable, secure jobs.. some people were going for anything that would give them the flexibility to go on that next audition.

But no matter what you might need in your specific situation, you’re sure to find a few ideas you hadn’t thought of yet in the bevy of jobs your fellow artists have held:

The ‘Artsy’ Side

How does an artist make a living - Arts Jobs

As you can see, in my sample there are a ton of different jobs that these artists are using to scratch that ‘artistic itch’. My favourite hands down is the working on a travelling arts bus… which sounds awesome.

If you have a travelling arts bus, and need help, please call me.

There’s a ton of teaching, and music directing, as well as a lot of jobs across all levels of arts organizations.

How to make a living as an artist - Quote

But things really got interesting when people started to list all of their non-arts-related jobs… and there were a lot of them.

The less ‘artsy’ side:

How does an aritist make a living - Non Arts Jobs

Wow. Artists have some pretty cool jobs. Traveling arts buses! Online businesses! They’ve taken their storytelling skills to the espresso counter and to the boardroom! They’re rocking it arts style in hospitals and The Gap! They’re designing websites, fixing computers, and …

Selling knit thongs online…

Basically, I think the best thing I can do to sum up the variety of ways artists make a living is by showing it to you on this simple scale.

How to make a living as an artist - scale

This is why it’s so tough to pin down the ‘average’ artist. Because we’re freaking everywhere.

Which I think is so cool.

Why does it matter?

Okay, so it’s interesting to see what people do… but why does it matter? We all do what it takes to get by, and there’s nothing particularly glorious about working 6 jobs just so you can afford a voice lesson.

Fair point, but this is the real life of a lot of artists, and too often it gets whitewashed.

It’s a real thing. We have other jobs and, frankly, I think it’s awesome. I love to see what other interests artists have, and what they spend their time doing. And if you think that it’s not a part of what makes you an interesting artist… you’re dead wrong.

Maybe it would be a better world if we could just sit in the studio and be ‘creative’ all day. But in my case, the more that I’ve embraced the ‘non-arts’ parts of my life, the more enriched and creative I’ve found the arts part of my life to be.

Every hour I spend reading about bonds and stocks, or the weeks I spend working on my dad’s farm… they fill me with creative juices I can’t wait to bring to the rehearsal room. And… to be completely honest… they also keep me from getting totally burnt out on opera.

Maybe that’s just me, but whether you like your side jobs or not, a life in the arts is probably going to involve a few different income streams.

It’s something we need to tell the generation of young artists coming out of school… because right now they’re popping out of universities, having to find a job (or four) and are thinking that they’ve failed.

You haven’t failed. You’ve joined a proud tradition.

So all you artists out there… it’s time to speak up.

Take a second to post in the comments, keep it anonymous if you want, but let’s expand this informal poll. Give people a resource to look at when they’re trying to think of job ideas, and more than that… show the amazing amount of things that artists are up to!

How do you make a living?? What jobs (side or otherwise) have you had over the years?

Want to start getting control of your money? How can I help?

Chris Enns

Chris Enns

Financial Planner/Opera Singer

Money never came naturally to me. In fact… I was a bit of a disaster. I remember (very clearly) what it feels like to be ‘financially out of control’.

And honestly, I still get stressed about money… that doesn’t stop… the difference is that now I have the tools to deal with that stress.

And those tools are what’s made it possible for me to build a life full of the things I want: art, creativity, travel, family and more.

If you want to start getting control of your money I’d love to help. You can start with THIS QUIZ, visiting my GETTING STARTED PAGE or by checking out my SERVICES page.

Liked what you read? Think it is important for artists to have better financial resources and tools? I would love your support.