by Abby White
In the latest issue of our sister publication The City Paper, which is hot off the presses today, I interviewed five Nashville-based creatives to learn a little more about the struggles they face practicing their trades in their respective industries — music, fashion, photography/videography, visual/graphic art and yoga — on a local level.
While I was familiar with some of the issues they brought up — juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet, finding limitations to how far they can advance in their career in the Nashville market — I was shocked by how frequently they're asked to work at a reduced rate or for no pay at all. I mean, I knew it happened, because most of my friends work in said "creative" industries, but it's happening way more than you think. At the risk of sounding dramatic, it's practically an epidemic in our city.
Here's the thing, Nashville. We have a lot of talented people here. With such a high concentration of talented people, there's always someone willing to do the job for less, or for free. And that is devaluing the work that everybody does. That is what makes people believe that they can hire someone for less and still get the job done.
Now, as the old adage goes, in many cases you get what you pay for, but there are a ton of people who are desperately trying to get their foot in the door at any cost. And plenty of them do good work. We've all heard about the dismal job market for new college graduates, sending unprecedented numbers of young 20-somethings boomeranging back into their parents' houses. I don't know about you, but if I was one of those young 20-somethings, I would do just about anything to avoid boomeranging back into my parents' house. People are looking for a break.
Another issue is that the products of these creative industries — a song, a photograph, a video, a painting, 90 minutes of yoga — are highly subjective, which makes it harder to place a fixed price on one's services. It's not like going to the doctor's office, where you get a standard checkup that you pay X-amount for each time without questioning anything. Maybe next time you're at your doctor, try saying, "Well, I was in the waiting room for 45 minutes, and then the nurse really sucked at taking my blood, and there's all these other doctors I could go to instead of you, so how about this time I pay you half of what I paid you last time?" (Please let me know how that goes.)
After talking to these five individuals — Benjamin Harper, Mizzie Logan, Will Morgan Holland, Brent Coleman and Rachel Briggs — I was impressed with their genuine passion for working on projects that intrigue and challenge them, regardless of the compensation. They do this because it helps build their portfolio, and it will hopefully lead to more paying work. Ultimately, they do this because they love what they do and they want to be better at it.
But the reality is, these people are all in their 30s, and they need to pay their bills. They need to be paid, and they need to be paid fairly. Budgets are tight, we know, but if you are in a position in your company to hire someone to do a job for you, think about the end result. Think about having a finished product that is amazing, rather than just OK. Isn't that worth the cost? Or should we make peace with the idea of living in a city that's content with mediocrity while our artists starve or flee the city limits for better opportunities?