I just want to start off this write up by telling and well, warning you of a few things. There will be typos. There will be grammatical errors. There will be some off topic and back on topic rants. This will be a long, and most likely grueling blog. That being said, it will be a truthful one. There’s a lot of people out there who have my “profession”, that write blogs, start influential blogs and inspiration sites, and not to mention putting on events and lectures and the like, to secretly (they think) to push their own brand and product. While, I may not be “right” with this write up, it will at least shed some light on my life, my experiences, and ups and downs of this job. One thing is definitely certain, you will walk away either shaking your head in agreement, or in complete confusion or disgust. I bring to you, “Why My Job is awesome and sucks buttholes”
This little (SARCASM, get used to it!) write up, isn’t organized or put in any sort of order. I’ll just be doing a run down of points I wanted to make that are messily jotted down on a piece of scrap paper. Let’s begin,
BEING PAID ON TIME. This is to me, one of the biggest tallies to the con side of the spectrum of weighing out the good and bad of being a freelance designer, or even being a designer in general in the music industry. It’s the 1 of 2 of the most stressful things that any designer will have to teeth grittingly have to face. There are some good companies and clients that realize how much this indeed sucks and they cut checks swiftly and accordingly. To those, I thank you. To others, eat my butt. I am going to do my best to not NAME NAMES, to somewhat not burn any bridges, but deep down, I know you are reading this you little lurkers, will know who you are. There’s one super super massive record label, that went from paying in 30 days, to 45, to now 60. 60! You would think that because they are so huge and have the experience and cash flow that they would be on top of their game, but over the course of time, I have come to realize that the biggest names, are usually the worst to deal with. For instance, I had a well known band I work with, hire me for a project and it took me 30 minutes to finish, and they approved it right away, so I gave them a deal. It took them 3 months to pay me $100 bucks. I couldn’t believe it.
I would say, at least 80% of my clients pay on time. The other 20% I am constantly punishing with threats of late fees, calling them assholes and fuck faces, you name it, they’re being called it. Even for them to not care and pay the late fees late, which is fine by me, as every 30 days from the original invoice date, another percentage gets tacked on. You are basically in the mercy of these people and hope that they will do their part and keep their word. Some people keep it, and some of them don’t.
Lets keep the ball rolling with stuff sucking, and the next point on my list of scribble notes. NEVER HEARING BACK. This to me, doesn’t suck. It just flat out makes me want to flick boogers in your face. I think the worst incident of this happening was the beginning of this year. Another well known band, and said well known label, asked me to at least 2 designs, in a quick turn around time. No direction (we’ll jump on that topic later). I pumped them out and then waited 3 months, HAMMERED both management, someone I knew in the band, as well as the label, to only hear crickets. Well 3 months later, they frantically email me, THIS ONE IS APPROVED, WE NEED IT ASAP! I waited 3 months for 1 approval, and now you’re rushing me? When I asked them if the others were rejected, it went into the same cricket infested abyss. Lets also not forget, this is same client that takes 60 friggin days to pay. For what? a few hundred bucks? Ridiculous. For all my bitching and flipping out, I am hoping to give somewhat useful information on what you can do in the process, by saying what I do. Here’s my rule of thumb. If you don’t hear back in 2 weeks, chances are, they aren’t taking it. I make myself a folder called “PROBABLY NEVER GOING TO HEAR BACK”. I also put those designs, that can be salvaged into a folder called “Denied designs for sale”. I give the client the benefit of the doubt and usually give an additional 2 weeks to reply, and at that point, I sell the designs off, and make a mental black list note. I HATE non responses. It’s worse than hearing a no, or the infamous “not feeling it” reply. What’s even worse, is following the people initially emailing you for this work on social networks, and they post pictures of them at parties, events, with chicks, watching movies, you name it, those bastards are posting it. All it says to me is, yep, I have internet, and chose not to reply to you. I am getting furious just thinking about it. Instead of me unleash a fury of cuss words and bad names, I’ll simply end this section with, 2 weeks, no answer, chalk it up as a failure. If you hear back in 3 or 4 weeks, take it as a pleasant surprise.
Now, as we touched on in the last paragraph of nonsense, NO DIRECTION. This to me, is far far worse than being paid on time. At least you know you will eventually be getting paid, while that sucks. No direction simply makes it for me not to be able to do my job, which means I’m not getting paid at all. So thats 2 birds, 2 BIRDS MAN! The thing that blows my mind, is if it’s a manager, and they say they have no direction, they really shouldn’t be managing your band. A manager should have access to what has sold, what hasn’t sold, because a manager is the one doing the reordering, or ordering in general, that is if the tour manager is doing their job. But this isn’t about tour managers. A manager is nothing but a secretary and a liaison for bands. Their jobs (not to discredit a manager, I hate when people just say, ALL YOU DO IS…..) but in MY eyes, is to answer emails and the phone. It’s that simple. I would have to say that you could pretty much do your job just from those 2 things, and the amazing thing is, YOU CAN DO IT FROM ANYWHERE! Trust me, as I said, I get to see these people posting on social networks endlessly. Thanks so and so, that’s an awesome photo of your dog, now do your job. There is no excuse to not being able to give me something, even visual examples, or feedback to what I may have done previously for them, that didn’t do so well. No direction = me doing whatever I want = risk of you and the band not getting what they want = mean face. It doesn’t help anyone here. Take the 5 mins to email the band, ask for them to show examples, or gather examples, provide a lyric, something. If they don’t, then you step up and KNOW YOUR CLIENT and help me help you. After all it’s more your money than mine. My small fee for a design means thousands to them. Bands, you aren’t off the hook just yet. Loads of bands have ZERO direction. Not even examples. This blows my mind more than anything else. Bands who tour, have a few jobs, if they can’t afford a bus, they take turns driving, which means the rest of them are doing nothing but farting, smelling bad, and most likely talking to a girl and sitting on their phones. Which means, you have time to think of ideas. You also surround yourself with other bands, ALL YEAR LONG, you get the advantage to see what everyone else is doing. You can get inspired, or go, “This design of their’s rules/sucks”. Lets also not forget, you get dressed every day right? Why are you putting on the shirt you are about to wear? Why do you like it? Why did you buy it? or trade it with a fellow band on tour? You also write songs to put bodies in front of you when performing them live. You hope that they inspire or sticks with them. What made you write that song? What’s that song about? My job is to take those things you provide the voice for, to provide the visual. If you can feel inspired to write a song, that inspiration should carry over. These kids are your billboard to get your message out. Not bashing you, but not every kid is going to walk around to each stranger saying HOPE! LOVE! MY PARENTS SUCK, MY GIRLFRIEND IS A BITCH, MY DADDY DIDN’T LOVE ME ENOUGH, but if they had a shirt to sort of say it for them. People will see their side and your side. If that doesn’t get your excited, knowing you have that power, then you should just hang up your fucking boots man. That’s incredible to me. To have your thoughts and feelings and stories put out there for everyone to see and hear, is amazing. But you’re doing half that job by giving me no direction. Sure these kids are singing along and reaching out for your hand at these shows, but chances are, they’re going home with a dinosaur with your band name that has nothing to do with the reason why you are there performing and giving your all every night and they spend their part time job money, or allowances to scream and feel those same emotions out there WITH you. It’s embarrassing. Being in a band, as I said before, before I went into this rant, is, You driving, or riding, to the next show, maybe doing an interview, loading in (if you don’t have a crew), sound check, and waiting to play, and repeat that every single day. You can take 15 minutes to give some input of what you want to brand your band to be. If not, fuck it, I’ll just make whatever I want, and you either take it or leave it. It’s not my band.
Sometimes I find myself missing a normal job. In fact, there are times that I have contemplated getting one, at least a part time one. I just moved back to Florida a few months back. When I was getting my feet wet in the band design world, I worked at Einstein Bagels. It was honestly, one of my favorite jobs. It was easy, (for me) I was good at it, and I was in and out of there. Before I break down what my schedule was at the time of me getting started, I’ll just state my Einstein hours. If I was baking, I would be there at 3am, and depending on the day or how busy it was, I would be there until 8 or 10. I’m supposed to be there until 11 or 12. I also didn’t follow their guidelines with how to bake every morning. I would bake for the entire day by flavor instead of doing separate bakes of the same flavors repeated 5-6 times in the morning. I know your thinking, man those bagels aren’t going to last. But your talking about a business that ends at lunch. This aint Dunkin Donuts or Panera. That being said, we didn’t open until 6 anyway, so what do you expect bagels made at 3am to taste anyway? Shit was still good regardless. Anyway, with my schedule, I could go home and start designing and it was perfect. I think at the time, I made $10.75 an hour to bake bagels for a few hours a day. It’s pretty awesome when I think about it. I had something to be proud of. Even with my design stuff, I was fast, and my shit looked good. That’s just how I always was. Don’t think I rushed to get things done so I could leave early either. I don’t half ass a job. I would clean, organize and do prep for the day between bakes. Something that wasn’t expected of me. I loved that job. People saw I did a good job and complimented how awesome they looked. You don’t get that sort of satisfaction with designing. The only people who know YOU designed it, are the people you tell. These kids have no idea who I am, who designed it, or even know that I am the one that came up those ideas. That to me is the big payoff to me. The legacy and the name. Do you think that designing a shirt for 200-400 bucks a pop is really the pay off for me? It’s people knowing my name (even if it’s known as the guy who yells and makes fun and hates everything) people know me, and they know me for my hard work ethic, and ability to get the clients and do more designs in 1 day, than a person does in a week. That’s no ego, that’s fact. But the customer / fan buying that shirt. They don’t know that. They are oblivious to who I am. Sometimes its about that appreciation and getting credit for when it’s due. You don’t get that satisfaction in this line of work. When working at Einsteins, people would see me taking that rack of bagels out. Restocking the baskets, and complimenting how delicious. Seeing their eyes light up at the sight of freshly baked bagels. It felt good, I felt appreciated. There’s some people out there, who talk about quitting their jobs, or taking “the freelance plunge”, but let’s look at the big picture here. Yea your job sucks, or maybe you hate it, or maybe you’re not making enough money. There were things I hated too about Einsteins. I hated having to do truck deliveries and going to bed at midnight after leaving the night job at Hot Topic, only to wake up at 2:30 and drive to work. There’s shitty things about everything. That’s life. But I wouldn’t go and quit your job because of it. Because of a maybe. If you want a change, or a shot at a dream. Set aside some time to work on it. Don’t go taking the scissors to the safety net just yet. It took me a long long long time for me to be able to do it. In this business, I would say I am in the top 3 of this profession, and I just quit my job last year to do this “full time”. I say, quit your job, when you feel like you are no longer making a difference, or appreciated. Don’t quit because YOU THINK YOU COULD MAKE MORE MONEY OR HATE IT, QUIT because you don’t NEED it. Start off by working a job and making time for your dreams. When your dreams start taking more of your time, then it’s time to eliminate. People talk about what ifs being excuses to not accomplish what you want to. I disagree. What ifs is your mind being a rational human being. It’s called a slap of reality. Not everyone has the luxury of having a significant other whom makes a decent salary and contributes. Not everyone doesn’t have children, or a family. Not everyone, has a brand that has another form of income. Don’t let the accolades of someone else, inspire you to make the same dumb mistakes. You don’t know their whole story, you know what they want you to know. They don’t tell you the bad. They don’t pull back the curtains to what they really go through, or have been through. Not everyone has a supportive family or system. Or friends to help you out. There’s people out there who have them and only them. So these what ifs and “excuses” are warranted. EVERYONE has problems, and everyone has their own story and sacrifices. Just because someone makes something seem so easy, doesn’t mean it is. Nothing is easy. Just because you put your mind to it, doesn’t mean that you will succeed. If everything was as simple as that, then everyone would be a freelance designer. Everyone would own a clothing company. Everyone would be in a band. The list goes on. Not everyone’s destiny is determined by the amount of will and passion you put into it. It’s timing, talent, with the right mix of luck. Passion is a driving mechanism to keep you going. It doesn’t guarantee you anything. Everyone has that one thing, or numerous things they are good at. Just because you have a will or drive to do something, doesn’t mean you can make it a reality. That doesn’t mean give up and don’t try. Try your fucking heart out. Just don’t go reading people’s blogs, attending lectures, feeling this sense of unstoppableness that will ultimately backfire. Take the time to start these dreams, and when these dreams overpower and succeed and surpass expectations, then cut your losses. Just don’t go doing anything stupid. Nothing is easy, if it comes to you as easy, then you’re not doing it right.
Risks, be aware of them. Just because you are asked to take on a job, doesn’t mean anything. There is no money to be made for every email that comes in. This for me, isn’t a job. It’s a way for me to be creative. But, at the end of the day, money NEEDS to be a factor. But with this, it’s never ever guaranteed, much like everything else. I have been lucky enough to work with 2 merchandise companies that pay you a submission fee. Not to say that that is indeed a good thing, because I would say that out of 40 pieces I have done for them combined, that 4 got approved, or the rest are just floating in maybe land. But at least I got something for giving them my time. Which is all well and good, but I want that artwork OUT there. Not everyone pays that fee. Sometimes I wish it were a more common thing, but bands are flaky, indecisive, and well, I guess it just makes sense to not pay those fees. As I touched on earlier. There are some clients that just never get back to me. Clients that take forever to pay. Clients that provide something to work off of. There’s a lot of white noise and rejections that float around. That to me doesn’t hurt my ego. If they can be changed for someone else who will appreciate them, I welcome that. But, there can be times that it becomes a reoccurring instance. That’s where the problems start. To me, I don’t expect everyone to like what I do, that’s how the cookie crumbles. But there’s always the grown up world, knocking on my door asking me to pay up. That’s where this job gets risky. There’s a part of you who has to give the client what they want, but still do what you want. Sometimes it’s hard to juggle. Sometimes I welcome the no direction emails, because I am given complete freedom, and that makes the piece more of a payoff for me in the emotional sense. There are also times of the year where it is completely dead. I have come to see the pattern take shape around October, December, and August. Be ready for that. In fact, I usually use that time to find inspiration for my brands, or future projects. Take this time to practice or improve or work on a technique you’ve wanted to try and implement. Buy fonts, make textures. These little breaks, while stressful, to me are necessary. It’s an awesome time to reevaluate. Like this blog for instance, is refreshing to make a list of what sucks, and what doesn’t. Reflect on what works and what doesn’t. Don’t look at the quiet time as a negative. Embrace it. Use it as a time to work on something you’ve always wanted to. Give that portfolio an update. Spend time with friends. Although there are a lot shift aspects of this job, I look at it as things that oil up the machine. If a client doesn’t email back. Now you know. If a band doesn’t like a certain design, or style, now you know. Not getting as much money one month, helps you prepare next year for when this time loops its way back around again. Be aware of the risks being a designer brings. Embrace any and all mistakes. Learning is learning, no matter if it’s negative or positive. You can’t appreciate sunny days, without the cloud ones.
Ego, something that everyone claims I have. Absolutely. To an extent. I feel like I am one of the last lingering designers from a particular time period. I have outlasted the lifespan of most of my clients. I have constantly reinvented, made trends, followed the right ones, while still making it my own, and stood out among others. I get my clients. I understand them, even when they send me nothing. Being able to crank out the amount of work I do, in the time I spend and am given. Being diverse. Ego? Absolutely. But at the same time, I am constantly looking at my work, analyzing it, hating it, wishing I did this, or that. Everyone is their own worst critic. But with me it’s multiplied times 100. You just have to look past it and remember for the next client. If you find time to fix it, then fix it, and send the client a newer version. They’d appreciate it, and your portfolio most certainly will as well. I got my “Ego” of constantly busting my ass. Always being on top of the game. Always research. Always practice. Having 376 approved designs on almost 100 clients in 1 year would give anyone a well deserved ego. Sometimes I may feel like the client needs me more than I need them, when that starts coming into your frame of mind, thats when the ego becomes a force of nature. If you ever find yourself coming to that with everything and everyone. That’s when it becomes a problem.
What I think made me successful, and would make anyone in this job successful.
- Listen to the band repeatedly (even if you hate it)
- Make notes
- Look at past approvals
- Keep dibs on EVERYONE
- Make your own textures
- Never rule out anything
- Embrace any and all failures
- Be yourself
- Sneak in a design you would wear, even if you aren’t a fan of the client
- Be diverse, once you perfect a style, move onto the next one until you perfect it. More tricks, more results. There’s a lot of people who stay in their comfort zone. Then when you look at their range of work, you have spirals and eyeballs in the same font, on the same color shirt with the same color ink. You will only get the same type of client, with the same looking pieces in your portfolio. I love zombies, but not every one of my designs has a zombie in it…well, maybe lightning bolts.
- Don’t confuse style with your comfort zone.
Another thing that I think that contributes to bettering my success and enhancing my abilities, was definitely my brands. They both work together so well. Sometimes I do stuff for my brands that would work well with the client work and vice versa. Theres been plenty of instances where this has come into play. Not only is the brands a way to practice, it’s a way to bring in an extra income. I know a bunch of artist and peers that sell prints and shirts and other goodies. Such a creative outlet and stress reliever. I know for me, I am always put in the situation of where whomever is asking me for artwork, isn’t always the best to work with when it comes to communication and direction. I try and do my best to be as hands on and descriptive as I can when I hire out. Sometimes I have ideas that I want to do, that never work out for clients and I implement that into a future design for myself. It’s such a creative outlet and keeps me on my toes and makes sure I don’t get rusty. I’m not saying go out and spend this money to start a clothing company. I’m saying find some sort of way to be creative, get your design fix, while being away from work, and also making some money on the side. There’s hardly any negatives in this particular scenario. I am very thankful and appreciative to have this outlet. Without it, I’d probably fat from baking more often than I already do, or way more angry which would lead to numerous walls with holes.
Artwork is artwork, not a job.I have a design friend, whom I vented to and got opinions from a lot of the time. He and I are complete opposites with everything, which is weird that I would even go to him for anything, haha. If I am bummed about a job, he would say, “it’s money”. If I am bummed that they took the shitty design of the bunch, that was a last minute rush job, he’d say “At least you’re getting paid”. If I tell him I’m bored because I set aside a day for a band, and those designs took me half a day, I’d tell him I’m bored, his response would be “easy money”. This isn’t a job for me. I am just getting paid for something I love. I strive to try and make a majority of my pieces, portfolio pieces. If you’re not going to make work you’re proud of, then why take the project? I know not everyone has this way of thinking. I don’t see this as this career, where I have to say yes ma’am, sure I’ll do that, etc etc. I only take jobs that I feel like I would nail. Jobs that I would do a good job with and make a difference with the direction they are headed in. In reality, this work is more for me, than it is for the client. Peers and people I respect see it, and the kids who don’t know me or give a damn about me, support it and wear it. It’s important to do a good job for me. Money is just the secondary reward for me. I’d rather spend time working on something I’m proud of and be excited when it gets picked. How awesome is it to have something you loved designing, and got paid for it? It’s the equivalent or painting a picture and your parent’s put it up on the fridge instead of saying “That’s nice” or winning a coloring contest. YOU MEAN I GET TO COLOR? AND I WON 5 PACKETS OF FUN DIP AND A RIBBON!!?! FUCK YES! I was just excited to color, let alone being rewarded for it being a good job. The second you look at it as a job, is the second you start feeling unhappy and then wanting to quit this just like you quit your other job to do this new job that you have grown to hate. Do this for you, because at the end of the day, it’s stuck on your hard drives forever. It probably only lasts on the shelves, online, or on a kid’s body for a few months anyway. Always do your best.
Something I touched on in the ego section was being fast. Some people don’t understand how I hammer out the amount of work that I do in the time I do it. If you look at the key notes from before, that definitely plays an impact. The day before I work on a client, I usually listen to that band non stop and take notes. The next day when I actually work on them, I listen to something that is the complete opposite of the genre they are in. So, let’s say I am working on We Came As Romans, that day I’ll listen to Bloc Party or Two Door Cinema Club. Just something different that would maybe spark a different idea. I always have a shitty scrap of paper with design ideas. Sometimes when I work on one, 2 more ideas pop into my head, and before you know it, I have 15 ideas written down on a sheet of paper. I am very lucky to have the brain I have. I wish I could explain how it works. It just does. One trick I have seemed to work with is to do everything at like 60-70%. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just enough to drive the point across and drive the message. If you spend to much time looking at something, you will drive yourself crazy. I spend at least an hour perfecting a design after the design’s framework is complete. It’s smarter to wait and do those tweaks when the design is actually approved. The time you waste perfecting, is time that could be spent on another potential approval. Plus, I set aside a day in my week to send approvals and do revisions. Having a fresh perspective and being able to come back to something, is more ideal to me. I already get annoyed when a client doesn’t respond, imagine how annoying it would be to spend your time perfecting something, only to not hear back?
I know that I have driven home, not hearing back more than enough times throughout this blog. I feel it’s important for you to reply back as an artist, as quickly as possible. Even if you’re out running errands, eating a waffle, whatever. Take the 2 seconds to say, “Hey I got the email” , “Thanks for the email, I’m eating a waffle right now, I’ll hit you back when I’m home”. Just letting someone know you got the email, shows that you are serious, and will take the project seriously. While some of you might think that it’s best to wait to send a more detailed email. I think the opposite. Respond as quickly as possible, regardless the detail, or extent of the response. The faster you get back, the faster you hear back.
Theres a lot of people who over time get lazy. They get in this state of comfortability. Or their head gets the best of them. Where they feel like they already worked this much, did this much, I accomplished this. So they feel the need to be shitty, work less, and basically do anything and everything in their power to not do their job and feel like something is owed to them. Not in just in the design world. In every aspect of life. We all work hard. Some more than others, and some some days more than others. Just because you worked such and such amount of time doing what you do, doesn’t give you the excuse to not work as hard. You have earned the state in where you have reached due to your hard work, now it’s your job to work hard to keep it. Dues are never done being paid. You can spend 5,10, 20 years doing what you do, that doesn’t give you a reason to talk down, to work less, and complain when your asked to do something. The machine is constant. Get where you want to be, and fight to stay there. You aren’t owed anything because you worked hard for so long, you are owed something when you continuously do it and do a good job doing it. When you reach a certain point where people look up to you, look to you for answers, and rely on you, you are expected to step up to that plate and swing. You might not win the game, but at least you played, and didn’t watch it from the sidelines. There is no security or safety or any guarantee. Keep up that drive and passion, and take it to the next level. If you stop pushing up that hill, you eventually roll down, or stay in place. NEVER STOP WORKING. You will never stop being tested.
What is success? People usually measure it by things they own. The things they have. The amount of money they make or made. Success to me, is how many dreams a reality. Trying and accomplishing what you set out to do. No matter how many tries it took. Or obstacles you encounter. Saying something and doing it. That’s success. It’s the legacy you leave.
People might view this job as this oh so awesome career. It really isn’t. It’s failure after failure. Rejection after rejection. Not everyone is strong or level headed enough to be able to do this successfully. It’s babysitting, being ignored, not being paid, not appreciated. It sucks anyway you look at it. But as I said before, I’m not doing this for the money or as a job. But when you look at it as one. It’s worse than any fast food job, any bagel job, any retail job, or anything you can throw at me that you say you’d rather trade it in for. This isn’t a job. It’s me trying to be successful and leaving something behind that hopefully someone will appreciate, i just happen to get for it (when I do get paid) It’s me trying to be the best on a daily basis and fighting to be fast, reliable, and provide for those who count on me. When you look at it on paper. This as a job, blows. If you came in for the job and the boss said, well, we don’t pay in a timely manner, if you mop the floors, I might immediately dump poop water right on it and make you do it again. I won’t tell you if you do a good job. I won’t give you a raise or a promotion. You don’t get benefits, but hey, you can wear pajamas to work. You’d run for the doors and never look back. Don’t listen to people who say, yea do it! I did it! Think about every aspect of it. The pros, the cons. Do you have what it takes to give up everything and anything for constant maybes? Uncertainty on a daily basis. If your foot isn’t already in the door in some way, don’t go closing another, simply because something sounds cool to do. While living your dreams out sounds impressive, to me neither does giving up. Sometimes I wish I had the normal job, but every day I wake up thankful for being able to do this and being paid for. But this isn’t for everyone. Don’t let someone tell you can’t do it, and don’t let someone tell you how easy it is to do it either.
Being an artist sucks as a job, making art and getting paid for it, rules.