Fakes, frauds, and grifters

I’m not gonna call anyone out by name, so we’ll just say “Z” for the apparent generation of the one who inspired this rant.

Z is a video content creator. Nothing wrong with that.

Z tells people she’s an artist. And she paints, so sure. OK.

Z seems to admit she’s a newbie in the artist thing. That’s cool, everyone starts somewhere at some point.

Z makes a lot of videos talking about how to make money as an artist. OK… kinda weird how she doesn’t talk much about actually selling art, but fine, alternative revenue streams, etc.

Most of those videos center around how to get more followers on YouTube. Well… fine, lots of people want to know how to increase their following on YT… not really specific to art or making money as an artist, but you can apply that to art channels, sure.

Z is making money from those videos telling people how to get more followers on YouTube. Awesome. Good for her.

Z seems to be excessively emotionally attached to labelling herself as an artist and having other people validate that label. Um… YouTube really isn’t a good place for people who need outside validation… it’s full of them, but it’s not a healthy place for them…

Despite being quite open that her revenue is actually all from YouTube monetization on her videos about channel promotion and content creation, Z tries to insist that she makes her living “as an artist”.

Uh… no, you fucking don’t.

And there’s nothing wrong with that except when people point out that actually she’s claiming to make money “as an artist” but when she discusses the money she makes, it’s as a content creator, Z spirals and then makes videos bitching abut the “haters” and “gatekeepers.” (And then implies that they’re calling her a fake or fraud as an artist, when the reality is that what’s fake and a fraud are her claims about her revenue streams coming from her art, which they clearly don’t.)

OK, now you can go fuck yourself, Z.

Words have meaning, and they have multiple meanings (although in no version of reality does “hater” or “gatekeeper” mean “person who calls you out when you’re being deceitful”).

An artist can be a hobbyist or a professional. Jeff Koons is a professional artist, I’ve primarily been a hobbyist. We’re both artists, yes, but Koons is the one who earns his living as an artist.

But it doesn’t have to be someone as famous as Koons. I’ve had friends who did album covers and other commissions and had quarterly art show parties wherein all the work they’d made since the last one were sold and few would know their names outside a small niche.

And yes, artists need to have multiple revenue streams, even when it comes to selling their work. There’s a lady up in Tofino who paints surfboards, sells prints at local shops, does poster commissions, sells airbrushed hats, does an annual calendar, etc. That’s always been the way. She is as much a pro earning her living as an artist as Koons or my pal with the quarterly art parties.

And people who are passionate about art but make their money from some other job which might be related (eg, animator, art teacher, gallerist, graphic designer, tattooist) or not (retail, lawyer, banking, corporate espionage), are still artists. In the first category, one could say they still earn their living “as an artist,” at least in some cases. In the latter, though, no, they don’t earn their living as an artist. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

My brother has stayed with folks in Arizona who were either painters, jewellers, or keyboardists whose main source of steady income was AirBnB’ing their spare rooms. Loads of actors in LA have their real estate licenses and I’ve heard of singer-songwriters in Nashville who flip houses for income. It’s a cliche that actors are also waiters or bartenders because it’s a gig that has flexibility in hours for when you need to go to auditions or rehearsals during the day, etc. Most recording engineers and producers are also songwriters and performers but work on other people’s music for their day job. Etc.

All of them are artists of various stripes, but they’re not claiming to be earning their living from their art. And that’s fine.

I mean, hey, Sammy Hagar doesn’t earn his living as a rock star, he makes his money from owning bars/restaurants and from the booze brands he’s created. He’s still a rock star.

Similarly, Bono certainly made some money from his music, but the vast majority of his fortune comes from investments he made from those music earnings.

Note, however, that Sammy is very open with this. (And Bono has been known to brag about how his investing mojo made his fortune.) And neither is out there saying “I earned all this fortune from music and you can too, watch my video and buy my nifty flowcharts.”

Granted that neither one needs to shill how-to guides to pay the rent, but still. There’s a whole “I totally did it, pinky swear, and I’ll sell you tips to do the same” industry of how-to grifters, none of whom have actually done “it.” And it seems that the less they’ve done it, the more they insist they can teach you how to do it… people who’ve actually been successful in whatever industry usually aren’t shilling how-to guides because they’re too busy to teach, and if they are teaching, they do it in a more low-key mentorship sorta way because they have better perspective.

None of which is to knock teaching per se, especially when it comes to people teaching techniques or offering their perspective on, say, the ins and outs of the animation industry after 20 years in the biz, just the “I will make you successful” guru wannabe types.

And it doesn’t just have to be famous dudes. I worked with a guy who started saving in high school in the 90s to get the $10,000 down payment he needed to get his first rental property in Regina, SK. At the time, real estate was cheap there and 35 year mortgages with low rates were still a thing.

Every summer in university he busted his ass to get money for both his tuition and towards the next down payment, and then when he graduated, he put his electrical engineering job to use with his day job, kept his expenses low, and kept saving and buying rental properties, all while playing in bands on the weekends.

When I knew him 12 years ago, he had quite the little empire going, had a property manager looking after the day to day shit, was buying a small apartment building with a partner, and had quit the day job and moved to Toronto to pursue music full-time.

He was a musician the whole time, but he never earned his living from music and never claimed to. By Z’s logic, since he was always a musician, he ought to have been fine to tell people his overall earnings and claim the income from the rental properties as a revenue stream he was earning “as a musician.” LOL…

The whole thing is kinda stupid and stems from this myth that we have that artists are either starving and poor or they’re rich superstars. We need to normalize that it’s OK to have non-art/music/whatever income and jobs because that’s the reality for most artists.

I’ve known musicians who were so wrapped up in the idea of only making money from music that they’d even ignore their other revenue streams, eg. one friend who was a weed dealer but also toured in bands and did remixes and production liked to discount the weed money.

Another toxic manifestation of this myth is when someone who really, really, REALLY needs to get a part-time gig to make ends meet opts instead to starve because somehow if he was working 20 hours a week at a gas station that would erase his whole identity as an artist.

The example I’m thinking of, who shall remain unnamed, spends at least that on social media, often lamenting the desperate state of his finances, so it’s not like it would cut into his proper artmaking time. Some of that social media time is spent attacking well-meaning friends who encourage him to take a side job to help stabilize his life and I’ve seen him straight up claim that getting a part-time job would destroy his ability to make art.

And Z’s triggering over it being pointed out that she does not in fact make her money “as an artist” comes from her acceptance of the starving/superstar dichotomy myth. Not only acceptance, but emotional investment into it: she can’t be a successful content creator, because then it somehow negates her dream of being a successful artist, but her success at being a content creator is what allows her time to make her personal art. Be happy with that, Z; besides, YouTube is a bitch to be a success at, so why get so angry at the people who point out that you’ve made it as a YouTuber? LOL…

I’m not even saying you can’t make money off YouTube “as an artist” because there totally are people who do that. I watch a bunch of dioramists and sculptors who earn money from the monetization of videos where they show themselves building a diorama or making a sculpture. Some of them are doing it tutorial-style where they explain all the steps so you could say they straddle the line between teaching and just simply showing their process, some of them say nothing and simply show the process. They’re making art in their videos and thus when the videos make money, they’re making money “as an artist.”

I actually plan to start making these sorts of videos later in the year. Maybe they’ll go somewhere and earn money, maybe not. Either way, it would be fun to have an archive of my process.

And there’s plenty of YouTubers making money from videos talking about issues artists may face in terms of creative blocks and how to get by them, how to make a good portfolio, and other professional development-type discussions. None of them seem to get hung up on this terminology, though, and they tend to describe their channels in terms of mentorship or tutorials.

But when the videos are all about marketing or are content about content creation, then it’s making money from some sort of business coaching. And again, nothing wrong with that except when you get you pissed off at people pointing out the misleading video titles.

There’s also something to be said for noticing the hubris of claiming to be able to tell someone how to do X (eg. be a successful artist) when you yourself have not done it.

I would not dare make a channel telling people how to climb Mount Everest when I’ve never even hiked the Grouse Grind when I used to live in Vancouver… no matter how many books and documentaries I might have read or watched.

I remember at one point when I read Tim Ferriss’ The 4 Hour Work Week and he was talking about informational products one could sell based on your own niche experience. At the time I was a DJ at CiTR still (and had been for years) and I was a few EPs into the maQLu project, which had landed on the college radio charts, including the national chart.

I briefly considered that I might write an e-book guide about how to get onto college radio in Canada based on this.

Then I thought, meh, maybe I really ought not to.

I kept it in mind as a future project, though, and thought I would make a particular push on the next maQLu album, Divisive, and try to get it higher up on the national chart and then I would feel less like a snake oil salesbitch… except by the time the album was done, I’d quit CiTR over political bullshit they were pushing, and ended up never even sending Divisive out to college radio beyond one or two specific DJ friends who I sent the free download to.

Never did finish the guide, but then I also kinda felt like it was kinda exploitative.

After all, people are desperate to achieve their dreams, including dreams of becoming the next Grimes or the next Nine Inch Nails or the next R.E.M., all of whom got their initial boosts from college radio as well as gigging. I could have easily made money from such a book, but on some level I felt like I would be a weasel to try it. Y’know, sure it’s $5 or $10, so not like I would be taking people for all they’ve got, but… even at the college radio level, the vast majority will fail. The ones who will make it wouldn’t need my tips to do so, and the ones who won’t won’t be helped by them, so… plus usually the e-book is bait to sell personal consultations which cost way more, and again, same thing applies: most who would seek to book them will not benefit from them.

I guess I wasn’t born to grift, lol…

Maybe that’s me having imposter syndrome, but then again, maybe it’s me having an honest evaluation of my qualifications.

I’ve been around the art world in various guises since high school. I know a bit about various aspects, from how to hang a show to how to make a YouTube video. I still wouldn’t purport to be an expert with the answers as to how to make money “as an artist” for either visual arts and the recording arts. I know the general principles but haven’t climbed that mountain very far myself.

If Z wants to take a shot, fine, but it would be best if she was more honest about what kind of content she actually makes money off of, and if she wants to last on YouTube, she’s gonna have to grow a thicker skin, especially when it comes to someone pointing out the obvious about her channel and her own revenue model.

Ain’t nothing wrong with it except when you lie about what it is, Z. Keep doing what you’re doing by all means, but just be honest about it: this is how to make money with a channel about content creation and channel promotion.

If you don’t want commenters to call you a grifter then stop acting like a fucking grifter.

And develop a sense of humor, it tends to disarm the so-called “haters.”