Don’t expect free creative content

By Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

Whether you realize it or not, we all consume art daily. From photography and cartoons on social media to YouTube videos to music on Spotify. These platforms have made it easier than ever before for creatives to share their artistic expression with the world, but at a dangerous price — free.

This distinction is increasingly important, as social media has made us more and more accustomed to getting artistic content for free. As the consumers of these artistic products, we also have the ability as consumers to become patrons of the arts.

Of course, some of these artists like YouTube stars and Instagram influencers are able to make money through advertisement and product placement. It is still up to us as consumers to support the artists we love and are inspired by. One way to accomplish this is by offering social capital to these artists online. Liking posts, following artists and subscribing to content can boost their desirability to advertisers; the bigger and more engaged their audience, the more likely advertisers are to take them seriously. This form of patronage is so simple and costs us nothing, but it can go a long way in supporting the creatives that support us through their entertaining and inspiring work.

Another way we can support independent artists is through patronage with our money. When we work to support artists financially, we open them up to be able to devote more time and energy to their work. For example, podcasters can purchase better recording equipment, a cartoonist can reduce her hours at her day job so she can spend more time on her art.

Many artists including podcasters, cartoonists, photographers and writers have accounts on Patreon, an online platform that allows consumers to support their favorite creators, often in exchange for exclusive content. Fans who sign up for Patreon can subscribe directly to their artists of choice at any monthly dollar amount. Even dedicating one dollar a month could add to the financial support of a creator and demonstrate the dedication of their fanbase.

These same principles apply to music. Musicians often use streaming services like Spotify to reach a wider audience. This strategy makes sense since Spotify is the world’s most popular music streaming service with 191 million users. However, these streaming services often do not benefit the musician as much as they should. In fact, The Economist reported in 2018 that Spotify pays an estimated $0.006 to $0.0084 per stream (usually any song listened to for more than 30 seconds) to the holder of the song rights. In addition, AdWeek calculated that based on 2015 data, 1 million plays on Spotify translated to just $6,000 to $8,000.

One way to combat these negative results of streaming services is to rethink the way we use them as consumers. We need to start seeing them the way musicians do: as a means for artists to reach a wider audience. In that way, we should use streaming services to become acquainted with new music. The next step, however, is to support musicians by buying albums we particularly like, attending concerts and buying band merch.

Even on a more personal level, we need to apply these principles of art patronage to our friends. If your friend is a musician, don’t expect to attend their shows for free. If your pal is a photographer, don’t ask her to take your senior portraits free of charge. Artistic work has value, and starting with those closest to us, we need to remove the idea that it should come without payment from the consumer.

All too often, we expect to receive creative services for free. There are easy ways to combat this inclination and become patrons of the arts. Just like any other job, creatives deserve to be paid for their work by those benefiting from the fruits of their labor.