F i n a n c i a l S e l f C a r e ?
Those of us who entertain people with songs and stories, often use “old reliable favorites” to set the tone for our presentations. When I’m playing for parents or human service professionals, one of my staple pieces is to ask them what they think about sending a teacher who doesn’t speak Spanish, into a room full of kids to teach them Spanish! They laugh, of course, because the idea is ludicrous. How can someone teach Spanish, (or any other language), if they don’t have a working knowledge of it themselves? If we want to help others build a skill, we need to have that skill ourselves, otherwise, how can we “Pass It On!”? We hope our performances will help families build self-worth, resiliency and an ability to survive these trying financial times, but most children’s artists face the same financial struggles as everyone else. So let’s take a look at our own financial self-care skills, and as we gain clarity about our own style, we’ll collect tools we can to pass on to others.
OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MONEY
Society talks about how important children are, but we notice that resources for children’s performers are really low or absent. The human perks can be wonderful of course, but when we choose to do this kind of work, many of us have to take other jobs to make ends meet. Why is our bottom line so low? Does it have anything to do with our own sense of self-worth? If we play music for kids and families we have probably heard “That’s not a real job! Look how much fun you’re having!” Low pay and those messages erode our belief that we deserve to be paid for our work. If this has happened to you, please hear this clearly. Our work is critically important! Singing with children builds community, teaches healthy skills, hones creativity, co-operation, brain functioning and provides an experience of real connection with live humans that is so desperately needed these days to counteract the techno-virtual reality that passes for living a full life. When we know this in our bones; when we truly value ourselves and our work, we will be able pass these values and insights on to our family audiences.
Years ago, after I held up a couple of my vinyl record albums on stage and told my audience about the songs I’d written, a friend of mine remarked,
“Aren’t you embarrassed about selling your albums like that? If the music’s good, it sells itself! You never see famous people do that.”
“Well, ... who else is gonna sell it?” I gulped. “If I don’t tell people about my songs they’re not gonna know. Besides, when I do this, I sell twice as many albums!”
My friend had touched a sore spot. I was embarrassed about selling my albums, and her question helped me look at that clearly. I like my songs. Kids and parents in my audience like them too, and I know they’re helping the world by being out there. So it might help to ask yourself, do you let your audiences know about the songs on your albums? And if not, what’s holding you back? If we just give them some information, they can decide if they want to buy or not. If our music lifts families; if it helps them live a bit easier, why not tell them about it?
Early in my career I asked a friend who was a seasoned comedian to critique my set.
“Great show Peter!” he said. “I can see you’ve spent a lot of time practicing from the first note of each song to the last note. The part of your show that needs attention, however, is from the last note of each song to the first note of the next song! Those segues deserve just as much attention and rehearsal as the songs!”
He was right of course, and his comment helped me with talking to my audience about my products. I began to record my sets so I could listen to them and work on my segues. My show got better, and I worked on my “album pitch” too. I made it part of the show. I’d mention my funniest song titles. I’d get a kid to come up and hold my albums like a “display rack”, then I’d let them to pick out a free album for helping. I’d ask them why they picked the one they picked, so the audience could hear someone other than me say positive things about my songs! For one song, I became a character with a red hat, Honky Boy Pete who sings my song “No Excuse T’Use Booze”. When the song is over, Honky Boy looks around for Peter Alsop, (who is no where to be found), so Honky Boy says,
“Wonder where Peter went?. Well, long as he isn’t here, ... I’ll tell you about his albums! Sure writes some goooooood songs, eh?!” Just because marketing is blatant, doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining! There are hundreds of creative ways to tell folks about our products. Put the same commitment and energy into making an entertaining pitch as you do when you write and practice your songs, and it will be magnificent!
What else can we do to create more income?
1) If you have three or more items, offer a deal! People love deals. Make a sign “Save $3dollars on every third item!” and you will sell more items.
2) Figure out the resistance to purchasing your music, and answer the question before it’s asked.
Question: “Why should I buy this?” Answer: “Because you will need birthday presents for your kid’s friends!”
3) T-shirts. You will end up carrying a lot of product; different sizes, colors and styles, and make less profit on your T-shirts than on your music. Why compete with yourself? If a fan can only buy a shirt OR your music, your music has a much better chance of generating future sales for you than your shirt.
4) When you give receipts, don’t just hand out a financial scrap of paper. Give them a postcard with your picture, web site and social media contact information on it.
INCOME FOR THE FUTURE
So what about taking care of ourselves and our families in a longer time frame? Owning our own songs and making sure parents can purchase them as we move into the future creates a wonderful little income stream that can trickle into our hands as we grow older. But do you have a pension? Are your children (who are probably going to grow up to be musicians) going to support you?! Maybe you’re hoping that Social Security will still be there when you arrive?
I decided to join Local 1000 of the American Federation of Musicians. I’m not a joiner, but when I heard about the benefits, it was a no-brainer for me. I’ve been getting a monthly pension for the last four years, and they offer healthcare and instrument insurance. Like CMN, it’s a community of supportive people who have banded together to help each other. As singles or duos performing in schools or libraries, we become little islands; small businesses surviving by ourselves without much help. Local 1000, founded by traveling folk musicians, is the only non-geographic local in the Musician’s Union. If you play music for little folks, you are eligible to join.
Here’s how it works. I perform a gig. I ask my employer (school, library, civic group, festival, birthday party) to sign a form (called an “LS1”). That form empowers me to act on their behalf to send in a portion of my payment to the AF of M pension fund. My employers don’t have to do anything else. No extra payments, forms or agreements. Simple. I fill out the form and send it to the pension fund with some of the money they paid me.
There’s a major difference between putting money in an IRA and participating in the AF of M pension fund. The IRA, (Individual Retirement Account) is basically a savings account that allows you to decide where you want to invest it. If you are wise and a little lucky, it will grow. The difference between that and a pension fund is that the IRA is defined by how many dollars you actually have in it, put there by you and/or your employers. When those dollars are gone, perhaps due to unlucky investments, or because you have been taking it out, your retirement income is gone too. A pension is also defined by how many dollars your employers have put in, but it’s also defined by how long you live. With a pension, you will continue to receive money as long as you live. With an IRA, you continue to receive money as long as there’s money. If you have $100,000. dollars in an IRA, and you retire and you want to live on $20,000. a year, you may be solvent for 5 or 6 years, but when the money’s gone, that’s it! When you become a pensioner at $20,000. a year, you will continue to receive that amount every year of your life until you go to the Great Playground in the sky. And at that time, (at least with the AF or M pension fund,) your spouse is eligible to receive 50% of that amount for the rest of their life. Most personal investments can’t come close to that kind of deal. If you live a long time with a pension, you will eventually receive more money than you put in. The union pension fund supports you. If you and your spouse do not live a long time, you may not receive all the money you put in. The remainder stays in the pension fund to support others in your union. My point is simply that we are capable of checking these figures out for ourselves with a financial advisor. When we are informed, we can make decisions about the best way to care for ourselves and our families. I’ve made my choice. I want to see family artists thrive, not just survive. Check out: www.local1000afm.org .
Here’s a list of some kid’s artists who are currently members of Local 1000: Ysaye Barnwell, Tom Chapin, Lui Collins, Cathy Fink, Bill Harley, Kim & Reggie Harris, Jenny & David Heitler-Klevans, Dan Crow, Nancy Hershatter, Billy Jonas, Marcy Marxer, John McCutcheon, Jay Mankita, Kristin Lems, Tom Paxton, Sally Rogers, Pete Seeger, Trout Fishing In America (Keith Grimwood & Ezra Idlet), Deborah van Kleef, Kim Wallach, Bill Wellington, Ken Whiteley, Elise Witt and Peter Yarrow. Get in touch, ask them questions. Or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s take the best financial care of selves as we can, eh?!