A Young Person’s Guide To Hustling In Music and The Arts

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children playing music

By Lawrence English

Over the past decade and a half, I’ve enjoyed a wonderful freelance life making relative mountains out of dirt piles – well at least that’s how I’d like to perceive it. In many ways it’s what we all do in the arts – take whatever we can and make the best of it. We choose this because more often than not we love what it is we do, and with whom we do it. This mentality is an ever-growing necessity too, as we continue to operate in one of the most underpaid areas of creative enterprise. Recent reports on annual incomes from groups such as the Australia Council For The Arts indicate the acute nature of this predicament.

Having remained freelance throughout my professional life has proved challenging at times. Early on, there were months when baked beans and toast was a staple, but mercifully I’ve been fortunate enough to get by year to year thanks to a little luck, some strategic thinking and a lot of generosity and support from wonderful and creative people who have encouraged my curatorial/artistic endeavours. To these people I am eternally grateful. So now, on the eve of my 15th year working at this ever evolving beast we call freelancing in music and the arts, I feel it may well be time to publish a few of the small rules and ideals that have sought to guide me during this voyage.

The title A Young Person’s Guide To Hustling In Music And The Arts is a homage to the inspiring introductory book and record series of the same name that summarise a body of work in one short, sharp burst. Some readers might perceive a touch of cynicism in the choice of the term ‘hustling’, but as a freelancer it’s probably one of the most apt verbs for how the process of realising projects can appear at times.

Rather than the more negative associations attached to the word, I’d like to think of hustling referring to the determination and the willingness to do what it takes to get a project off the ground. There are no set rules in this game, no ‘how to’ manual or university course you can take to get a grip on it all. It’s free-form, irrational and chaotic – a beautiful chance for creative individuals to do the best they can to realise their work and the work of those they support.

Sadly, looking back over my time freelancing, I’ve seen so many wonderful and visionary curators, producers and artists shrivel up and pass into other work before they realised their potential. These people, many of whom I can’t help but feel could be producing astonishing work right now had circumstances been different, stopped practising for a variety of reasons many of them concerning the economic instability (feast and famine, you could call it) of the freelance producer/artist work life. There’s no simple answer on how to increase sustainability within these areas, but one thing that certainly has assisted me has been the insight and mentorship of elders and those more experienced in the field. It’s partly this sentiment of sharing that has brought about the writing of this little guide.

It’s important to state, this guide isn’t a cure all. Nothing is universal, there’s no one answer or solution to the challenges faced in creativity and sustainability. This text is merely one freelancer’s thoughts and reflections about the particular set of circumstances and challenges that have presented themselves over the past decade and a half. I hope there’s some useful and thought provoking points here and that some of these views might prove poignant to you in sustaining your interests, passions and creativity.

Lawrence English, July 2 2011

(continues overleaf)

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