How to Become a Six-Figure Artist

The minimum salary for most actors on Broadway currently stands at $1,861 per week. That’s an annual income of $96,772 – before taxes, agent fees and union dues of course, but still a pretty sweet, near-six-figure salary. Unfortunately, making Broadway production minimum is far from the norm, even for top industry talent.

The fact is, most actors aren’t on Broadway, and the majority of those who are don’t enjoy the career stability of a guaranteed 50 work weeks a year – at least not at the $1,861 weekly minimum. Even prestigious Off-Broadway performance opportunities fail to come close, with minimums as low as $593/week.

In a 2013 interview with NPR, former president of Actors’ Equity, a union for theatrical professionals, Nick Wyman, reported the following statistics…

  • Of the 49,000 plus members of Actors’ Equity, some 17,000 work in a given year
  • Of the members who do work, the median income from work in theater is about $7,500 per year
[tweetthis]Working members of @actorsequity have a median #income around $7.5k per year #actorslife [/tweetthis]

Clearly $7,500 is a far cry from $100,000 – So is there hope for artists striving to bridge the gap?

Absolutely. Whether you’re an actor, designer, photographer, musician or any other kind of artist, you have the potential to earn a six-figure salary, and you can sustain that level of high earnings independently of circumstances like unexpected show closings, short-term contracts and other external industry happenings.

How to Become a Six-Figure Artist

The Biggest Obstacle to Becoming a Six-Figure Artist

When I graduated college armed with my drama degree, I had a singular focus – auditioning. It was the only strategy I had ever considered for driving my career success. After all, if you want to score one of those six-figure Broadway contracts, you have to show up for the audition.

A few of years of sporadic theatrical employment later, I realized the major flaw in my singular approach– I was constantly waiting for permission from someone or something else to succeed – a casting director, a choreographer, a producer, etc.

Every experienced actor and artist knows there are million and one factors that go into whether or not you get a job offer – what you bring to the table talent wise is only a small piece of the puzzle. In other words, the traditional process for securing professional artistic opportunity relies largely on external factors outside of the artists’ control.

The result of this approach is limitation – professionally and financially. It allows someone or something else to dictate the value of your work, and in the case of most artistic endeavors, the work is extremely undervalued.

How to Become a Six-Figure Artist

In order to secure a sustainable six-figure career, artists must become the ones dictating the value of their own work. They cannot continually wait for circumstances to align and the external powers that be to give them permission to thrive – they must drive that change themselves.

[tweetthis]To secure a six-figure career #artists must dictate the value of their own work. [/tweetthis]

How? Raise the price of the work and find the market willing to pay those prices – Hint: Your target market may be an audience you never previously considered. (See: How to Be Successful When You Suck at Selling)

You don’t need everyone to buy your work, you just need the right people to buy your work, the ones willing to pay you enough to meet your income goals – be they six figures or otherwise.

Now, in some cases, raising your price point will require a reimagination of your offering. For example, I’m an actress, if I simply say I want to make six figures and refuse to accept any performing contracts that are less than $2k/ week I might not ever work again, simply by nature of the business and the extremely limited number of those opportunities available. But, if I take the time to reimagine my offering, even if just in part, I can offer a product beyond the customary playing of a role in a play or movie or television commercial.

The fact is, I’m a professional storyteller and I can leverage that aspect of my artistic self far beyond the limitations of available roles on stage. I can communicate with new audiences as I do in my freelance writing. I can talk about my experiences and lessons learned as I do in professional speaking. I can tell the stories of my life as I do on my blog and in my book. These things are far more easily leveraged for a six-figure income because I’m the one in the driver’s seat dictating the value.

That doesn’t mean I’m not still auditioning or accepting more traditional theatrical work, it just means I have more options for producing income sustainably, on my own terms and sufficient enough to cover the costs of my big, crazy dreams – artistic and otherwise.

For example, the producers of a brand new musical in development may have a shoestring budget that pays out a small $100 stipend for a week of work, but the corporate project that paid me a few thousand dollars last week means I have the freedom to pursue that artistic start up endeavor without sacrificing my income goals.

Being a Six-Figure Artist

I’m still en route to becoming a six-figure artist, but the progress I’ve been able to make by rethinking my approach, setting my own value and finding the right people, willing to pay the right price, has instigated a seismic shift in my financial reality – and my overall happiness. It’s also allowed me to continue the pursuit of my traditional artistic endeavors without the monumental stress and high stakes of needing to book the job.

Whether it’s musicians who’ve broken into lucrative corporate events that allow them the freedom to sustain their personal songwriting endeavors or artists who’ve changed their entire model to operate at a higher price point, there are plenty of thriving, six figure artists out there, driving their own success with sustainability and joy. (No more dreaded survival job- see: Re-thinking the Survival Job).

Challenge yourself to be as strategic and creative in how you make money as you are in how you make art.

[tweetthis]Challenge yourself to be as creative in how you make #money as you are in how you make #art.[/tweetthis]

From Six-Figure Caricaturist, Julia Kelly – When you can offer your clients something novel like digital caricatures that will really “wow” people, the perceived value of what you’re doing skyrockets […]You probably won’t be able to charge premium rates immediately, but keep improving your skills and moving up the value chain as fast as you can. Don’t stagnate at a lower rate or price than you’re worth […] you will be worth it when you declare yourself worth it.” Read the rest at Afford Anything.

From Six-Figure Photographer, Caroline White – My advice is you have to hustle. You have to have the balls to charge a lot of money. I think if the work is good, if you have the passion, the skill, the work, the talent, you can charge whatever you want. You don’t have to pay your dues and go up the ladder — you can decide your own value and do what it takes to believe you’re worth whatever that is.” Read the rest at Business Insider.

Becoming a six-figure artist is not out of reach, nor does it require an artistic loss or trade off, but it does demand imagination, creativity, hard work and most importantly, the courage to charge what you’re worth.

This article by Stefanie O’Connell first appeared on The Broke and Beautiful Life and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.