In this Money Talks column, singer/songwriter Cary Cooper talks about spending 12 years touring as a musician and then transitioning to teaching music. One of the things that strikes me the most about Cary’s dedication to her life as an artist is that here have been lots of people who have supported her in various ways along the way. Her dedication to her music created loyal friends and fans who loved Cary’s music and wanted to help her continue to create and share.
There’s something so beautiful and authentic in these stories. It gave me pause to think about the many artists of all kinds who have influenced my life. How can I give back to them?
Of course, we can support our beloved artists by buying their CDs, books, and art. But Carrie’s responses help me to see there is so much more we can do. How about offering up a room (or couch) in our homes for when folks are on tour? How about contributing to crowd-source campaigns? What if we offer our favorite local artists that extra space in our workshop? Maybe sending them a gift card to Trader Joe’s or their local cafe/bookstore?
Even if we’re not able to support our favorite artist/writer/musician/entrepreneur friend with any of those things I just mentioned, we can always write a heartfelt note letting that person know how their work has touched us. We can thank them for having the courage to live a creative life. We can give them something invaluable and priceless: our appreciation and gratitude.
I hope this week you’ll consider sending a thank you note to at least one wonderful artist who has impacted your life.
And as always, here at Mabel, we love your comments + stories. Let us know what you’re thinking about money and the creative life. Please post below!
Cary Cooper, 2004 winner of the Kerrville New Folk Competition, 2nd place winner of the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival Songwriter Showcase and 3rd place in the Telluride Bluegrass Festival’s Troubadour Contest, has been described as the darling of the Dallas songwriter scene, and was cast in the nationally syndicated TV show, “Troubadour, TX”.
1. Are you earning what you’re worth?
Probably not. I’m the first to admit that I have a bunch of unresolved money wounds that I’m in the constant process of working through. After spending 12 years as a touring singer-songwriter where every week of securing enough gigs, finding cheap enough travel, selling enough CDs to pay the light bill and the rent just to get to do the thing that you love means that you make a bunch of sacrifices.
At what point does one say, enough is enough? Is living the creative life worth it if I can’t put food on the table? It’s a question I’ve wrestled with for some time. That said, I made a recent move to North Carolina from Texas and quit the touring life for a full time teaching job. And while teachers in North Carolina don’t make a lot of money by national standards, I’m now earning more than I ever did as a singer-songwriter.
2. What does the expression “starving artist” bring up for you?
Starving artist brings about visions of my past life. There isn’t one second I’d change about being a performing songwriter. But it isn’t always the glamorous life everyone envisions. It’s a lot of fast food and cheap motels and stranger’s couches and blowup mattresses. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul to go out there and do it all again for another day, week, month, year and just feel lucky that you can.
When you live this sort of gypsy lifestyle you tend to surround yourself with others living the same way. I think because there’s a comfort in not feeling alone or crazy for choosing such a unique — and sometimes lonely — path. I’m sure there are other people out there doing it more successfully or smarter, but the majority of artist types I know (unless they’ve hit a higher level of success) tend to feel fortunate if they manage to make ends meet every month.
But there’s something kind of magical about living so close to the edge and holding your breath as you wait for the miracle each month that makes it all work.
3. Do you have any childhood money stories that have to do with making a living from work you love?
I was always the kid in the neighborhood who was producing and directing a circus with all the neighborhood kids dressed up in my dance costumes parading around in my backyard for all their parents whom I’d charged twenty five cents a person to see the show. I also collected for Muscular Dystrophy every labor day for the Jerry Lewis telethon with my sister and sold rocks and pinecones out of people’s yards back to the people who’s yards I’d found them in. The idea of making money fascinated me. But I was always the kid who had to spend it as soon as I had it. My sister was a saver. I was a spender. But I was also usually the visionary and the schemer. I always knew that I could find an idea or start a project and that I could make it work.
4. What’s your biggest money story currently?
My biggest money story currently would have to be the story of my last year. After a change in relationship status, I made the decision to move from Texas to North Carolina with my youngest daughter while my oldest daughter stayed in Texas for college. I never doubted my ability to find a job when I arrived. But it turned out to be much harder than I ever imagined. I worked three part time jobs all year. More than once, friends came to the rescue when I couldn’t quite stretch as far as my bills required. There were times when I was close to giving up, but I believe in making a commitment to an idea or dream and watching as Providence moves in to meet you and help you.
My college daughter decided she wanted to move to North Carolina with us and she was all packed and ready to come when her father in Texas broke the news to her that she couldn’t bring the car he had given her for graduation. My Facebook friends rallied around us and raised enough money through a GoFundMe campaign to help me buy my daughter a car. While I never would have imagined this outcome, given what I’ve come to see and believe, I’m not surprised by it. I think this sort of crowd sourcing, barn raising, help your neighbor idea is getting back to something we’ve lost as a society. Especially when it comes to supporting those in the arts.
5. Do you think the expression, “Do what you love and the money will follow” is accurate? (Would you add anything to it?)
I’m still in the process of living the experiment to find out. I guess all I can add to it is this: “Ask me again ten years from now and see where I am and how I am doing. I’ll be curious to see how my thinking and lifestyle will have changed by then.”