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Starving Artist

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

Pasta with Alfredo sauce, the first full meal I'd had in a week after running out of money and food.

DISCLAIMER: I know that I am still more privileged than most. I am a college-educated, white, employed person with a supportive family and health insurance. I have safety nets a lot of people in this world don’t have, and although I have struggled, I know many others out there right now are struggling much worse. I am not writing this because I want anyone to feel bad for me, or to try and paint my lower-middle-class life as somehow an unfair burden. I recognize that this is the life I’ve chosen, and in choosing this life I am wholeheartedly choosing the victories and the sacrifices that come with it. At the end of the day, this blog is about sharing my story with you. These are my experiences as I felt and dealt with them. It does not and will not change the fact that I’ve lived a comfortable middle-class life to this point, and believe me, I know how lucky I am to have what I have even now, despite that by my own privileged standards I am going through some harder times.

ALSO. To my family, friends, and fans who keep up with my blog. I AM OK. I will never post a blog when I am in the middle of going through a tough situation. These posts are written months in advance, and I only post them when I feel comfortable, stable, and safe enough to share them. I want these to reflect my real, in the moment thoughts, and I do not soften them or water them down, but I have moved past this point in my life and I am not in need of any help. Thank you for caring though!

First, I ran out of money.

Then I ran out of food.

Before we get to that part though, let me give you some context. Once I finally got settled in Nashville and found a stable job, I wanted to dive right into my music. That meant I did not have time to waste. I ended up taking out a ten thousand dollar personal loan, at that loan is the reason I have four radio-quality singles out there in the world right now. Producing a song cost me one thousand dollars each. For each song, I had to pay for a cover photoshoot, which also included hair and makeup. I then paid for social media ads to market the songs, as well as some Spotify playlist pitching. I also had two music videos done, one that cost around eight hundred dollars and one that I will in time pay six thousand dollars for. My loan helped me cover pretty much all of these things, but it has finally ran out.

Before you go and call me irresponsible, consider the amount of debt I was encouraged and even expected to go into to get my college degree. Why? Because it’s an investment in my future. Well, the future I want is in music, and to make the kind of music I wanted to make I needed to invest in it. I didn’t uproot my life and come down here to half-ass this thing. I am not holding anything back, and I will not sacrifice quality in the name of safety or practicality.

Another truth to that matter, when you’re already in so much debt, acquiring more doesn’t really seem like a huge deal. I’m going to be in debt for at least the next 30 years from school, so what is ten thousand more dollars? I know there are probably people out there shaking their heads and judging me right now, but I don’t care because it’s the truth. Getting out of debt is not as important to me as achieving my goals and enjoying my life. If I need to dig myself into a deeper hole in order to accomplish something or have an amazing experience than so be it, you only live once.

Getting back to the story…

When I still had the loan money, it was almost like having a security blanket. If I mismanaged my bills or other life payments, I could borrow from it until my next paycheck. I almost always paid myself back, because I wanted, of course, to save it to spend on my music, but my point is, being “out of money” was not really ever an issue for me. I could always borrow from my loan money, and I also had two credit cards.

The problem is, my loan money ran out before I had paid for the entirety of my songs and videos. I was having to make those payments from my actual paycheck. I was now in a cycle of maxing out my cards and making minimum payments, only to max them out again until I had to make another payment. Essentially, if I didn’t have money, I actually didn’t have money. I didn’t have anywhere left to borrow from.

Another factor in this is the fact that I am now solely responsible for keeping all of my bills organized and paid for on time. I had moved into my apartment with a roommate who had lived there for five years and had her own system in place. The way everything was set up, it was easiest for her to pay the bills and have me Venmo her my half. I knew what I had to pay on the 1st and the 15th, and I didn’t really pay attention to many details beyond that. After she moved out, It was all on me. For those who don’t know me, creativity is my forte, organization is not. So my inability to properly juggle my bills and budget for them ahead of time definitely got me into some trouble.

After my paycheck in the month of August on the 15th, I got my groceries, filled up my car with gas, and essentially used all of the rest of it to pay off my music, and latest music video. I paid it all the day I got my check, essentially draining my whole account. I might have saved myself 50 bucks if even that. This is a method I’d used before, and I’m pretty good at surviving on a hundred dollars or less most of the time.

One other factor I was dealing with was that I had a friend coming to town that weekend. I actually didn’t spend very much money on that, because he knew about my situation and was happy I was letting him stay at my place, avoiding the cost of a hotel. He wanted me along for some touristy things and paid my way. However, on his birthday I did buy him a couple of drinks. I used the last of my credit card to do so. I felt guilty that he was buying so much for me. It was a small gesture that didn’t show for much in comparison to what he’d covered for me that weekend but it was really all I had left by that point. The truth is I feel really uncomfortable letting people buy me things. I pressure myself into making up for it because even if they say otherwise I feel like I owe them something in return.

On top of all of this, I have student loan payments that come out to about 500 per month. This is split between loans I pay around the 1st and the 15th. I am also now paying back my personal loan.

At the end of the day, I should have been organized and done better math. My producer and my videographer/director are very flexible and understanding people, but I felt like I needed to give them as much money as possible as soon as possible, and what ended up happening was that I stretched myself too thin.

I then realized too late that I still had other bills to pay. My new wifi bill and my electric bill were timed differently than what I had worked out with my roommate before and were coming up. On top of that, after getting a couple of months of help from my mom, I would be paying an extra $240 dollars for my car on my own starting in September. I did not plan accordingly for that.

On top of that, my brand new roommate and I are still in the process of dealing with self-inflicted damage to our oven. Our apartment wants us to pay 482 dollars for it. We’re still evaluating our options.

I’ve been good at stretching food. I was able to do it when I first moved to town, lost my job, and was surviving on Postmates driving. I was already cutting back and strategizing, and part of that strategy has always been black bean burritos.

I don’t mind eating the same thing every day, especially to help my money last until my next paycheck. However, I am not so far gone that I will voluntarily eat constant ramen. It’s so cheap and honestly pretty delicious, but so bad for you. I’d do it in an emergency, but I was already stocked up on what I thought would last the coming days.

Sour cream, a couple 99 cent cans of black beans (with reduced sodium) tortillas, shredded cheese, and arugula (because as a single person, spinach and other greens wilt too fast.)

It’s all I had aside from a few frozen turkey burgers, and it wasn’t super bad at first. It was certainly redundant, but it worked.

Then, the bills began to hit, to my surprise. I have automatic payments set up, so imagine waking up to an email saying insufficient funds. I had no other way to pay for it. My mom ended up helping me out. I hate doing that, but I had no other choice. As I said, I had nowhere left to borrow from.

The thing is, I told you guys I grew up middle class. My parents have had shaky job security my entire life (which had nothing to do with their hard work ethics and all to do with bs and bad circumstances) and this summer was no exception. They do not have unlimited funds to give me, and they have my brother and my dog to take care of. My mom was waiting on her next paycheck too. At some point, my gut told me not to push it anymore. I’m an adult now, living on my own, I got myself into this situation and I needed to get myself out.

On top of that, I then had an unbudgeted trip to Memphis with my day job thrown in there. I originally wasn’t going to go because I was staying in town for another event, but that event got moved. On top of that, I usually carpool with coworkers, but I wasn’t able to due to their schedules, so I had to drive. That was an entire tank of gas. I’d be reimbursed for it of course, but that would come with my next paycheck. I needed money now. One upside was that this event was a corporate breakfast, one less meal to worry about.

I made it to Memphis on half a tank and made it a third of the way back when I found myself on empty. I remember pulling off the highway stopping at a gas station. At this point, I had a 37 cents in my checking account. One of my cards was completely maxed out and one had maybe a few dollars on it. I tried to call my mom at that point, but she didn’t have her phone on her. I was stranded. I thought about asking people around me for help, but then figured I’d see how far the credit card got me. It ended up by some miracle filling up my whole tank. My card would definitely be over the limit when the charges kicked in, but I didn’t care. I was just happy to make it home.

I was up all night the night before with writing ideas. I had to get up early for breakfast so I got about three hours asleep. After returning home, I meant to take a power nap, and it turned into me sleeping the entire day away. One less meal to worry about.

My ingredients began to widdle down. First went the arugula, then went the cheese, then went the sour cream, and finally, the beans were gone too. I was at a point where all I had were tortillas. My friend Mackenzie invited me over and made us dinner one night, and I also had dinner with a co-writer friend of mine while we were working on a song, which delayed the inevitable, but sure enough, the tortillas were gone too and I still had a couple of days to go.

There is a difference between being “hungry” and being hungry. It was definitely a humbling experience. I could not afford to drive over to the gas station for a two-dollar bag of popcorn or hot Cheetos. Acquiring food was such everyday accordance, and suddenly it wasn’t. Suddenly it was a challenge. After a week of tortillas and beans, I managed to look through all of my old purses to find enough pocket change for a dollar McGriddle from McDonald's. I hate McDonald's and pretty much cut it out of my life in high school after reading the book “Fast Food Nation” that grossed me out but in this state of desperation, this McGriddle might as well have been file miñon from Buckingham Palace.

I ended up lucking out at work. Often times people will bring in food, leftovers of any kind, desserts, anything really. There was a large bag of chili’s chips and salsa that was up for grabs. That was my meal for two days.

Backing up a bit, I had been looking for ways to get some more cash. I ordered a Postmates card again and would have gone driving, but I was worried about running out of gas faster than I could profit. Then I started looking through my closet. I figured I could sell the dress I’d worn for the Rome photo shoot, considering it was formal, relatively new and that I’d only worn it twice. So I posted in some Facebook groups briefly explaining why I needed to sell the dress. Although I didn’t get any offers on that, someone did generously offer to give me some leftover food. She’d just cleaned our her mom's closet after moving her and had a lot of extra things she said she didn’t want and need. I jumped at the chance, it came just in time.

After work, I drove to her apartment. I wasn’t sure what to expect and was excited and ready to take anything really. She said, “It’s not much” while handing me two bags of more food than I’d seen in a week. I’m talking about soup, popcorn, rice, bread, pasta, Wheat Thins, cookies, fruit bars, and HALLELUJA APPLES. I hadn’t eaten any fruit in at least two weeks. It felt like Christmas, almost as good as eating that hot McGriddle. I could not wait to get home and get cooking.

As I was pulling off the highway, I saw some people with cardboard signs near the stoplight. It’s a spot where that often occurs. When I was using my meal prep service Clean Eatz, I made it a part of my personal code to always share a meal if I saw someone on the street on my way home. This time was no exception, I looked through my new stash and gave away the Wheat Thins. I figured it would last a decent amount without going bad, and without being hard to eat.

It can be easy to look down on people you see in the street. It’s easier to look the other way when you assume the worst. “They’re lazy, they’re going to waste the money on drugs, there are other resources, etc.” But at the end of the day, most of us are just one or two misfortunes or miscalculations away from that. Standing on the street asking for money would have been in my next couple of steps. You never know what someone is going through, who they are, or how they got there, but you can be kind, and you can give, even if you don’t have much to offer.

I was sure to get the proper contact information from the woman who helped me today. She will never be forgotten, and if I can make my music take off, she will be well taken care of.

I’ve never felt so satisfied and at filling my empty cabinets. I would get paid on Friday, I would make it through. I was out of toilet paper, but paper towels would hold me over, and I could live without the allergy meds for a few more days. if I can keep my head on straight, things would go back to normal.

Homelessness and hunger have always been important issues for me. I’ve always imagined and empathized with people facing those situations, even as a kid. It always hit me in a way I couldn’t shake. It’s one thing to imagine it, but its another to feel yourself getting closer and closer to it. These things don’t happen overnight, and like I said up top, some people, unlike me, are facing this world with unfair disadvantages already working against them.

Ther is also something important to consider about my situation and the streaming side of the music business.

Streaming has slowly but surely become one of the most dominant ways music is being shared in today’s arena. It’s too late to fight it, it’s where we are and we are headed. It does provide a lot of opportunity for independent artists like me to bypass the record labels and radio gatekeepers and get my music directly to fans. That opportunity I am extremely grateful for. However, given the circumstances, I just explained and the sacrifices I am making to be here, let’s consider something for a second.

after investing over a thousand dollars into the production and promotion of my song “Horizon” alone, it has been streamed on Spotify 55,504 times. If I had been making ten cents per stream, I’d have made 5,550 dollars. Instead, COLLECTIVELY on Spotify so far, (including 10,350 streams for “Rome” 5329 for “Heat of the Moment” and 4105 for “I’ll Write”) I have only made a total of $147.70.

A quick google search will tell you that Spotify reported an annual revenue of 4.00 billion dollars in 2017 according to it’s F1 SEC filing.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, I’m honestly still learning a lot about the business side of the music industry. But I do know from friends who have been in it long enough to tell, that artists and writers are not getting paid nearly what they used to before streaming took over. It’s why concert ticket prices are so high and why merch is so expensive now.

I again am grateful for the opportunity the streaming world provides. But I also think that a platform making billions of dollars that NEEDS artists in order to exist should be able to give enough back to those artists so we can survive too. Had I been making that ten cents, I would not be in this situation, and more importantly, I’d be able to make more music sooner.

It’s not about wanting to be rich, but it’s about wanting things to be fair.

Because I clearly have not chosen the life I’ve chosen because I want to be wealthy, or even comfortable.

I knew this was part of the deal, and I took it, and honestly, I’m more well off than most musicians and writers down here can say. I’m still beyond grateful for all that I have and all that I’m sacrificing to live this life. I would continue choosing this life, even if I knew ahead of time that it wouldn’t make me a dime. I’d still be happy. When I do find success though, philanthropy will always be a priority, and I know homelessness and hunger are causes I want to champion. I do what I can now, but I’d really like to champion them in large, significant ways. That’s what I imagine when I picture myself making it big. This experience only reaffirms that. I want to live in a world where the only thing people can be hungry for are bigger and better dreams.

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