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The truth about being an indie artist, gig worker in America

To say it’s been a whirlwind is understatement. Since April 14 I’ve played in Townsend, Ga., Savannah, Charleston, Fripp Island, Hilton Head, Aiken and Augusta, all while continuing freelance writing.

I am grateful. Indeed. I get to do things I wholeheartedly love—sing, play my instruments and report on a range of entertainment stories. My favorite assignment, though, is the One Tank Trip column I write each month for Savannah Morning News.

In it, I often focus on outdoor activities and local conservation initiatives. Most recently, I wrote about the $42,000 habitat conservation grant that Jekyll Island received from Georgia Audubon and Georgia Ornithological Society. It’s a pretty big deal. The island is using the money to rehabilitate three acres of Muhly grass, also known as sweet grass, to support the island’s dwindling maritime grassland habitats.

From my reporting I learned this grass is a keystone species within the maritime grassland ecosystem that supports small mammals, snakes and even the beloved painted bunting. If you’d like to check out just how innovative and necessary their conservation efforts are on Jekyll Island, you can read my full story here: One tank trip: New conservation grant will aid centuries of Jekyll Island’s plants, animals

But juggling all this, five years as musician and nearly three years as musician AND freelance writer—meeting deadlines, driving, singing, booking, loading in, loading out, driving to report on stories and so much more—I vastly underestimated the amount of effort, sacrifice and sheer force of will required to consistently pull all of this off.

How many parties and social functions have I missed or left early because I had a gig or writing deadline to make?

I’m living the American dream, though, right? I’m doing what I love and making a living. I’m paying my bills. And I want to put forth that it’s ok to recognize when you’re tired. You can be both grateful and tired. You can be proud that you’re pulling off all of this off AND fully realize the conundrum of the herculean task (or Sisyphean?) you’ve put yourself into by following your dreams and heart’s desire.

You can be grateful and embrace that you’re doing something really, really hard. And it makes you tired.

I’m not clamoring for sympathy but sharing my realizations. To be clear—I know I’m doing amazing things all on my own without support from immediate family or significant other. Come on, that’s badass. I know!

AND I am incredibly grateful for all the folks—y’all know who you are!—who come out to see me and TIP consistently, all the time!!! I have amazing fans and music supporters—please know, you make this journey easier and the load a little lighter. Thank you!

But I did do some digging into quality of life issues and how the United States fares globally in terms of overall happiness, health care, higher education and independent artist support. If you have an ear for the news, likely these findings won’t surprise you. But bear with me.

Though the United States ranks 15 in the 2023 World Happiness Report—up from 16th place in 2022—as a nation we score much lower when it comes to a range of situational factors contributing to overall happiness. Finland, by the way, leads the world in happiness six years running.

In 2021, according to findings from the Commonwealth Fund, of the world’s eleven wealthiest nations, the United States came in dead last for health care; last year, the U.S. ranked number seven in a line up of the seven most industrialized countries. In this order Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and United Kingdom all ranked higher in terms of “quality, efficiency, access, equity and ability to lead long, healthy and productive lives.”

But we know this, yeah? America has the most expensive health care system that consistently provides lackluster access, efficiency and care. This is no surprise.

And if you’re an independent businessperson, like me, you know the pain and hassle of health care. I won’t beat that dead horse, but for creative folks, gig workers, it’s daunting. I keep going, though, focused on figuring out new ways to keep afloat. Won’t mince words: health care in America sucks.

In terms of higher education, the United States comes in at number two—just behind the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg—in the world for how much on average is spent per individual student. The U.S. higher education system is one of the priciest in the world.

According to a 2019 Forbes article, “America Spends More On College Than Virtually Any Other Country,” high tuition is directly related to how much colleges and universities spend on each full time student. Elevated internal costs like technology, administrative and other fees contribute to the ever-inflating U.S. college price tag.

On average, American colleges spend $30,165 per student per year compared to $15,556 on average per student per year most colleges in industrialized nations spend. Definitely check out the article if you want more in depth facts. It’s a complex issue, and the reform required would upset a lot of apple carts. *sigh *

As far as assistance for independent artists, support by country has fluctuated widely since the pandemic, but a quick search online reveals a few pre-pandemic insights. For example, Finland leads the pack—surprise, surprise—investing as much .47% of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in support of public art and independent artists. Germany and Sweden fall closely behind with Canada investing roughly .21% of its GDP. And of the countries surveyed, of course, the United States came in dead last, investing just .02% GDP in public and independent art. Gah.

Yeah so, kind of a bummer, this post.

But all the numbers, percentages and figures I found, reveal to me what a marvel it is that I’m doing what I do. And if you’re an entrepreneur, an artist, a creative and you’re on your own in America, take comfort that your existence, your presence, your actions and choices, YOUR ART IN THIS WORLD MATTERS. YOU are an important marker of how much you are defying the odds. YOU are a million dollar baby, and just by being you and doing what you do, well, it’s like sticking it to The Man.

In defiance of chaos and uncertainty, WE are flying the bird in the face of slim odds, proudly, saying, “see what we’re doing, that’s right, keep watching ‘cause we’re fixin’ to melt your mind with the next against-all-odds piece of art we do! Keep watching, keep listening, and please, please keep TIPPING!”

Ha! Double Ha! Ha ha!

Most importantly, here’s where you can hear me in May

5/5 Private Event

5/6 Evans Farmers Market, Evans, GA 10 am to noon

5/6 Okatie Ale House, Bluffton, SC, 6p to 9p

5/7 Public Kitchen & Bar, Savannah, GA, 5:30p to 8:30p

5/10 Artillery Bar, Savannah, GA, 6p to 9p

5/11 Local 11Ten, Savannah, GA, 6p to9p

5/12 Cork & Cap, Aiken, SC, 5p to 7p

5/13 Fripp Island Resort, SC, 1p to 5p

5/17 Uncorked, Bluffton, SC, 6p to 9p

5/18 Local 11Ten, Savannah, GA, 6 to 9p

5/20 Yonah Mountain Vineyards, Cleveland, GA, 3:30p to 7:30p

5/21 Yonah Mountain Vineyards, Cleveland, GA, 1p to 5p

5/27 Fripp Island Resort, SC, 1p to 5p

5/28 Public Kitchen & Bar, Savannah, GA, 5:30p to 8:30p


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