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The Value of Creative Work - Part 1: The Story with the Designer

I am a songwriter. I write texts, songs, toplines for or with artists. Or just for myself. I publish music in a team. Sounds cool and easy at first, but when it comes to money it wasn't always. Over the years I have come across very often situations in which there was anger or I was madly annoyed myself. It's about defining the value of your creative work, and ultimately getting paid. Defining that is not that easy.


  • You can't define it. It is just as worth nothing as immeasurably much.
  • Artist and perfectionism? Good trap! Where do you draw the line.
  • Your counterpart most likely has no idea about your job and the costs or effort.

In general, the heart and soul that you put into creative work cannot be paid for anyway. It is also hardly possible to measure the “impact” of your work on the life or business of a person or your customer. Nevertheless, I want to share a few thoughts with you that have helped me a lot to clear up the subject in my head. Before I do that, I would like to tell a story that was the end of my “permanent struggles” with the subject of money as a musician.


An older and really clever friend of mine has several advertising agencies, is an artist and draws. When we started talking about this topic, he responded to the problem with a story.

A friend asked him to design a logo. After a few days they sat down and he presented his work. Approximately the following dialogue must have taken place:

Customer: "Wow, that's really cool!"

Designer: "Thank you, I'm happy!"

Customer: "How much does that cost me now?"

Designer: “800 EUR.”

Customer: “What ?! I mean, that's just a few lines ... ?! "

Designer: "This is my contribution to the success of your company."

Customer: "But, seriously, two colors, one word, a few ..."

You may know that. Now the value of creative work is being questioned. This person is not aware that...

  1. he could not have done that, otherwise he would not have commissioned him 
  2. concept and idea are probably more important than the lines
  3. years of experience and reflection lead to these good results in the first place 
  4. even someone who does these creative tasks must survive. 

The dialogue goes something like this:

Designer: "Ok, let's leave that. I'll give it to you."

Customer: "How now ?!"

Designer: "You don't understand the value of the work, keep it."

And he went. Which I found impressive. What I would not have expected is that the customer had obviously thought about the value of this work afterwards. The story ends with an envelope with 800 EUR in the designer's mailbox with a few warm words and a thank you.

That story changed everything for me. I can save myself the indignation at the “insolence of the customers” if - and that's a big “if” - I take a clear position on my work, like the good man here.


I learned a lot about it in a part of my job that luckily I no longer have to do: weddings! As a self-employed singer and musician, it is obvious - even if not expedient from today's point of view - to take “quick money” with you and to sing a wedding fair here and there. You can imagine that I have seen similar stories.

Negotiate fees, but spend 5 times as much for the photographer. Setting up a mobile cocktail bar in front of the church, but not paying an artist properly for a truly unforgettable moment. Can't nobody see that I'm rehearsing, accompanying myself and completely live (not everyone can do that at first)? That I'm an artist with a profile and not a third-rate cover band singer who reads everything from his iPad? Doesn't any of them check that I am a trained singer and that I will deliver a completely different level?

Honestly, most of it is my problem. Yeah, they don't know. And since I offer individual services and have individual requirements or restrictions (no orchestra under my sleeve, accompany myself, etc.) I used a completely different tactic at some point.

So instead of going there and asking me 700 EUR for a trial period, system, travel, e-piano and guitar to a gig with three songs, etc ... Then getting upset about the bargaining and also giving the customers a bad feeling, decided I am looking for a new concept ...


You choose a few songs from my favorite songs (big list). I optimize my preparation and the equipment and thus my overall effort. I don't charge you anything. In the end, sometime after that day, you will give me what you think is right. And you do that when you have your mind clear at some point and think back to it.


Not infrequently I had 500 EUR in an envelope, a (serious and unprepared) thank you card with touching words and sometimes really cool FC tickets or the like on top of that ...


I believe that in this case, after their special day, people started reflecting on how precious that moment was to them. And because of that, they probably understood that I also have to live, that I had to develop this for a long time in order to become like they experienced me.


If you consider that creative work in particular is somehow not really measurable, I believe that you have to apply the following:

  1. Is it a tough job? Then define a tough calculated price
  2. Is it a big project? Then define your daily rates based on the budget and see how many days it really “hurts” to work on the project. Means: be ready beforehand.
  3. Is it an individual service that requires a really creative effort? Then maybe try the “What is it worth to you?” System. I can particularly recommend this variant if there are friends who ask you about their wedding. Something like this certainly happens to photographers, graphic artists and other creative people.

In my next article I will try to illustrate these three possibilities again using three examples.

First of all, I hope I was able to broaden my view of the topic a little and maybe share an experience with you that will help you further.


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