Episode 178 — Does Art Actually Pay?


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Episode 178 — Does Art Actually Pay?

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 178! I’m answering the big question: Is there money in art? This Episode is one I had filmed for my YouTube channel but I’ve also wanted to post it here. There will be some crossing of the material between my platforms. As ambitious as that sounds, I want to put out 60+ pieces of content per month. I’m putting a lot of effort into serving you better going forward. Part of it is: If you’re part of my VIP Insiders List, I will be sending a lot of material to it:

  • On how to write a perfect outreach email.
  • How to launch your studio.
  • How to build your own brand.
  • I will also be publishing VFX case studies for feature films.

Please feel free to sign up at www.allanmckay.com/inside/.

About 99% of what I publish I do for free, except for my Courses. Most of the information is going out to this Insiders List. So do sign up! With YouTube, I will be building additional stuff as well. I am also doing VFX case studies. I will be doing email teardowns on my Instagram as well.

Also, I didn’t realize how many of you are watching this Podcast on YouTube — instead of listening to it on iTunes. That’s why I want to start cross-referencing. Please send me your input on this. Shoot me an email at [email protected]

This particular Episode is dedicated to the question of: Is there money in art?

Let’s dive in!


[00:42] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Here is the thing: Most of us think that we can put our latest work on our reel, add some music — and get the job. A lot of us aren’t aware that the majority of reels sent to a studio are skipped through and sometimes never even watched in the first place.

Everything we’re taught about being an artist is wrong! Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write a book from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. I want to:

  • Give you the formula to be the obvious candidate for the job;
  • Tell you how to build a reel and put it up on YouTube — that brings studios to you!

You can get this book for free right now! Whether you’re in design, film, tv or games, go to www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[07:14] Next Episode will be with Aaron Sims (of Aaron Sims Creative) that’s created so many features from your favorite films. So stay tuned!


[08:30] I am a VFX Sup and I’ve been working in the VFX industry for almost 25 years. The big question I get asked a lot: Is there money in art (be it game development or visual effects)? Or is the Starving Artist mentality valid? A lot of us are told in the beginning “to pick a real career”. This is the question I’ve wanted to answer forever.

Art IS a Real Career!

[09:18] As your skills grow — so does the demand. It’s really important to understand that art is actually a career. You don’t approach it as you would a job at McDonald’s. A doctor, a lawyer — any of these things take a lot of time, commitment and discipline. Most of you are going to quit along the way because you’re going to come up against that resistance. Typically, the difference between a career and a job is that a career is something that you invest in; but along the way, you invest in yourself. Just like any industry, you may need to work your way up and prove your worth. I respect those people who get their hands dirty in the beginning. But it also teaches to appreciate what you accomplish along the way. If someone just gives you a job — because of nepotism — you miss out on learning how to be disciplined and how to deal with your resistance. In any industry, there is a sort of natural selection that weeds out those who cannot deal with the resistance. But those who do make it — make it for good!

[11:06] So the key goal here is polarity. In the beginning, you need to do whatever it takes to land that first job. But one day, eventually, you will be in a position where the studios will do whatever it takes — to land YOU. I was in disbelief at the beginning of my career when I had highly successful friends; and studios would fly them halfway across the world, to wine and dine them, to convince them to work for them. I, however, was still in a position where I would have to fly myself halfway across the world and beg and plead for them to hire me. That’s the polarity: Eventually, you can have it all. But for right now, you’re in the same bucket as everyone else and you have to be the one doing the work, to stand out.

Turn Your Excuses — Into Strengths!

[12:05] Now, this applies to everyone. It’s an equal level playing field. I was a high school drop-out from Australia, with no money, no internet; I lived in a shared house, sometimes on government food stamps. Whatever your excuses are right now — take them and turn them into strengths.

  • If you say that you live in a third world country, I say, “The cost of your living is lower, so go on UpWork, go freelance. Use this to your advantage to triple your income!” Make the most of it!
  • If you say your country has a lower currency, I say, “Go work / freelance in country with higher currency.” I was making a fortune when I lived in Australia by invoicing U.S. clients.
  • If you say there is no work in your country — go work online! If you say no one hires foreigners — I’m an immigrant! I worked in Asia, Europe, Canada. I now live in the U.S. There are no excuses. Eventually, you will build a strong enough portfolio to get a visa and move anywhere!

[14:08] Some of you may say that everyone is doing this — so why should you bother? That’s your excuse! You’re right, a lot of us are still in the same bucket of putting in the minimal effort because “everyone else is doing it”. There is only a few people who are hustling and getting the work. But putting in more effort — you will be ahead. I recently published an Email Teardown (www.allanmckay.com/176). It was a video that broke down the emails I’ve received from people looking for jobs. A lot of people were shocked at the minimum amount of effort those applicants put in. Instead of something that sells the employers on WHY they should be hired, they would just fire out a link to their Vimeo. A lot of people realized: Wow, if you put in more effort — you would be ahead of the others!

[15:33] Two of my friends Jon and Josh who recently directed their first Hollywood feature film KIN (www.allanmckay.com/155). When they were teenagers, they would win every contest. They would go to cool events and launch parties. I remember asking them, “Why do you keep winning everything?” And they said, “We just keep entering contests while everyone else assumes that everyone else is applying — so they wouldn’t win. We just enter everything — and we win everything because no one else applies.” The reason they’re winning and why they’re in Hollywood doing their thing is because other people don’t.

[16:44] I always say, “You have to be in it — to win it!” Sometimes just showing up and putting in the effort — is all you need. If you don’t try, you have a 100% chance that you aren’t going to fail. But you also have a 100% chance that you aren’t going to succeed. Putting in that minimal effort allows you to create an opportunity for yourself.

Build Your Brand!

[17:15] At the start of your career, there is a thousand of people who do what you do. But eventually, you will be doing something that only you can do. The idea is to stand out! Being passive is poison. You must have goals and set out everyday to achieve them. (Otherwise, you’re a Sandra Bullock in Bird Box, floating downstream with the current.)

[17:50] It’s important to set your Someday Goals — the goals you will someday achieve — no matter how unrealistic they may seem right now. Having those give you the sense of direction. Otherwise, it’s a case of paralysis by analysis. By focusing on making your dreams happen, you will be helping other people achieve their goals as well. The more sense of direction you have — the more focused you will be and the more likely you’re to attract people at your level.

[18:44] As you grow, you will learn to stand out:

  • Look at the new technology and innovations.
  • Don’t get scared or intimidated by these innovations. Look at them as a new playing field.

Look at How to Monetize Your Art

[19:28] Is there actually such a thing as a Starving Artist? Someone who does what they love but they don’t have a roadmap to make a living at it? Without having those goals, your art will just remain a hobby. The key thing is to look at your art and ask: How can I monetize it? We are in a commercial industry and we can take advantage of that. You can be successful at it, just like any business.

[20:36] I always say: You could be the greatest artist in the world. But if no one knows who you are, how are you going to work? That’s another reason why branding is so important. Having a way to stand out make your art into a real job. You have to get out there and be available. In this day and age, we have all the tools for promotion. Everything is completely accessible online. It gives you the opportunity to be seen and heard!

[21:25] And yes: It is a real industry! Everywhere you look is art. Design is a million dollar industry. Game development is a million dollar industry. It doesn’t matter about the numbers. Everything you look at these days — is ART. This is part of the industry and what we do: the movie posters, the phone in your pocket. It’s all commercial! It’s all art.

[22:15] Here, I want to mention my fiance Christina (www.allanmckay.com/99). Her parents always told her to go get a real career. Only a few years ago, she started to look at her art career differently. She tried a few ideas and then she combined it with her passion for cars. She started putting her art on cars. Now, she makes a living as one of the top vehicle wrap artists. You can find your own way to stand out!

Make 500K a Year!

[23:08] I mentioned earlier that I came from nothing. My mom survived on food stamps. As a freelancer, I would eventually make 500K a year. I did a talk on that in Paris at an IAMAG Master Class. I’ve now talked to other designers who are successful. The one common thing we share is that we take our careers very seriously: We set goals and get out of our comfort zones all the time. There are so many different industries out there, so many ways we can make money: VR, AR, illustration, games, design, film! Just looking at one career path is very limited.

[24:35] The key thing is: The only person who is holding your back — is YOU! If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, maybe it’s time to push yourself further. Set different standards for yourself. Art is not a hobby. It’s also not a job — it’s a career. It takes time, dedication and commitment. It’s just like becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Get your hands dirty, push yourself, hustle and grind. If you do what everyone does, you will become complacent. Eventually, you will be able to turn the tables and take on any jobs that you want.

[26:08] Build a roadmap of where you want to be and then adapt as opportunities come in. That’s the difference between success and being stagnant. The industry is full of possibilities. The only person holding you back — is YOU!

I hope you enjoyed this Episode. I’m interested to see if this content is useful for you. (Feel free to check out my YouTube Channel as well.)

I think this is a really important topic, especially for a younger audience. I’ve kept my mouth shut about all the negative staff out there. I prefer to contribute to the positive aspect of the industry which is why I’ve created this Podcast. I want you to go after what you want!

Please email me: [email protected]. I love hearing your success stories because of this material.

I will be back next week with Aaron Sims of Aaron Sims Creative. We talked about his career in creature design and how he built his business.

If you’ve enjoyed this Episode, please share it and tag me in it.

Until next week —

Rock on!

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