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Posted by on Oct 28, 2010 in Articles | 0 comments

Back to Basics: Taking the “Starving out of Artist”

Back to Basics: Taking the “Starving out of Artist”

by Bridgette Cooper

There is a reason why they call performing artists “Starving Artists”. We love what we do and we would not have it any other way. However, many of us chose this field without thinking of the financial toll it can take on our wallet once we decide to pursue it. When I decided to major in music, with the support of my parents, I never even thought about money. I never thought how much money it takes to maintain a career in the arts. My only concern was performing. Fast forward 15 years, I now realize how money IS very important to a performer. It does not have to be the one thing that drives you as an artist, but learning about how it works and how it plays a major role in your life as a performing artist IS very important.

Sing for foodWhen I was first given the task of writing this article, it really made me sit and ponder about how much or how little I actually know about money. Ok…. I will admit it, all I know is that it is has a really pretty color green and that you can spend it and get lots off stuff! Oh yes, and that you had to make it (money).  I had NO idea of what it takes to actually make my money work for me (outside of savings accounts and IRA’s),  as well as what to do with my money once I made it. My relationship with money has changed over the years as my career has grown. When I first graduated from school, all I wanted to do was perform. I was lucky enough to get  several touring contracts and continued to watch my career blossom from there. As we all know, touring is in many aspects, where you can make a lot of money as a performer consistently. However, now that I have a little one, my relationship with money has changed yet again.

After taking an assessment of my own financial life, I realized that I was in desperate need of an extreme financial makeover. I needed to change my complete out look on what money actually is. I am very fortunate to come from a family of professionals. My parents made life very easy for me when I was growing up. My father was an Attorney who made a living in private practice and my mother was a former opera singer and educator. The thought of always being my own boss in whatever capacity is the reality I grew up with because of the nature of my father’s business. Learning how to save money was another story for me.  Taking all of this into consideration I decided to seek advice from someone who is at the top of their game in the world of corporate finance, Mr. Curtis J. Lewis, II, Fiscal Officer  for the Commission in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer for th District of Columbia Public Service Commission.

In my conversation with Mr. Lewis, I was struck with how he spoke to me and gave me advice as if  “I” am the business. OMG! A light bulb went off in my head. “I AM THE BUSINESS” I thought to myself. For years I had been operating as if music was the business and I was in it, but I was not operating as if ” I ” am the business. As we continued our discussion, I realized that the first thing I needed to do, is to start thinking of myself a “mini” corporation. My instincts where good, but a few clicks off center.   Mr, Lewis  suggests the top five things that  EVERY performing artist should do for themselves, especially if you receive a 1099 for any of your jobs. First, set up a payroll with ADP (No, not the home security company, that’s ADT). ADP stands for Auto Data Processing. It is a payroll company. YOU are your own employee (start acting like it). Once you have set up an account with ADP, they  will send you a check from your own money AND pay the IRS as they should be paid (this will lessen the risk of not having enough taxes taken out, oh yes and  of you spending the money that really belongs to the IRS). Second, officially establish yourself as a business. Mr. Lewis suggest considering filing an application that will establish yourself a a “Sole Proprietor”, for the ONE fact, that what you do for a living will not “cause harm” to other people, so the concern of protecting your assets (should let’s say…you intentionally hurl your lead off the stage in a fit of divaness) is not as great; Third, set up a savings for retirement (this is also where the payroll service comes into play). We all know that once the money is in your hands, human nature is to spend it. However with the ADP in place, they can send you your check, as well as sending a portion to an IRA. Mr. Lewis was clear to point out that singers should contribute something to both a short term savings (personal savings account, CD’s) and a long term savings (Retirement Funds). Fourth, consider talking to financial advisor. This is someone who can help establish a game plan for your personal finances and your financial future. Fifth, Mr. Lewis suggest that all singers consider work as a consultant.  Take time to identify means of sustaining yourself. This is really important when the singing jobs are few and far between. So many of us as performing artist find our self-worth in considering ourselves as a person who is making a living in the arts ONLY if we are performing. We need to rethink what making a living as singer actually is. Performing is only one aspect of making a fulfilling career as a musician. Mr. Lewis pointed out that “as long as your are making a living in the realm of music, you should consider yourself a full time musician. If your are performing, teaching, consulting for music programs, it all falls under the umbrella of music and thus makes YOU a full time musician”

Curtis_LewisMr. Lewis brings to the Commission over 20 years of best practices in corporate finance, accounting, and business planning in both the private industry and government. Prior to joining the Commission, Mr. Lewis served as Supervisor of Financial Planning and Analysis at Time Warner Cable, where he led the budgeting, forecasting, and reporting operations for $581 million in operating and capital expenses for the Advanced Technology Group, comprised of 60+ functional areas and over 1,000 FTEs.

Mr. Lewis also served as Chief Operating Officer for Ellis Enterprises, LLC (a District of Columbia LSDBE) where he developed the company start-up business plan, established initial business operations and implemented “back office” infrastructure in finance, contract compliance and staffing to capture business opportunities in technology and real estate in the District. Mr. Lewis authored the initial business and strategic plan for the Broadcast Center One development project and the historic Howard Theater acquisition. Broadcast Center One is the proposed $144 million, 300,000 square foot commercial and residential complex housing Radio One and TV One District headquarters.

Mr. Lewis was the co-founder and President of the Mojo Highway Brewing Company, the first African American-owned brewing company in the nation. The company was recognized nationally as having one of the most dynamic new product offerings in the Craft Brewing Sector and achieved distribution throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

In early roles in his career, Mr. Lewis served as Senior Financial Analyst with US Department of Veterans Affairs, Central Office, where he was a member of key staff in the agency’s Franchise Fund Strategic Plan and a subject matter expert in benefit/cost analyses for high-costs acquisitions and capital budgeting. Mr. Lewis began his professional career with BET Holdings, Inc. where he reported directly to BET’s current CEO and Chairman, Debra Lee, leading the accounting and performance reporting for the company’s first programming content launch in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Lewis is a native Washingtonian and is a product of DC public schools, graduating from Woodrow Wilson High School. Mr. Lewis earned his Bachelor of Arts in Banking and Finance from Morehouse College and he received his MBA in Finance from the American University, Kogod College of Business. You can contact Mr. Lewis
Curtis J. Lewis, II, Lewis Consulting Co.

Bridgette CooperMezzo Soprano Bridgette Cooper is an award winning opera singer, music educator, music critic and featured columnist. Was recently named Outstanding Alumni from East Carolina University along side Academy Award winning actress Sandra Bullock. She has traveled the world singing in recital and operatic engagements. Ms. Cooper was in the final season of the hit HBO series The Wire and the pilot episode for The Washingtonian produced by Emmy nominated Sarah Jessica Parker of Sex and the City. You can follow her on Twitter at and . She blogs at or friend her on

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