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Creatives are struggling to make a living, and it’s hurting our creative industries

Creative professionals struggle to make a living in New Zealand, according to new research by Creative New Zealand and NZ On Air. Is it hurting the country’s creative future?

Just two months after releasing his critically-acclaimed album Avantdale Bowling Club, Auckland rapper Tom Scott tweeted that he might not be staying in the music industry. He said he had lost $14,000 since the release of his album, and in his 10 years making music had “never had one year where I made more than a cleaner.”

It’s a common joke that creatives won’t ever make money, that art school graduates will spend their lives working in coffee shops, and that musicians will eventually just become teachers, (neither bad options). The music industry is a hard one to get into, and it seems in New Zealand it’s also a hard one to stay in, no matter how critically acclaimed or well-known you are.

The new research, A Profile of Creative Professionals asked close to 1500 people in creative professions about their income, training, support and wellbeing. It found that the majority of these people had trouble making a sustainable living from their “principal artform or creative practice”.

How much money do creatives in New Zealand earn?

The research found that creative professionals earned a median income of $35,800, but excluding income from secondary jobs, this median went down to $15,000.

The median income in New Zealand is “$51,800 for all New Zealanders earning a wage or salary or $37,900 for self-employed New Zealanders,” according to the research. It’s no wonder that 55% of those surveyed have other jobs to supplement their income, outside of the creative sector.

The ‘creative profession’ spans wide, who are the best and worst-off within the industry?

Video game developers top the scale in terms of median income, making $61,500 per year, and on the other extreme are dancers, who on average make $17,500.

The low incomes and subsequent need to take up other jobs has an effect on the output of New Zealand’s creatives. A musician working full time in a retail job then has to find time outside of these 40 hours a week to pursue their craft, which means they have less time to make music.


How much time do creatives spend on their creative careers?

Half of the people surveyed said they spent less time than they would like to on their creative work. These people were likely to be spending more time on non-creative work, early in their career, or finding it difficult to live on their present income.

It’s an income issue for the most part, because no matter how passionate someone is, $15,000 is not enough to sustain anyone, so it’s no wonder people are finding work outside of the industry to help them get by.

Those surveyed who were earning $50,000 or more from their creative work were far more likely to work solely within the creative sector, and more likely to be confident in staying in the industry for at least the next five years.

It’s clear and obvious that better pay means better loyalty to the sector. For some creative professionals, the time, money and mental effort of being in a job that doesn’t seem to value your work can get tiring fast, and does nothing to keep talented people doing what they’re good at.

Are people in creative industries getting enough for the hours they put in?

In short, no. There’s clear dissatisfaction with the payoff for time spent on creative work. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed disagreed with the statement that “creative income is a fair reward for time spent.”

Of that 63%, almost 90% said they disagreed because it was either difficult or very difficult to live on their current income.

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The current climate for creative professionals almost expects that they work for little money and long hours if they want to become ‘successful’, but in the case of Tom Scott, who went on to win the Taite Music Prize for Avantdale Bowling Club, it seems success has little to do with fair remuneration.

What are NZ On Air and Creative New Zealand doing with the findings?

The two agencies have come up with three points of focus to try and remedy the issues that many creatives in New Zealand face. These are fair rewards, sustainability and emerging creative professionals.

‘Fair reward’ aims to ensure lower-paid creative professionals are “paid in line with technical professionals,” ‘Sustainability’ will work to ensure mid-career and established creatives have more sustainable incomes, “through more continuous creative endeavours,” and emerging creative professionals will help to find better ways to support creative professionals at the beginning of their career.


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