I've looked over this question about asking for free work, and read the NO!SPEC faq, and I agree with those lines of logic entirely. I'm in a position I think is different though.

I'm a pianist, and I've been casually releasing improvisation videos for a while now, but I want to start building a real career from my playing.

I've cooked up an idea for a weekly youtube series where I play a piece and talk about it etc. The tone and intent would be very similar to things like crash course, wisecrack, and extra credits. I plan to set up a Patreon for the series. I've got the process and format all figured out, and the first episode is completely written and recorded, but I have a bit of a chicken and egg problem concerning the visuals.

I mentioned I how love extra credits, I think their illustrations are the perfect balance between engaging and efficient to produce. I think the ideal version of this series would use a combination of me talking into the camera and illustrations in that kind of simple and approachable style. I think that would most engage people and make the content approachable, and would have the most success attracting patrons. And it would be the most efficient for me to produce. I'm also a programmer, and I've put together a python script that would allow me to take a bunch of images and automatically assemble them into a video. But there's the problem...

I can't afford to hire someone to do illustration work. So far I've been really creative about finding free audio/video equipment and recording space, so at this point I haven't spent any money. My skills in illustration or photo manipulation or animation are non-existent, I've never had an ounce of talent or proclivity for that sort of thing, and I strongly ascribe to the belief that to be successful one should have a short list of things you're dedicated to becoming excellent at, so I really can't justify sinking a bunch of time into trying to make engaging visuals, especially since there's every chance I couldn't even remotely succeed.

So I have two choices:

  • Press on with my existing skills, digging up images online and doing my level best to make some of them, and make the first Patreon goal to hire an illustrator. It will take longer for those patrons to come in, and lots of episodes will be made with my awful image skills at the helm.
  • Try to find an illustrator to work for free for the time being, with the hope that their engaging work would help bring in patrons faster. Every dime of the patronage money would go to them until they were being paid a fair price every week, at which point I would start using further money for other things. This prospect is a scary one for them, since there's no guarantee the series will ever be successful, let alone be successful soon.

Is this an arrangement someone would ever possibly agree to? I would be more than happy to give them a shout out at the beginning of every single episode to help them get their name out there, and of course once there was money coming in I would be thrilled to pay them, but at this point I have to play scrappy.

And if I do try to find someone, where could I find someone in a position to actually benefit from an arrangement like this?

  • 4
    Your improv channel has 2 subscribers and most of your videos have zero views. You've not invested a dime into your business, have zero views, and yet you want others to take a chance on you? Not a chance. Nobody would. If you can't go further than zero views without hiring an illustrator then you need to rethink your business model. Rather than diving into this I think you should read about video marketing and blogging a bit to refine your content and delivery with your own talents first.
    – Ryan
    Mar 27, 2016 at 17:18
  • I said I was releasing the improv videos casually for a reason. This channel idea is a new one, one that I hope to create a career with by honing my skills week by week and giving people an opportunity to slowly gather around me. I haven't invested a dime because I don't have a dime to invest. I have zero views because I've only been doing that to push myself to release something into the world consistently to get over the fear that inherently accompanies releasing art.
    – blaineh
    Mar 29, 2016 at 21:30
  • I've done zero work to publicize myself yet because I didn't feel ready to. Now I do, and I was reaching out to the world for advice and guidance. What I didn't need was sarcastic insults. I don't know why you're bitter enough to take shots at someone trying to find a footing in the world, but I hope you stop doing it.
    – blaineh
    Mar 29, 2016 at 21:30
  • The accepted answer did a fine job of giving a reality check without demeaning me and my talents and my efforts. Please follow its example in the future.
    – blaineh
    Mar 29, 2016 at 21:32
  • I don't see anything wrong with my comment except for being honest. My point is, which Zach doesn't mention, that you have no following yet. If you had hundreds or thousands of views and subscribers then asking this question would be very different. And I did give you advice - push your own skills first and look into video marketing and blogging. I don't know where you see anything insulting. I never said your videos were bad or anything of the nature. Sorry you took it so personally.
    – Ryan
    Mar 29, 2016 at 23:47

1 Answer 1


Is this an arrangement someone would ever possibly agree to?

Only entry level designers who don't know what they're doing.

What you're asking for is a lot of work and for only name mention. You're asking them to gamble time and hard work on the chances that you'll be successful enough to support not only yourself but also their efforts.

You're essentially a startup hoping to make it big. If any startup offers me a position paying only stock in the company, I'm never going to work there unless I really believe in their mission or their success. Even so, I wouldn't be banking on it's success, it'd be a side project for me, because I need money to live.

What would your response be if someone asked for one-on-one lessons for 8 hours a week but didn't pay you until they were a famous pianist?

What you're asking is just too high of a risk for most people.

So if you want to design these videos well and really believe in your project, save up, take a loan, or something else and pay a good designer to do good work. Or take the time to learn how to do it yourself (which is a lot of time in itself - I only recommend this if you're looking for a career change).

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