First Creative Dollar Series: The First Time I Was Paid For My Thoughts

I like to tackle the odd intersection of money and creativity from a historical lens (and oftentimes, my own meandering past). I’m curious about what psychologically tugs people around, and I find the biographies of various fascinating people to serve as interesting fodder.

This week, I thought of another potential series for the blog.

I would love to do research about historical “first creative dollars.” (A “creative dollar” being money generated by original thoughts and creations - inventions, songs, articles, woodworking, fondant cakes, etc.)

In addition to historical people, I think it’d be fun to interview people in real life about this too.

Watching Numbers Move Around

While writing this, I literally just opened my bank account to confirm that money is showing up because I wrote something for someone else on the internet.

I watched the payment go into Paypal, then I pushed some buttons, and now I’m watching it go into my daycare fund. Pending.

Needless to say, I'm very thankful.

I did this transaction with someone I’ve never met. I’m not even sure where they live. They certainly don’t know where I live. But somehow we reached our thoughts across computer screens and into each other’s worlds. And it’s impacting my daycare fund. (It’s weird to explain, but I have an old account where I’m trying to use up old checks, so that’s where my flex account and Paypal money goes).

Selling songs and freelance writing = Paypal = daycare money!

I’m excited, bewildered, and not quite sure what to make of making money on the internet. The mixed feelings I’m experiencing remind me of old strange notions and memories regarding the role of money and creative expression in my past life as a musician

My First Creative Dollar

I clearly remember the first time I was paid for my music. It was a battle of the bands in high school. It was a Thursday night. I had a guitar lesson in a faraway town first. (I now live in this town and work with the wife of my old guitar teacher!)

While driving home from my guitar lesson, I received my second ever speeding ticket. (I haven’t gotten a speeding ticket since then - thank goodness.)

When I arrived in the high school gym, I was wearing some green cargo pants and going for a grunge vibe with a simple teeshirt and long wavy hair. The lead singer of another band was dressed like Avril Lavigne. Another band had a good friend in it playing guitar while a smart quiet girl sang Under the Bridge. The high part at the end (where John Frusciante’s mom sings on the original recording) was kind of pitchy and very loud.

I sang three of my original songs as a solo act.

I came in second. I won $38. I was 17 years old. The Avril Lavigne singer who won (and didn’t like being compared to Avril Lavigne) sang cryptic songs about god and had four dudes in her band. I wanted to be friends with her and the band but didn’t know how.

I went home that night and journaled about the experience. I have that blue journal in its entirety and that entry in my attic (but I didn’t bother to get it out and take a picture of it for this post). Ha! Maybe someday.

$38. Not enough to cover my speeding ticket. But I felt like I was onto something.

An Early Vision

The first time I was paid for my music, it changed the overall approach I had towards early adulthood. It was both terrifying and insightful. I realized my thoughts condensed into one spot could somehow be exchanged in the modern market place. I was going to enter into adulthood doing what I wanted.

Maybe I could get paid for figuring out myself if “becoming me” somehow intersected with what others needed or wanted to reflect on? This was my logic as a 17-year-old.

Many of the topics you can write about in songs are not experienced in the open air otherwise. After my first experience getting paid, I realized there was a way to connect with people while tackling uncomfortable topics (and carving out a small living for myself). However, I never wanted to bend myself to accommodate the opinions of others just for the sake of making more money. More than anything, music was a support system for my own emotional journey. 

I don’t think I’ve compromised on that early vision of producing what I’ve wanted. I'm proud of that.

Now for the fun part. Who in history should I research? Whose early creative payments do you want to hear about? 

Would you like to tell the story of your first creative dollar? Consider telling it below or pitching me for a spot in the series. If you like topics like this, consider checking out the Creativity at Work Interviews too. Thanks!


6 Replies to “First Creative Dollar Series: The First Time I Was Paid For My Thoughts”

  1. i’ve never made a dollar from a creative endeavor. i don’t mind doing my little thing for free. that’s great you won 38 bucks.

    me? i like authors. i’m reading a later (1970’s) john le carre spy novel now. her’s pretty fascinating.

    1. I find it hard to believe you’ve never made a single dollar from anything creative?! Maybe you need to expand your definition of creativity?! Or maybe this is a time when I need to interview your wife again (ha ha)?

      I agree that authors are great to look into. I will keep that in mind as I build this thing. Thanks for your input and enjoy that book!

  2. I think looking up people like musicians and probably comedians are ones that really intriguing to read up on how they earned their first paycheck because it could be from a talent show, local bar on some sort of contest where they won that prize money. Those stories are great to hear just because it brought more motivation for them to do it more. And your case with the battle of the bands it made you think that is something that could lead to more opportunities.

    1. I have been digging since I wrote this first post. It’s actually quite hard to find on a lot of people (but when I do find it, it’s incredibly satisfying and the stories are always interesting, inspiring, or both).

      I haven’t done a battle of the bands since then btw! Ha ha ha – that would seem quite awkward as an adult (I would think). But it was an interesting starting point.

    1. I agree. It has a different energy to it (somewhat exciting, somewhat overwhelming with the options.) Would love to interview you about it sometime!

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