14 May Starving Artist? Don’t Join An MLM
Due to the pandemic, concert venues across the world are shut down, causing a loss of revenue for all musicians who play live. Many are looking around to find supplementary sources of income for the next little while, and several (on my Facebook feed, at least), have recently joined MLMs.
MLMs, or Multi Level Marketing companies, are a type of business that sells products that can’t be found in stores; one can only purchase from their 100% commission-based independent distributors. Anyone can sign up to work for one of these companies, as they only get paid when they sell a product. It’s called “multi level” because the most efficient and scalable way to make money from working for ones of these companies is by recruiting other people to join the company, and collecting a percentage of every sale they and everyone they recruit under them makes, hypothetically in a pyramid shape stretching infinitely downward.
Through pop culture or personal experience, you’ve maybe heard of the town’s Avon Lady character (like in Edward Scissorhands). However, with the rise of social media, the #BossBabe,and the explosion of popularity of entrepreneurship, this business structure has seen exponential growth. There are MLM companies for basically anything now – makeup and skincare, clothing and accessories, essential oils, life insurance, and medication, to name a few.
This article will address why, even in this economically perilous time, musicians should not join an MLM.
You Can’t Clock Out
If you’re a musician reading this, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess your life passion is music, as opposed to selling diet pills, insurance policies, or skincare over Facebook.
The reason so many aspiring stars wait tables or work mindless shift jobs… is because they’re mindless. You can swap shifts with a coworker if you get a last minute opportunity, you don’t need to think about work once you leave for the day, and no one is expecting you to dedicate the next 50 years of your life to being a sales associate – once you can sustain full-time income from art, you hand in your two weeks notice with no regrets.
MLMs, however, are not the type of part time job that lets you do this. Without a set schedule, you’re in boss babe mode all the time. Your new community (up-line) encourages making this side gig a major part of your identity, and it’s very common to meet guilt-tripping, hostility, and even social shunning from this group if you express a desire to quit!
If you need a part time job with flexible hours, I would suggest offering freelancing services on a per project basis. Whether it be delivering groceries, graphic design, or data entry, you have a understand of what you need to do, what the timeline is, and when you’re done, you’re done.
You’ll Lean Bad Sales Tactics
Most musicians are terrible salespeople. Many of us shudder at the thought of coming off as shamelessly self-promotional, pushy, or being seen as a sellout. And as anyone who has ever received an unsolicited DM pitch from a high school acquaintance can tell you, MLM training encourages all of the above.
I’m all for artists learning how to self promote in authentic, creative ways. But, you’re not going to learn those skills from copy and pasting a script, being taught (covertly or overtly) that anyone not interested is a hater, and a myriad of other high pressure sales tactics.
If you want to learn sales skills that can be brought back to your music, I would recommend working in retail, or watching tutorials on how to run effective Facebook ads.
You’ll Burn Bridges
People don’t like feeling sold to. We all have that one “friend” who only ever hits you up when they need money. As creatives, we’ve been working so hard for so long to build up our relationships with our fans – via email lists, live streams, social media content, freebies… – so that when we do finally have something to sell, they will buy it.
Think of it like filling up their happiness bar with good deeds until you hit the maximum capacity, before you can turn that loyalty and trust into a sale. Flogging lipgloss/leggings/laxatives will come at the expense of selling your art.
You’ll Learn Bad Business Habits
Despite joining an MLM being toted as “becoming a small business owner,” they’re not the same thing. You’re a sales rep for an already existing company, not an entrepreneur. You have no say over the branding, the products, or internal company affairs.
Most people who join MLMs don’t know the difference, of course, because they have no prior knowledge of how to run a business. As a result, the advice you’ll get from your up-line in regards to accounting, taxes, and business structure will be lacking at best, illegal at worst.
As a professional artist, you already are your own small business. So even if you’re not earning much income from your craft right now, you need to learn the proper way to keep track of your gross and net income, know what qualifies as a legitimate business expense, and how to manage product inventory.
The Math Doesn’t Add Up
Lastly and most importantly, we’ve got to talk about the math. Even if you aren’t with a company that requires you to buy product inventory, your time is worth money. And according to the American Federal Trade Commission, 99% of all people involved in MLMs lose money. That does not sound good for what’s supposed to be an easy, temporary part time job to tide you over until the world goes back to normal.
The bottom line is, if you need a supplementary source of income until venues open up again, please don’t join an MLM. There are many other profitable, less time consuming, ways to earn money that can teach you valuable skills you can take to your music business.