Paying the piper for your arts dream

Artists have to compromise to earn a living or face an uncertain future doing it their way. Alara Yenisey reports.

Musician and university student Adi Durai has been passionate about writing music since a young age. Inspired at a performance by the American rock group Paramore, his dream was to be up on stage rocking out with his own band.

Adi met the band he plays with at a gig with his former band. They’d kept in touch and started writing songs together. The lead singer finally asked if he wanted to be the bass guitarist.

Authors experience writer’s block while writing a book; musicians something very similar. “Sometimes I can’t write music no matter how hard I try, and other times an idea just comes into my head and I’ll get a song completed in an hour,” Adi says. “I was studying for an assignment and I had an idea for a song. So I wrote out the music in an hour, showed the band the next day and the lead singer wrote lyrics for it. It’s now one of our favorite songs.”

Writing music and performing in a band is something he’d eventually like to pursue as a full time job, but at the moment that dream seems unattainable. “It’s not something I can see that will support me financially,” Adi says. “It’s really hard to break into the music industry in terms of writing new, interesting music that people want to listen to. It’s never been about the money for me, but any money we make would go to the band for budgeting and expenses. It’s always been like that with original bands.”

Adi’s difficulty in making a living appears to be an example of wider trend. A study released by the Australian Government and Australian Council for the Arts shows that more than half of all artists (56 per cent) earned less than $10,000 from their creative income, and only 12 percent earned more than $50,000 from this source. Very few artists make a living by pursuing their dream.

Paying the piper for your arts dream
Musician and university student Adi Durai wants to pursue music full time. Photo source: Adi Durai’s Instagram.

Beauregard Munari, painter and full time digital product manager at ANZ, has similar interests to Adi. He got the music bug around the age of 18 after going to watch live gigs. He started singing professionally and began learning to play guitar and piano. His artistic endeavors drove him in the direction of painting following visits to nearby galleries. Now, at 33, he prefers to be referred to as a contemporary realist artist rather than musician.

The weather or time of day can really impact Beau’s motivation to paint. “I think there’s something special about waking up and painting when the sun’s shining. It’s almost like a fresh canvas,” Beau says. “When the weather is dark and gloomy, that’s when I use the time to brood over other work that I’ve done to see if I can transform one or see if I can evoke something different from it.”

The time spent on each artwork varies. Beau says it could take several months or even years to finish one piece. “There’s been work that I’ve gone back to after two years. Or it could simply take a day. My most recent painting took about six hours continuous. The better the technique, the better you can execute on that.”

Beauregard aspires to work on a contracting role as a painter but says he needs to be able to afford to step away from his ANZ management role for six months to work on his art. He says that will entail plenty of difficulties. “Once your savings run out, or your priorities change, then that’s the danger. If you’ve got a day job that’s fine, you can save enough money to back yourself. But as soon as things change, you might face some problems and that’s what I’m trying to avoid at this stage.”

There has always been a struggle for artists to either be commercial or pursue their dream. “You don’t have time for error. You need to be on the ball and that’s challenging when you don’t have co-workers around you making sure you’re on track,” he says. “Not being a full commercial artist at this point, the challenges are in my mind and I just need to work through them.”

Artists of all kinds – whether they are painters, authors, DJs, or musicians – have to compromise to earn a living these days or face an uncertain future doing it their way. It’s always been difficult, but it’s only getting tougher.


The Australian Copyright Act gives songwriters and composers the right to control how their music is used, but technology and music streaming platforms are making it easier for music to be distributed and shared freely without any permission.

According to Digital Music News, streaming is quickly becoming the dominant form of music consumption, and the leading streaming music companies – YouTube, Google, SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple and others – are being accused of paying their artists very little and treating them poorly.

DJ and university student Sami Kabaha was one of a select few lucky enough to get exposure for his music early on in his careerafter winning a competition called ‘Your Shot’ in 2015.

Sami’s love for electronic dance music inspired him to learn how to DJ alongside his studies. Since winning the ‘Your Shot’ competition, he has already played his music at a number of events, including Stereosonic Festival in 2015 and Chasing Summer Music Festival in Canada in 2016. “I was also fortunate enough to play at some clubs in Melbourne and Sydney,” Sami says. “I’ve been given the opportunity to DJ on air on Fox FM, Nova 100 and Joy FM, and recently joined Melbourne Entertainment Company and do various gigs there.”

But despite having a strong start into the music industry, his priorities lie with completing his degree before pursuing a career as a DJ. In the meantime, he uses social media and technology to share his music, as it allows him to connect to a wider audience.