Book Review: Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins


Jeff Goins has been an author that has done many different jobs in the creative arts industry. As an author, much of his stories are from real life experiences whether it was as a traveling musician, or working in different organizations, or the path it took to become a full-time writer. Jeff’s most recent book, Real Artists Don’t Starve, is one that gives thoughts and ideas on how to debunk the “starving” mindset that many struggling artists find themselves in today’s “supply greater than demand” society.

Goins tells readers to first change their mindset by giving historical examples of artists that have tackled this struggle head-on. Many of history’s great painters, writers, and musicians all did similar steps to achieve lasting greatness:

  • They studied with other great artists
  • They “stole” from other artists
  • They learned their craft every day

Goins really lays out key steps for ANY artist that can be (and should be) used to plant out a livable life as an artist. Often times in this book and his podcast, Goins states that no other time in history has it been easier to become a “Thriving Artist.” Throughout his book, he often makes the contrasts of what a “Starving Artist” would do compared to a “Thriving Artist.” For example, a “Starving Artist” would strive to perfect a song before publishing it while a “Thriving Artist” would day after day publish their work and learn from each experience to make it better.

While this is complete opposite of what we have been taught, in my opinion, it needs to become the norm. An applicable example for orchestral musicians is the thought of waiting and waiting to take an audition until each excerpt is exactly right. Really a musician should not wait for the perfect time. Yes, you want to present your best product and be prepared but waiting can lead to procrastinating – which can lead to no audition.

Two ideas that Goins gives in this book are ideas that musicians do quite well – collaborating with others and joining a scene. A trend is happening in music where non-traditional ensembles are coming together such as Alarm Will Sound or The Jim Self/John Chiodini Duo just to perform together and see what they can create. In order to create together, it is necessary to live in close proximity with other like-minded artists. While, New York, Nashville, Chicago or Los Angeles are the major cities for artists always be on the lookout for other smaller metropolis cities that have a dynamic and growing cultural scene. Location is important but so is creativity in a non-traditional city.

For me, the most important point that caught my attention in Goins’ book is the myth that in order to get into a gigging scene, one must take every work that is available – whether it is paid or not. Goins advocates for always working for pay, and rarely working for free.

Specifically for musicians, sometimes the mindset is free gigs lead to paid gigs. However, the reality is, the free gigs lead can take away time from paid gigs and will often lead to more free gigs. While it isn’t necessarily discussed in detail in this book, the art of saying “No” should be active in a musician’s vocabulary. For those who may disagree with that concept, Goins points out that sometimes it’s necessary to make money on the side in order to make art.

Real Artists Don’t Starve is a book that musicians from all walks of life need to read. It is a crucial book for a freelancing musician’s library because the struggles they may have in getting started is articulated so well by a writer who has been there in the past. More importantly, Goins wants you to succeed because everyone has something to say – and there is always room for one more.

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 I was not asked by the publisher or author to write this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Jeremy Smith

Jeremy Smith is a trombonist, brass teacher, and blogger. He studied music performance at both Grace College and Carnegie Mellon University, and currently is the bass trombonist for Orchestra Iowa and the Huntington Symphony Orchestra. In 2014, Jeremy started Last Row Music as an online resource of job postings and artist links for brass musicians around the world. When he is not performing or blogging, Jeremy is giving brass lessons to students throughout the country from his home in Centerburg, Ohio.