Maybe this is the topic I should have started instead of the previous...although they are kinda two different issues. Deep breath...this is either going to go over very well or very badly. ^^' But it wouldn't be the first time I've rocked the boat in this joint.
Okay. So. I've seen a lot of threads on the do's and don'ts of collaboration, especially that popular one about people offering 'exposure' or whatever. And I understand that creative work is hard work, and people deserve to be compensated for it. By that token, it's going to be hard to get a creative team together to do anything with no promise of profit in return.
But part of me finds that fact kind of sad.
The system works well, of course, for people who are already established: people who have enough money to pay for services or people who know enough people who do have that kind of money to actually find work...but for those who don't have those things, you end up pretty much stuck. You never get to collaborate with anyone, because no one will hire you and you can't afford to hire anyone else.
There are a couple ways to solve that dilemma: A, you simply save up money until you can hire the artist(s) of your dreams: a reasonable and commonly-recommended solution, but to be honest, not very realistic. Good art is not cheap; I have more money in savings than most Americans, but I could easily eat all that money paying for just ONE project.
B, you simply wait to be picked up by the patron of your dreams who thinks your art is so lovely that even though no one's ever heard of you they're willing to pay you and work with you for months. (cough)fat chance(cough)
C, you work for someone else for free. Or, D, someone else works for you for free.
And there's the rub, because no one wants to do those things. Nay, people are warned repeatedly that they SHOULDN'T do those things. And I understand why; please don't lecture me on that! But, and I mean this in the best way possible...every collaboration is a risk. And sometimes you miss out on amazing things when you refuse to take risks.
I'm not saying that those who don't do free collaboration SHOULD do free collaboration. There's really no 'should' about any of this. I'm saying that those who have the ability/freedom to do free collaboration might want to try it at least a few times, especially if they have zero opportunities for ANY collaboration otherwise.
Why, though? Well, for one thing, you get to learn the ins and outs of collaboration, which, as any student who's been forced to do a group project knows, can be hellish at times. You learn to ask the right questions beforehand: instead of just "can you do this?", you start asking "WILL you do this?" "WHEN will you do it?" and "If you CAN'T do this, what will WE do?" Collaboration is a skill for which experience is the best teacher.
Secondly, there's exposure. And I KNOW that the majority opinion is that "exposure" is basically worthless. But the thing is that it's actually not? Every little bit helps. Just like one little commission sale can lead to future commission sales, interaction with new people, even if it's just temporary, can get your name out that much more. You never know who might come back to call on you a year or two down the road.
And on the other hand, there's always someone worse off or better off than you are. I have over 800 watchers on DeviantArt, and personally I feel like it's kinda meh. But me-from-3-years-ago would be drooling over that watcher count, and our skill level is nearly the same. So, the present me would love to work with the past me, and the past me would actually have a lot to gain from working with the present me, even for free. She'd probably have died and gone to heaven...
Thirdly...you never do know what could happen. This is probably the weakest argument-- for every collab that succeeds, about 90 million fail-- but that's just reality, even in the rest of the business world. It's why entrepreneurship is so difficult. But what would we have, as a society, if we only ever created things that we were SURE we would be compensated for? Not much, to be honest.
Lord...In my head, I've got 5 counter-arguments for every sentence I've written here. But I still think it should be said. If nothing else, it can serve as representation for the other perspective on collaboration.
To conclude, three points:
(1) I'm not saying that all creators should be willing to work for free, not even just one time. Like I said, there's no 'should' about any of this, so if you want to disagree with me, don't strawman me.
(2) I AM saying that if you are blessed enough to be able to work for free, there may be some value in doing so, both for yourself and for others.
(3) But I'm also not saying that you should feel guilty for withholding your talent from other creators who could use it (or even desperately need it). If there's anything you 'should' do, it's to always scrutinize those you choose to associate with, especially for an exchange of services. Not everyone is serious, not everyone even knows what they're getting into.
The thing is, though, if you wait around for someone you can "trust completely" before even attempting a free collab, you may find yourself waiting forever. Take me, for instance: I've never done a long-term collab before; I've never even completed a long-term project. I can't afford to pay you, and I don't know anything except how to draw and how to write.
I'm exaggerating...slightly. But I sound like a real bum, don't I? However, I'm also a fast learner, a hard worker, and I would never involve someone else in a project that I didn't intend to see through to its end.
All you have is my word on that. But you'd never know if it was true unless you gave me a chance.