Okay, Deep Breath, Let's Talk About Money


I’m going to start with a story.

When I was a kid, maybe 11, I found out that I had a savings account and that there was a couple of hundred bucks in there. I couldn’t stop crying.

My mom explained that saving was important, and that I might need it later, but I could not digest the idea that I had something that someone else needed. I’d seen the homeless people on Bank Street and the World Vision ads on TV. I was inconsolable. My parents were perplexed.

If I’m honest right now, I’d tell you that I’ve never gotten over that moment. I understand what my mom was saying intellectually and I stopped crying at some point, but the world of capitalism, the drive for personal gain, still leaves me baffled, furious and sadder than I can sometimes manage.

Yet I run a business.
So I need to spend a whole lot of my time and creativity and intelligence figuring out how to make money.

How in the world did that happen?

One of the hardest things about Firefly for me is that ache. It doesn’t make sense to me to do wildly passionate heart-based work in a capitalist economy. It doesn’t make sense to me to only be able to do this work with people who have disposable income.

I’ve tried to soothe the ache by undercharging, feeling that it was somehow nobler if I was always scrounging for rent money. I’ve tried to soothe it by working well beyond my boundaries, years without bedtimes, spinal damage from ceaseless hours at my desk, feeling that my broken health could somehow balance out the capitalist mess of the world around me, and my necessary participation in it. I still fall into these behaviours more than I want to admit. I’m working on it.

Here’s exactly what I do when someone asks me how much one of our programs costs:

“Oh I’m not really sure, I can send you the link later?”
“Bree’s really the numbers person, can you check in with her?”

Let’s be honest, what I’m really saying is:

“I’m terrified that if I tell you a number, you’ll think I’m heartless and greedy.”

Is it uncomfortable to read about this stuff? It feels weird to write it. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who feels like this, but I never hear this story from others.

Okay. Let me tell you about this one afternoon when money made perfect sense. It was August and I was lazing around a sweaty nylon tent at a music festival with my dear friend Alex. She’d just put out a beautiful CD, full of heart and risk. She was charging $15 for it, which I felt was far too low. I’d seen the thousands of hours she’d invested, the musicians and mixers she’d paid, the pile of brown boxes in her kitchen — all the copies she’d had to buy upfront just to get it made. I told her that I thought she wasn’t charging enough, and she said, “Who wants to spend more than $15 on a CD?”

I said, “We all want you to make music. The price is the way you tell us what you need in order to keep on doing that.”

We both paused.
The August air found its way through the little screen tent window.

Could it be that simple?
Could a price exactly reflect what the maker required to keep making?
Was that actually the whole entire point of pricing?

Alex took a breath and said, “Well, you can pay me $20.”

She was probably right. People read meaning and emotion into numbers. When those numbers seem low they feel good, kind, generous. When they seem high, they feel distant, malicious, unkind.

Distant, malicious and unkind, as you may have guessed, are the last things Alex or I ever want to be. Yet we live in a world of big numbers. If ours are too small, we won’t get to keep doing what we do.

So why am I telling you this? I keep asking myself that as I’m writing. There are so many directions this could take, so many deleted paragraphs here. But I think I can sum it up with 4 little threads.

  • I am so incredibly grateful to everyone who has chipped a little money into our scholarship fund. This is a profound-for-me way that we’re using our little ecosystem to create some kind of balance. So far we’ve raised almost $3,000 in scholarships through donations, open mic nights and other studio events. This helps to soothe that ache.

  • We’re working on a series of workshops for large organizations and corporations. We dearly hope these will bring in those larger numbers so that we can offer more scholarships and do more free work with community organizations. (We also hope we can bring some Firefly sparkle to big, boring workplaces and to help people reconnect to wellness and each other.) When we launch these, we will really need help getting the word out.

  • I’ve been tinkering away at a money manifesto, to help me clarify who I am as a business owner within this weird, gain-driven world. It’s a bit personal for a newsletter, but if you’re curious, you can hop over and read it here. Also, this is a GREAT creative exercise, highly recommended.

  • Just thank you. For being here, for clicking links, for showing up to events and retreats and classes. I am the world’s least likely person to make it as an entrepreneur, but somehow this thing is working. The rent is paid and my spine is healing. It’s all because of you.

Chris Fraser