Written by James Kwapisz.

Death Before Desk Job is a podcast geared towards creative people who are pursuing–or who want to be pursuing–their creative endeavors to their heart’s content.

Created and hosted by graphic designer/visual artist Paul Motisi, the show revolves around an interview session with artists (musicians, designers, filmmakers, writers, crafters, etc.) who are asked about their motivations, influences, and lessons learned. Drawing from their own experience, the artists offer advice to listeners in the hopes that those tuning in can glean from their insights, become inspired, and learn more about their own discipline from others, regardless of their specialty or preferred medium. The show strives to help listeners with their own processes in creating their work, navigating how to make the abstract concrete, considering the form and function of pieces, while also offering guidance to listeners as to how to successfully market their work without selling themselves short. As the name of the podcast indicates, the intention is to aid artists in their goal to make a living by doing what they’re passionate about.

Although the name of the show may seem to indicate a sentiment of aversion to desk jobs, that is not at all the case. In fact, many of the artists interviewed work at desk jobs in order to fund their passion projects, and some go so far as to advise listeners to steer clear of the path of the “starving artist,” by focusing on finding a work/life balance that is conducive to the sustainability of their creative lives. Illustrator Kerin Cunningham (Episode 10) speaks fondly of this balance: “Having that [financial] stress off my shoulders allows me to make whatever I want…It gives me total and complete freedom, and I couldn’t have made any of the things that I make now without that stress not being on my shoulders.” To clarify, the sentiment of aversion is more so directed towards the figurative “desk job” than the literal–that is, the soulless, mundane occupation that deceives people into settling for less than their dreams, and ultimately corrodes their creative ambitions. 

Thinking about one’s own creative life and which direction(s) they would like to take it can be overwhelming. Recurring listeners have reached out saying that what keeps them coming back to DBDJ episode after episode is a sense of comfort and camaraderie they feel in listening to other artists talk about how they navigate their creative lives within their specific circumstances. By providing context and insight into how the creatives produce their works and simultaneously manage their lives, the blank page/canvas becomes less daunting, a light shines in the darkness, and what’s nebulous and uncertain begins to take form.

There are many myths, misconceptions, and stigmas about what it means to be an artist/creative. To assume that there is a monolithic definition of “artist” is one of those misconceptions. High, and often illusory, expectations and conceptualizations of “making it” have a tendency to deter people from pursuing artistic paths. Aspiring creatives are constantly told how competitive their field is, which can result in them viewing their peers as their competitors. This may be true to an extent, but it’s also true that their peers are the ones most eligible and knowledgeable to help them advance their careers and enhance their visions. By offering a wide array of perspectives from artists who dabble in and traverse multiple media, the podcast seeks to dispel such myths, misconceptions, and stigmas. 

“You’ll never make a living as an artist, it’s just not practical.” Commonplace and seemingly regurgitated sentiments such as this are not only unhelpful, they’re untrue. Living a creative life can be practical with the right practices, perspectives, and tools. “It’s not about the materials you have, it’s about what you do with them. Make it work for you” (Episode 2: Onodera)

Most of the artists who have been interviewed thus far, though varied in their creative output, have discussed the necessity of being resilient in order to make their creative lives work. Sacrifices will inevitably have to be made, and physical, emotional, and financial discomforts will have to be endured. But there is reassurance in hearing several creatives express the same conviction that if they stay true to themselves and remain determined to attain their goals, despite how many times they will undoubtedly get knocked down, they will be rewarded for their passion and persistence. As Moon Tooth vocalist John Carbone (Episode 1) puts it, “The glory will be evenly balanced with the inglorious.”

The bumps in the road are just part of the journey, and once they are perceived and accepted as such, their power to deter dwindles. The path to success is not as linear nor as neat as one would like to think. To give up on one’s career because they’re enduring a certain low point is to also give up the peaks they might’ve ascended had they simply stayed the course.

Leading a creative life is not easy, but ultimately, despite the impending odds and setbacks, it’s worth it. Attaining a sense of fulfillment in having created something you’re proud of and happy with requires a lot of  hard work. In the second episode of the show, musician/producer/visual artist Onodera discusses how he treats his creative practices as disciplines rather than just escapist hobbies. He makes the analogy that putting in work to your creative outlets is like going to the gym–you may dread it, but the idea is to build good habits that will ultimately lead to desired results. Similarly, singer/songwriter Derek Smith (Episode 3) suggests thinking creatively and mindfully in our everyday lives rather than falling into the default mode. Correlatively, when we live passively, life passes us by. But by thinking and living creatively and actively, we’ll no longer feel the need to turn on our creative switch after work or whatever mundane task at hand because it’ll already be on, and what once seemed monotonous will appear kaleidoscopic.

Whether you’re an established artist (whatever that means) or just beginning a creative path, you are certainly not alone. There are many creatives out there who harbor the insights that could help you get to where you want to be. By getting a behind-the-scenes look into creatives’ processes, influences, and outlooks, not only does our appreciation of their work broaden, but when we reflect on our own work and goals, the hope is that our visions will become reaffirmed and reinvigorated.

Ultimately, the objective of the podcast is to help fellow creatives lead their lives in ways that are fulfilling to them, and learn ways to cope with the inevitable struggles that come with pursuing a meaningful creative life and career. We only have so much time in this life to make our mark, so it’s crucial to make sure we’re content with the legacy we leave behind. We’re in the same boat with Gamblers’ frontman Michael McManus (Episode 11) who speaks about choosing to brave the storm: “Obviously, by no stretch, does that make it easier or anything, but in a way, it’s like I’m on the right side of my own history.”

If you or someone you know would be interested in being on the show, please do not hesitate to reach out: deathbeforedeskjob@gmail.com.