This Furloughed Employee Found A Unique Way To Make Money During The Shutdown
The force is strong with this furloughed worker.
Like many, Michael Mateos, a graphic designer and contractor for the federal government, is out of work because of the partial shutdown. Like many workers in his position, he is looking for ways to earn income while paychecks are on halt.
But this furloughed employee found a unique way to make money during the shutdown. Mateos has taken on freelance jobs, and he’s also making money from a hobby: Building intricate “Star Wars” figurines that he sells for hundreds of dollars each.
Michael Mateos with his hobby, building Star Wars models.
The 40-year-old dad of two realized last summer he was one of many “Star Wars” fans in his community, but he never expected it to be a money-maker. Mateos uses his creative talents to construct smaller-scaled replicas of famous “Star Wars” characters and ships, including Stormtroopers and TIE fighters, and sells those models for $300 to $400.
A typical vehicle takes about three to four days to create during time off, what with sanding, prepping, priming and painting the model. Clients have also been asking for lighting, which takes even more hours out of his day.
Millennium Falcon model.
Mateos has done three models since the shutdown started in late December, and he has a wait list for requests. “This makes up for the rest of the salary deficit I can’t get from freelance work,” he said. At current prices, he could make up to $2,000 per month if he were to work most days.
See: Why ‘The Last Jedi’ proves that Star Wars’ future is female
Although the artist said he’s happy to do work he loves, especially knowing it makes like-minded “Star Wars” fans happy, his hobby has also kept him from dwelling on the potential impact of a shutdown. “It is a huge stress reliever,” he said. “I have basically been keeping myself as busy as possible during the shutdown so as not to think about it.”
Six months ago, he and his wife, an interior designer in the private sector, purchased a house in a neighborhood they’ve been wanting to live in for years, but the house is old, and they planned to do renovations in the new year.
With the government shutdown, those plans are on hold, and the money they saved for those projects is being put towards just keeping the house. “We are hoping the shutdown doesn’t last longer than January, because then we will really start to be concerned,” he said.
‘I have basically been keeping myself as busy as possible during the shutdown so as not to think about it.’
—Michael Mateos, graphic designer and government contract worker on furlough.
Federal workers around the country are struggling financially because of the shutdown, as are local businesses around them who cater to the government and its workers.
More than 800,000 federal workers have already missed their first paychecks of the year while on furlough, and more than half of these workers, including Transportation Security Administration employees and traffic controllers, are expected to report to work without pay. That figure also does not include the thousands of federal contractors out of a job while the government is closed.
The shutdown, now the longest one in U.S. history, is the result of a debate between President Trump and Congress to fund the building of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. There’s currently no end in sight for the shutdown, which could last months or years, the president said.
Darth Vader and TIE fighters.
Don’t miss: How businesses across the country are helping federal workers during the shutdown
Some banks and lenders are offering financial aid to impacted employees, through initiatives such as zero-interest loans or reversing overdraft fees. But federal employees still have a heap of bills to pay, including mortgages or rent, credit cards, student loans, taxes and everyday essentials like groceries and utilities. The House passed a bill on Jan. 11 that ensures back pay for some furloughed workers.
Contractors like Mateos are not guaranteed back-pay from their employees. Unlike federal employees, however, they’re not restricted as to what they can do to earn money while on furlough. Many federal workers need permission from their managers if they want to take on a part-time job while out of work, but they can’t get that permission without access to their work emails or if their managers are also temporarily out of a job. So they’re caught in something of a Catch 22.
Federal agencies dictate what their employees can do to avoid potential conflicts of interest. “It is important to keep in mind that while on furlough, an individual remains an employee of the government,” the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said in a FAQs about furloughed employees. “Since ethics advice will not be available during a shutdown, employees need to be very cautious about accepting employment with any firm or entity that does business with NASA.”
Also see: When ‘Star Wars’ came to California: Documents reveal history behind original film
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management states: “Before engaging in outside employment, employees should review these regulations and then consult their agency ethics official to learn if there are any agency-specific supplemental rules governing the employee.”
Displaced government workers are looking to alternative sources of income while out of work. Some furloughed workers are turning to eBay EBAY, +2.04% to sell some belongings and yard sales to sell belongings.
Ted Rossman, an industry analyst at CreditCards.com, suggests turning to eBay or even having a yard sale. “That’s probably the easiest, cheapest and fastest way to generate some cash,” he said. That, of course, assumes they have valuables to sell or even wish to sell.
Unable to raise or earn cash, other employees are taking desperate measures and turning to payday lenders, according to federal budget expert Stan Collender. Payday lenders disperse short-term loans to people who need cash fast, and do so at a premium: Interest rates can range from 300% to nearly 700%.
And then there are employees, like Mateos, who are just trying to stay optimistic, focusing less on the politics around the shutdown and more on what he can do to help himself, his family and others. “I’d rather spend my free time doing what I like,” he said. “It keeps me happy and motivated.”
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Unique Ways To Make Money As A Couple
If you’re in a relationship, and you need to make some extra income, the very fact that you’re coupled up could be a financial benefit. There are a lot of jobs that require two people to complete. There are also some roles that are specifically best for couples. If your need to make extra money is due to a relationship financial goal—like buying a house together, being able to afford to move out of your apartment, having children, or starting a joint retirement fund (or something fun like traveling the world)—then it’s only appropriate that you make that money together. Plus, working with your partner can be fun. Usually, work and relationship time are separate, and you have to wait to get home from your job to see your honey. When you take on a gig with your partner, then that simply isn’t true. In addition to doing some relationship-strengthening budgeting, you can also earn extra income together. Here are fun ways to make money as a couple.
Open house plant couples
Realtors understand that people want things other people want. Pre-existing demand drives up more demand. That’s why some realtors will hire couples to walk around their open house, commenting on how great it is, and pretending to be interested buyers in order to entice real buyers.
Have a B&B
If you have a spare room, consider having a bed and breakfast in your home. It’s actually pretty easy work. Just keep your home clean, have some yummy breakfast goods on hand, and thoroughly vet guests so you know you can trust them. Be willing to offer some tourist’s tips and a smile, and you’ll get five stars and a little extra money.
House sitting is more fun with your partner, and some families explicitly like when a couple—as opposed to a single woman—looks over their home. They believe that scares off intruders more than a sole individual.
Thrifting and selling
Does one of you have an eye for treasures and the other a knack for selling? Combine your powers to make money. The one with the eye can go to thrift stores and find treasure that cost pennies but are worth hundreds, while the one with the sales skills can sell these online.
Run a photo booth
Everyone loves a photo booth with funky costumes at weddings and special events. These usually require two people to efficiently run them and if the photo booth is at a wedding, it only makes sense that a loving couple would run it.
Magician and assistant
If you learn some basic party tricks or your partner does, then you can be a cute magician and assistant duo for kids’ birthday parties. Parents seem more comfortable hiring couples than, for example, single men.
Start your own tours
If you know your city better than anyone, then offer tours. Through sites like AirBnb Experiences, you can list your quirky, unique experience for AirBnb guests to sign up for. Set your own prices, and AirBnb just takes a small commission.
Auctions often need a few bidders to get the bidding rolling, and couples can be great plants for these, too. Solo plants can be too obvious, but couples are believable. Just put in some bids to make the other real customers bid higher. You’re never actually held responsible for buying anything.
Photographers of stock photography often need couples for their shoots. They don’t have the money to pay the high rates of actors who know how to pretend to look at each other lovingly, but are happy to pay a real couple with real chemistry $200 to $400 a day.
Art gallery plants
Art galleries, like auctions and open houses, often need a few people to wander around and look interested in the pieces, in order to entice real buyers.
If you live near a university or college, some of the dorms may be hiring relief couples for the residential assistants. Essentially, you work for infrequent but long shifts—like Friday night to Sunday morning—so the regular RA can take a break. All you have to do is keep the kids in order and you can make around $700 to $800 a weekend.
Models for art classes
When an art class is studying the human form (aka naked bodies), sometimes they want to draw couples embracing and interacting. Singles who don’t know each other may not be comfortable with this, so a real couple is perfect.
Sell your things
You probably both have a ton of things you could sell, and have been meaning to get rid of. You fill up your weekends with other plans, so you never go through them or host a yard sale. Make a deal to spend a whole weekend picking out things to sell and another weekend hosting a yard sale.
Some focus groups need couples for couple-specific products. Yes, some may be sexual, but you do the actual testing in the privacy of your bedroom.
Rent your extra room
If you have a spare room, consider renting it out. You won’t get your place all to yourselves but it’s a passive way to make potentially $600 or more a month.
Blockchain Could Help Musicians Make Money Again
A major pain point for creatives in the music industry — such as songwriters, producers and musicians — is that they are the first to put in any of the work, and the last to ever see any profit. They have little to no information about how their royalty payments are calculated, and don’t get access to valuable aggregate data about how and where people are listening to their music. It’s within this climate that an enticing seed of an idea is being planted: blockchain technology has the potential to get the music industry’s messy house in order. If guided and nurtured in the right ways, blockchain holds the potential to give us a golden age of music not just for its listeners, but for those who make it, too. Now is the time for the music industry to take the long-view look and explore blockchain for the sake of its own future.
As a musician, I want to encourage other artists to collaborate with my music. But recently, a visual artist had all of his Vimeo videos taken down for using just 30 seconds of one of my songs. The label that exclusively licenses one of my songs likely had a bot looking for copyright infringement that automatically took it down. I hear the artist now has them back online after a few weeks of hair loss and negotiations. I’d personally like to avoid these types of situations in the future, which means providing an easy way for others to license and collaborate with my music. A blockchain-empowered rights and payments layer could provide the means to do so.
A major pain point for creatives in the music industry — such as songwriters, producers and musicians — is that they are the first to put in any of the work, and the last to ever see any profit. They have little to no information about how their royalty payments are calculated, and don’t get access to valuable aggregate data about how and where people are listening to their music. But a rising tide of musicians and bands are pushing toward transparency and fairness in their own ways — for example, Paul McCartney’s recent lawsuit again Sony, Duran Duran’s lost battle with Sony/ATV, and Taylor Swift’s dust-up with Spotify. It’s within this climate that an enticing seed of an idea is being planted: blockchain technology has the potential to get the music industry’s messy house in order.
One of the biggest problems in the industry right now is that there’s no verified global registry of music creatives and their works. Attempts to build one have failed to the tune of millions of dollars over the years, largely at the expense of some of the collective management organizations (CMOs) — the agencies (such as ASCAP, PRS, PPL and SOCAN) who ensure that songwriters, publishers, performers, and labels are paid for the use of their music by collecting royalties on behalf of the rights owners. This has become a real issue, as evidenced by the $150 million class action law suit that Spotify is currently wrestling with. The inter-organizational cooperation that blockchain is providing for the fintech sector should inspire these “collecting societies” to use the technology to create an open (or partially open) global registry if they hope to remain relevant, which would help organize the immense amounts of new music being uploaded every day. Music creatives could build upon such a registry to directly upload new works and metadata via blockchain-verified profiles.
Blockchain has the potential to provide a more quick and seamless experience for anyone involved with creating or interacting with music. For example, listening to a song might automatically trigger an agreement for everyone involved in the journey of a song with anyone who wants to interact or do business with it — whether that’s a fan, a DSP (digital service provider such as Spotify or iTunes), a radio station, or a film production crew.
Where would this new music ecosystem “live”? One idea is .music, the soon-to-be-introduced and much-anticipated new generic top-level domain (gTLD). Decisions about its fate, and about who will be granted control of the domain, are currently on hold at ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the non-profit organization that’s responsible for coordinating and managing internet domains. Currently, DotMusic, a music community applicant, is appealing for control of the .music gTLD. But if they fail, it could potentially go to the highest bidder at auction. Some of the bidders in the running include Google and Amazon. Should the winning party do the right thing and hand over individual .music URLs to verified music creatives (for example, Paul McCartney would own paulmccartney.music and Taylor Swift would own taylorswift.music), rather than treating these new URLs as their own storefronts, it would make a lot of sense to link a blockchain-enabled ready-for-business music registry to those URLs, adding a whole new dimension for music creatives to drive business toward themselves and their work.
The blockchain could also store information about and/or link to a musician’s online profile, (or “Creative Passport,” as I like to refer to this concept), such as latest biography, tour dates, press images, and social media-style information, such as artists you champion, charities you support, skill sets, or organizations or companies you are connected to. This information could then be updated and accessible to anyone searching for that data, whether human or machine. At the song level — e.g. michaeljackson.music/maninthemirror — the blockchain could share information on all of the people involved in the making of the song, at the very least, but in addition could be linked to the metadata on specifics such as the equipment that was used to produce the song, where and when the song was recorded, the artists’ inspiration for the song, attributions, and more – sort of like extended liner notes. This could help spawn new apps and services atop of those datasets, and with them, new revenue streams for everyone involved.
Two years ago, the penny dropped for me as a musician when I was introduced to Ethereum, an open-source, public, blockchain-based distributed computing platform featuring smart contract functionality. Soon after discovering Ethereum, I dreamt up a music industry ecosystem that I called Mycelia, and used my next musical release — the song Tiny Human — as an excuse to explore the potential of blockchain further. I began by posting everything about that track on my website for anyone to experiment with and for fans to enjoy. Phil Barry at the Ujo Music platform joined in, which resulted in Tiny Human being the first song ever to automatically distribute payments via a smart contract to all creatives involved in the making and recording of the song. It was very basic — no licensing terms were exhibited — and it raised little money, due in part to the fact that you had to have an Ether wallet with Ether in it (the crypto-currency used on the Ethereum platform) before you could purchase the track, which lost some people along the way. But it nonetheless was a first step forward that generated a lot of steam for those in the business of music and blockchain.
Ease of use is one of the biggest keys to success for the widespread adoption of any new technology. The idea of a Semantic Web of linked media, artist profiles and other metadata spawning new apps with instantaneous peer-to-peer payments and exchange of data is an exciting one, but it will only become a reality for those who wish to interact with music if its solutions are better and simpler than those that currently exist. It was much easier and much more preferable for 60 million users to download music from Napster than it was to go to the store to buy a CD. It was a total failure on the part of the commercial music industry that they didn’t find a way to capture even a portion of those Napster users and turn it into a legitimate service at that time. Napster was an innovative idea that made music more accessible to music lovers. But, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) chose to crush it, rather than explore the idea of sharing libraries and peer-to-peer music sharing in a legal context.
These days, however, the landscape is different and the vast majority of those wanting to listen to music head over to YouTube, which is free and perfectly legal. Astonishingly, thousands upon thousands of new songs are uploaded every day, not registered properly, and so are in desperate need of associated metadata. Surely, we can find better ways for people to both easily publish and interact with music that makes sense for everyone?
Some are trying. Organizations like Berklee’s Open Music Initiative (OMI) have managed to gather almost every party under the industry-wide sun to explain why blockchain is at least worth exploring and engaging with. And an increasing number of new all-in-one music services for artists, such as Revelator (which is blockchain-based) and Amuse (which is not) are using big data combined with audio fingerprinting to provide really useful data feedback, analysis and curation. They understand that good feedback data can be as valuable as money to creatives, enabling an artist to make business decisions with confidence and clarity. Combine this with the capabilities of social media aggregating apps like Hootsuite or Social Sprout, and artists’ partitioned online representations and scattered creative wares start to come together. Imagine being able to know, or being alerted to, when and where your music is being played. Say your song is playing on a certain channel on the radio… you could then dial the DJ to thank him for playing your song, while connecting to listeners in the moment, adding context and meaning to your songs.
Now is the time for the music industry to take the long-view look and explore blockchain together with its creatives for the sake of its sanity and future. It won’t be hard to make the business more efficient, as it’s such a giant mess right now. The larger players in the industry just need to have faith that they will make more money by doing the right thing — which would lead to fair remuneration, transparency, and a multitude of new business opportunities for artists. Simply put, if the industry is to have any clout, or any say in the sustainability of our music ecosystem, it needs to come together to develop tools and standards, so the necessary game-changing new services can flourish — but this time, under our own internet of agreements for music, where artists would be represented fairly.
I believe that featured artists — those “on the cover” — should inevitably be entrusted to ensure that everyone involved in creating music in their name will be duly acknowledged and compensated. The blockchain effect has inspired creatives in the industry that a better future lies ahead. If guided and nurtured in the right ways, blockchain holds the potential to give us a golden age of music not just for its listeners, but for those who make it, too.