Do what you love, so the adage goes, and you’ll never work a day in your life. It’s a nice sentiment, but whoever coined it was either independently wealthy or OK with living in a hollow log.
We love music, right? But turning it into a profitable career means putting a dollar sign on your talent and trading it for money. That’s called work.
If you’ve paid your dues and the starving artist thing isn’t working for you anymore, you’re ready to monetize your talent. Read on for things financially successful musicians do to go beyond just making ends meet.
- Run the Numbers
That’s the only way to figure out how much you think your talent is worth. Download a free budget app and plug in how much you spend each month and what you spend it on. Start with the necessities: Housing, groceries, transportation, everything that pertains to your music, savings, bills, and so on.
Now you know with reasonable certainty how much money you’ll have to bring in each month. Working from that, you can figure out how many paid performances you need each month and how much to charge for each. Those numbers can be juggled, of course. If your monthly budget is $2,000, say, you can do one show for $2,000, two for $1,000 each … you get it. A realistic assessment of earnings and expenses will help relieve the stress that may arise from pursuing a creative career path such as music.
What do you know about a career in music, other than it’s what you want. However, making something you love into your living can change the nature and enjoyment of it—especially in the creative arts. Talk to career performers and ask them about music as a day-to-day job. What are the pros and cons? How do you figure out how much your talent is worth? There’s more to the career of performing than just performing, which takes us to the next point.
- Plan B
You may decide that your passion is best served when done for pleasure, not profit. Getting on stage is the fun part. The travel, the bookkeeping, marketing, negotiating, that’s a grind that somebody has to do, and that “somebody” is you. For a lot of us, that reality is not the life we want to choose, but it takes time to figure that out. That’s why a Plan B is essential. The good news is that within the world of music, there are options to the rigors of performing as a career.
There are accomplished pianists who are also mortgage brokers, flutists who are accountants, and singers who are HVAC repair technicians. Sometimes, making a living at something else provides the freedom to perform when, where, how, and how often you want.
- Profit Channels
Performing live, especially touring, can take the stuffing out of you.
There’s nothing quite like the thrill of performing live to a receptive audience, but it’s physically and mentally demanding. Ideally, you don’t want to be in a position where you’re only making money when performing.
The internet and social media have opened up all kinds of opportunities to make money and sell your music. Assuming you’re abiding by copyright laws, you could sell your music on your own website, online music stores, music download sites, streaming platforms, or via an online distributor. Remember, though, music doesn’t sell itself. You will want to develop and invest in a marketing plan and there will often be fees associated with your sales efforts. But it takes money to make money, and the costs can be offset by the benefit of new revenue streams.
- Play to the Audience
Your audience isn’t just the people watching and listening to you. The first person you have to thrill is the person who does the hiring. When projecting your message, think clarity, not volume. Talk to people, socialize, share what you do. As a performer, you won’t always know where your next gig is coming from. It may be the person you strike up a conversation with at the dry cleaners, or your brother’s best friend’s aunt’s cousin at the birthday party for your niece. Be aware of what’s going around you and how you’re moving through it. Fact is, for career musicians, everything is a performance.
- Pay It Forward
Don’t panic if things are a little wobbly at first. It’s part of the learning curve. But you will come across people who will help you on your way up. Booking agents will take chances on new talent. Stage managers give better slots to people they like, so be likeable! Maybe you caught a big break when your cousin hired you for her wedding and an industry bigwig was on her side of the aisle. Those are people you need to remember. Keep in touch with them by mail, text, or a cup of coffee now and then. Good relationships are worth keeping. What goes around comes around is an axiom that perpetuates good will and brings joy to the giver and recipient alike.
- Take Care of Yourself
As a performer, you are your business. If you ran a store, you’d fix a leaky roof. Better yet, you’d maintain that roof, so it never leaked to begin with. Do the same for yourself. Eat well, get plenty of rest, exercise, read good books, watch fun movies, hike with friends, drink tea by the beach … The healthier and happier the business, the better it will do and the longer it will function successfully.
There are easier careers than music but none more fulfilling. Do your due diligence and if it still appeals to you with all of the potential ups and downs, then make your career the performance of a lifetime.