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We’ve all been hearing a lot about today’s “gig economy”, which gradually developed over the past year or so due to the work challenges of COVID-19. Although many people are new to stringing together multiple jobs, gigs, and opportunities to form an income stream, working for oneself has been standard fare for musicians for many, many years.

Why? What’s the draw of a gig or portfolio career as a musician? Better yet, what can we glean from those who have successfully pulled together a diverse portfolio? Why did it work for them?

First, the down side. There’s clearly a lot to keep track of when you work for yourself. Big ticket worries include financial instability, occasional under-employment, lack of paid sick leave, expensive/difficult to get health insurance, juggling schedules, and last but certainly not least — saving money for taxes, emergency funds, and retirement. So why would anyone deliberately choose this type of work arrangement?

Freelance musicians are not shy about admitting that cobbling together a living based on various music industry jobs can be tricky. But for many, perhaps even most musicians, this career-path is a necessity. Music is an art, of course, and as such, is put into a different category than 9-to-5 more typical business jobs.

Now – the up side. Making music, teaching music, instrument repair, and performing music is meaningful work. Musicians identify deeply with their work. For them, it has a joyful purpose over and above income. That’s why more subjective measures of success are trumped by the freedom musicians have to make independent choices and take on multiple gigs that are not only valuable, but also foster growth and creativity.

A recent study of portfolio career musicians found that they are motivated by a self-directed working environment driven by personal values. Musicians’ careers tend to be measured by psychological success and a passion for what they do.

In fact, there are lots more compelling reasons why musicians and other artists choose portfolio careers to make a living, including:

  • Lots of freedom and choices
  • Working 9-to-5 isn’t a requirement.
  • Work is full of joy and creative expression.
  • Music work is adaptable to your individual musical gifts.
  • Musicians enjoy a range of inter-related gigs that strengthen talents and abilities.
  • Musicians can build their portfolio of work around what suits them.

It could also be argued that there is no better time to build a portfolio career than right now, because:

  • The entire business of music has changed, as has the perception of how it is –or should be– created. It’s a radically changed and dynamic institution with wide open entrepreneurial doors.
  • With the world’s continuing uncertainties of working together in a crowded office space, working for yourself is a healthy and relevant idea.
  • Technology has dramatically changed how music is created in the past decade. One person can use a variety of computer-enhanced digital techniques to create background rhythms, multiple instrument soundtracks and edit the entire piece – all from a single location.
  • Interest rates are historically low, so borrowing money to begin a business, buy equipment, or rent space is cheaper than ever.

Here’s what to know about building a smart portfolio from musicians that have done it.  

Successful portfolio musicians will tell you that it is just as important to be a savvy business person as it is to be a good musician. Simple (and as complicated) as that.

Portfolio musicians can thrive in today’s accessible social and economic framework by working diligently on transferable skills. That means being open to learning new skills based upon what you already know.

Here’s how to become successful:

Step 1: Stay focused on the business of music to build your understanding of new developments. You’ll want to take advantage of emerging opportunities, new technologies, and new areas of growth.

Step 2: Create a portfolio network that supports you. Music is people-focused, and that means collaboration. Building a network of people that can help you (and vice versa) is a great way to source potential work for yourself and other like-minded musicians.

Step 3: Grow your portfolio network in as many ways as possible. Online and in-person. Use social networking. Purposefully foster meaningful professional relationships that might lead to new opportunities. Educate yourself on new skills, techniques, and job possibilities.

Step 4: Stay checked in. Keep your network doors open so you don’t miss any opportunities – even when you may be busy working other gigs!  And even if they aren’t right for you — just pass them along to someone else. (That’s good networking that encourages others to do the same for you.)

Step 5: Maintain a work-life balance. This is no small thing. It’s easier than you think to get sucked into taking on too many gigs just because they are offered. Burn-out is very real when you are running from gig to gig with little to no down time. Make time for yourself as well as work to keep your life and wellbeing in check.

Step 6: Don’t forget your portfolio of music and gigs is also your business. That means dealing with business-y essentials –like taxes, travel deductibles, mileage, and education. Be your own business manager and think proactively.

Be smart right off the bat and consult a tax professional about how much of every gig you should be ferreting away for taxes and other expenses. Then set up a budget and stick to it through the ebb and flow of gigs.

Now is a perfect time to embrace a portfolio career – or work to improve the portfolio you have already began.

It’s also an ideal time to consult with musical professionals like those at Lisa’s Clarinet Shop, who specialize in helping creative musicians develop inroads to more divergent income streams.

The ways in which you can build your portfolio career are as varied and unique as your talents – some you may not have even realized you have the skills and attributes to do!

Click here to learn more about Lisa’s Clarinet Shop and get started. We can help you pull together your musical abilities, work acumen and creative passion to find increased stability and a more fulfilling, satisfying and lucrative career portfolio.