Just put those two words in the same sentence and it makes some people nervous. Here’s 3 myths about professional musicians and money, and what you can do to break away from the stereotypes.
Myth #1: Musicians Are By Their Very Nature, Poor
Perhaps the most perpetuated myth about musicians is that we are all, “starving artists,” suffering for our art, living off a steady diet of top ramen and living in our parents’ basement. We view making money as “selling out, man!” and wear our lifestyle of suffering on our sleeves as a badge of honor. There is only one exception to this, which is rockstars, who make up to $2000 per day on royalties.
Why This Myth is False
As professional musicians, we have chosen our careers because we love music. We can’t imagine doing anything else for a living. But nobody willingly says, “I want to eat top ramen for the rest of my life.” While there are certainly musicians who fit the “poor” stereotype, as well as people at the top such as Sting, there is a much larger section of hard working professional musicians.
These are the musicians you hear playing at weddings, night clubs, churches, schools, with singer-songwriters, in the background on TV performances, and at Disneyland. You know when you’re shopping for a new car and you’re thinking about getting a Toyota Yaris and all of sudden you start seeing Yaris’ (Yarisi? Yari? whatever) everywhere? It’s not that everyone went out a bought a Yaris, it’s just that you are much more aware of them now. The same thing goes for hard working musicians. They’re everywhere, you just gotta know where to look. These musicians work hard and make a decent living, all while doing what they love most.
What You Can Do About It
Let’s get specific. What can you do to make more money as a musician?
Do multiple things.
If you’re trying to make a living as a guitarist who only plays “neo-acid-billy hobbit-core” good luck. The more things you can do, the more valuable you are, and the more money you’ll make. If you’re a performer, this could translate to genre. If you can play Jazz as well as Top 40, you’re more valuable than the straight ahead Jazzer and you’ll get called for the $200 wedding gig that requires both.
Even outside of genre, there’s a bunch of other things you could do, here’s just a few ideas:
- Teach Private Lessons- This is a great way to earn consistent money and help supplement your income instead of waiting for the phone to ring.
- Make Charts – lots of musicians read music, but not everyone knows how to make a great looking chart. Buy Sibelius and get good at making charts.
- Make Mail Away Tracks – Buy a decent recording interface, a good mic, and Logic. People are always looking for extra instruments to add to their albums, but they don’t personally know a good harpist. That’s where you come in. Thank you internet.
There are a lot of other things you can do as a musician to make money. Get creative. Find out what people want and give it to them. This is the most basic aspect of what business is. I need a thing. You give me that thing, and in return I give you money. The more things you have to give, the more money people will give you in return.
Myth #2: Musicians Are Lazy, Sleep In All day, and Hardly Work
This is my personal favorite myth about musicians. We all wake up at noon, make our top ramen and watch House of Cards marathons on Netflix until it’s time to go to the gig. Music isn’t work, it’s fun. Musicians basically get paid to have fun.
Why This Myth Is False
Musicians may wake up at 9 or 10, but that’s only because we got back from the gig last night at 3:00 am. The schedule of a musician is often backwards from what most people are used to, but that’s only because musicians are generally working for non-musicians. When do most musicians teach? In the afternoon, right after kids get out of school, and before dinner time. When do musicians play the most gigs? Nights and weekends, when the rest of the world is relaxing after their work week.
Successful musicians are anything but lazy. They are entrepreneurs, constantly trying new things to figure out what works and what doesn’t and how they can make themselves more valuable. Music absolutely is fun. But it’s also a lot of hard work. If you sit around in your parents’ basement watching hours and hours of Netflix all day before your gig at night, you deserve that top ramen.
What You Can Do About It
Number 1: Stop feeling guilty about waking up later than your friends who work standard day jobs. Your life is completely different from theirs. The reason they get up at 5 or 6am everyday is because they went to bed before 10pm. Personally, I think that sounds awful.
Number 2: Come up with a regular schedule, and stick to it. Maybe Wednesday and Thursday are your teaching days, Friday through Sunday are your gigging days, and in the mornings you dedicate that time to learning songs, writing songs, making charts, recording tracks, or doing something else to increase your value. Have a set time that you wake up most mornings and get to work.
Your schedule will be different from this example, and from most other musicians, but find something that works well for you. Creating a schedule with set times will bring structure to your week, help you get more things done, and in turn, make you more money.
Myth #3: Musicians Are All Bad With Money
Professional Musicians, since we’re poor and lazy, aren’t good with money. We’d rather spend money on cheap beer and more musical equipment than save for things like a nice car or a house. We are stuck in an endless cycle of poverty as musicians and will keep living this way until we eventually give up and take a normal job.
Why This Myth Is False
Hard working musicians may not be naturally good with money, but over time they have learned how to be better because they have to.
These musicians work hard for their money and are very disciplined to make sure all their bills are paid, they can get the gear they need, and can even build up their savings account. Many professional musicians own their own homes and cars. It takes a lot of discipline, but it’s the only way to not live paycheck to paycheck.
What You Can Do About It
There are several extra factors that you have to deal with that people with normal jobs don’t.
When you’re self employed, taxes are a little more complicated. The good news is you can write off lots of things as business expenses (and absolutely should).
Living Off Of Flexible Income
When you’re a self employed professional musician, every month is different. In December you made $6000 but then January hit and you only made $1500. Living a consistent lifestyle that doesn’t fluctuate with your income takes discipline, but ultimately is the wisest thing to do.
Stop Living Paycheck To Paycheck ASAFP
There is no stress quite like the “How am I going to pay my cell phone bill this month” stress. It’s a feeling that I know well, and it’s absolutely the worst. Spend a few months (or even a year) saving as much money as you possibly can. Don’t eat out as much (read: eat top ramen), don’t buy as much gear, or God forbid, cancel your Netflix subscription. House of Cards Season 2 will still be there when you reactivate your membership. Do whatever you need to do to have extra money in the bank. You’ll immediately feel so much better about life.
These myths exist for one unfortunate reason: sometimes they are true. However, they are by far the exception to the rule. Join the group of hard working professional musicians. Be an entrepreneur. Work hard on things that you can be proud of. Do multiple things. Get on a regular schedule, and get disciplined about your money. Future You will love Past You for it. Plus, Future You will catch you up on House of Cards.
Photo credit: Dan4th