Jumping into being a full time musician is a scary thing. If you’re still in school, just about to finish, or are just ready to make the jump into making music your only source of income, how do you make that transition? How do you know when you’re ready?
Well, with some analysis and a little math, we can figure this out together. There’s a few questions you’ll need to ask yourself first:
1. How much money do you actually need?
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you need to figure out how much money you actually need. If you just go quit your day job and hope that it all works out, you’ll likely end up on your parents’ sofa in a few months.
Rent is due on the 1st, your phone bill on the 6th, your car insurance on the 21st, and you’re constantly having to fill your car with gas throughout the month. If you’re only paying for stuff as it comes to you, you may not know how much money you actually need in order to survive.
Total up all of your monthly expenses (download the worksheet at the end of this post). By the way, we’re talking bare minimum here. Cut out your excessive visits to Chipotle and your Netflix subscription (I’ve been using my brother’s login for years). Just include the bare minimum you need in order to pay your bills, put gas in your car, and eat food at home.
Total all of that up in one column, and write down that total number. This will be your monthly minimum.
2. How much money do you actually make doing music right now?
Since freelance musicians get paid sporadically throughout the month and not in 2 monthly lump sums like most people with regular jobs, you might not know how much money you’re actually making right now. The true number may surprise you.
It doesn’t matter if you are gigging, teaching, recording, composing, or a combination of all of these and more, total up everything that you’ve made in the past 3–4 months from your various music jobs. Make this the second column. Calculate the average of these months (or let the worksheet at the end of this post do it for you).
The math here is simple. If the number in column 2 is higher than the number in column 1, things are looking good, but you still may not be quite ready to make the jump. There’s a few things you should be aware of first.
It’s going to be difficult for a while, but that’s not a bad thing.
You’re probably going to have to eat a lot of top ramen (but at .15 cents each, how can you not?) You’ll have to buy less stuff on Amazon. Worst of all, you’ll have to start saying no to things that cost money. Let me present you with a difficult scenario.
Your friends are all going to Disneyland, that sounds fun! Oh, but that’s right, your Verizon bill is coming up next week. But it’s DISNEYLAND! Ehh…. Yeah, you can probably make it work!
WRONG. You cannot make it work. Disneyland will be fun, but you know what won’t be? Your account overdrafting next week because you foolishly setup autopay.
In this scenario, you have to make the difficult choice of declining to go. Please don’t say, “I can’t afford such luxuries on my pitiful income as a modern day jester…” That’s weird for a lot of reasons. Just say, “Sorry guys, I won’t be able to make it.”
Give Yourself A Runway
The worst thing you can do is jump into full time musician-ing cold. Whether you’re at a day job, or you’re in school, you have something else that’s filling up your time other than getting paid for your music. Keep doing those things while still pursuing your music career with everything you’ve got.
Building up your music career takes time. Take as much music work as you can whenever it comes your way, while still managing to stay in school or at your job at Best Buy. You want to get to the point where you can barely make your schedule work because you’re so busy being a musician.
When you reach this critical mass point, as long as your numbers add up, you’re probably ready to make the jump. When you do finally quit your job, graduate, or (heaven forbid!) drop out of school, you’ll have a running start with your music career as opposed to going, “okay, how do I get work?”
Don’t fall in the trap of thinking you’re going to quit Best Buy and just write songs all day and play awesome gigs every night. If you’re not already doing it consistently, you’re going to have a much more difficult and frustrating time starting from nothing.
Your Income Will Change Like The Wind
Since you’re a freelancer, your income doesn’t come from one single source consistently. Some months you’ll just barely scrape by. Others you’ll think to yourself, “If every month was like this I’d be rich!” And some months you’ll probably consider calling Terry from Best Buy and asking for your old job back. This financial roller coaster comes with the territory.
You should know this: As a general rule, there are some dry months as a musician:
1. Live gigs are much scarcer in January and February
2. Private lessons drop down during the summer months.
3. December is the best month to be a musician.
You Need To Live Completely Broke For A While
If reading this is making you doubt that you have what it takes to be a full time musician, don’t worry, it gets better. For now though, you need to be broke.
I know that seems dumb, but let me explain.
If you’re not great with money, the solution to your problem is not to just have more money. If you’re going to Chipotle three times a week, buying dumb crap on Amazon, and going to Disneyland whenever you want, even though you know you can’t afford it, you’ll be stuck playing that game for the rest of your life. Your frivolous spending will increase with your income and you’ll always feel 2 steps behind.
But if instead you trim the fat and cut your expenses down to the bare minimum and live as cheaply as possible for a while, save some money, and really think about what you spend your money on, you’ll have a much better handle on your financial life. As your income increases (and it will) you’ll be smarter about how you spend your money because in the beginning you had to be.
So enjoy this difficult, frustrating, brand new, scary, awesome time. It’ll be gone before you know it.
(Side note: you’ll also need to know about taxes, for the complete guide to musician taxes, click here)
Are You Ready To Be a Full Time Musician?
I’ve put together a foolproof flowchart that will tell you if you’re ready to be a full time musician. (Disclaimer: this is definitley not foolproof)
So, are you ready to make the jump to being a full time musician? If your numbers add up, your runway is setup, and you know what you’re getting into, then yes, you’re ready! If not, that’s okay, you’ll get there. In the meantime, message me for my brother’s Netflix password.
Math is hard. Download the worksheet here: