Musicians have the power to make a living with their craft. Like any other business, you must have a plan.

Here’s a scenario: You start a band, take any gig that you can and don’t make a dime. In fact, you go into debt. You’re buying instruments, renting rehearsal space and hiring a “manager” to help you get on national stages. After a couple years of rehearsing in your basement dreaming of money and fame, you start to get the picture: “I’m getting nowhere, I’ve maxed out my credit cards. I have no idea what I’m doing”.

It happens. Ask any musician out there who has been in the trenches. This ain’t easy.

starving_artist1But where is the disconnect? Why is Music Business approached differently than every other business? If you were opening a restaurant, you would have a business plan first. What would the theme be? Where is the best location to open so you are getting daily traffic? What about the menu, staff, hiring the chef, organizing the marketing campaign?

Just a few of the many issues that have to be thought out and planned down to the smallest detail in order to have any hope of being successful. You would never pay thousands of dollars for a restaurant location without first having a business and financial plan, right? Not if you are a sane and rational human.

Maybe you’re thinking, “but I’m an artist, it’s a totally different thing. I do this because I love it, I want to create and I was born to make music. I can’t worry about making money and being part of the mainstream if I am a true artist. Worrying about finances and business plans is for amateurs and hobbyist musicians who aren’t serious artists. When I find the right person in the Industry who hears my music and gets it, then I will have more money than I will ever need. Now isn’t the time to get distracted with financial plans and spreadsheets. I’m working on a new CD that will take people’s heads off so stop talking to me about geeky business plans; that’s for the chumps who have no talent…..” Is it?

You may not have the mindset of a Larry Page or Bill Gates, but you can certainly plan for your future. Being fiscally responsible does not mean that you have to be a no talent hack. The longer you ignore handing your finances in a responsible manner, the more debt you accrue and the further away your dream becomes. That Padulla Rapture with 5A Birdseye Maple fingerboard may be a bit out of your reach!

Before you spend another 4 or 5K that you don’t have, think about the big picture. You want longevity in the business. You don’t want to starve. You don’t want to be stuck doing crappy bar gigs that pay $50.00 for the rest of your life. So make a PLAN.

Stop sticking your head in the sand and get into reality.

  • How much money do you need to make every month to cover your bills?
  • What are you currently making from all music income streams per month?
  • Where do you want to be 6 months or a year from now?

Hate your day gig? Are you complaining every day on your way to that dead end 9-5er about how bad you have it, and if people only knew you were the most talented musician in the world, things would be different?

Get a grip, you can change this picture. There are countless ways to make a decent living being a full time musician.

  • Do you teach? It’s not uncommon for teaching instructors with very little experience/just starting out to earn $20 or more per hour; that beats working at McDonald’s.
  • How many students would you need every week to pay the bills?
  • Are you a session player? The more versatile – and professional you are– the more opportunities there are for you.
  • How much studio work could you drum up to supplement your monthly income?
  • Do you have recording skills and a home studio? If so, put it to good use.

Your creative skill sets can work for you. Those all-nighters you pulled learning Pro Tools could lead to a stream of lucrative sessions recording demos for DIY musicians. EVERYBODY is constantly wanting to record new material, but nobody can afford it. Many musicians have recording gear in their homes…and not a clue of how to properly use it.

Your client list is endless but you have to actually market the fact that you have the skills. There are many social media platforms available where you can advertise; you don’t have to break the bank getting your name out there.

Are you skilled in any other art form? For example, are you a graphic designer, painter, writer or web builder? You could be designing logos, posters, websites or CD covers.

You are an artist. You are creative. Be creative with your business plan. This doesn’t have to be miserable or grueling, it can be exciting and fun to broaden your thinking and take on new projects helping other artists.

  • While you are making money recording that new single for an up and coming band, you might just find that you end up sharing shows and tours. You could be grabbing new fans, opportunities, and making important connections.

Do something every day to grow your business. It doesn’t mean you have to cancel rehearsal or stop writing new material.

It does mean that you must have a schedule and stick to it. Do you have a written schedule now, or are you just spending hours on the internet every day spacing out and accomplishing nothing? Sleeping till noon every day, playing your guitar for the afternoon on the front porch is great, if you have a high paying gig that night. If you are independently wealthy, great! Have a blast and enjoy. If, on the other hand you have no idea how you will pay your rent, it’s time to grow up.

Music Industry professionals work during the day. That booking agent you keep trying to reach at 10pm is ignoring you. Their work day is done. Their gigs went to other artists who stayed up all night writing, then made a pot of coffee and started pounding the pavement getting their business in order. Truth.

What about your fans, how do they fit in with your business plan? How can you monetize your fan base?

  • Do you have merch available at every show? Consider giving away postcards that contain links to your social media sites and music platforms.
  • Are you performing live online shows for your 5, 10, or 20,000 fans through stageit.com or other online streaming platforms

If you missed my blog on stageit you can read it here… If you have active “real” fans, there are also crowd funding opportunities available via Kickstarter or Indiegogo and others. But again, you MUST have a plan. Don’t just decide, “hey, I need 5K to record my new EP so I’ll launch a Kickstarter.” You need a PLAN.

Do you have family, friends and super fans who have been clamoring for new music? Think they might contribute? Suss out the level of engagement within your current fan base and turn that into dollars.

  • Make a list of family, friends and fans and estimate how much you think they would contribute to a project.
  • Place donate buttons on your website(s) where fans can contribute to your success in the industry, if they so desire.

If your real fans love your music and you consistently give away free downloads, why wouldn’t they donate to the cause? Make them feel special and ask what would turn them on (merch, acoustic shows, remakes of material that they might be willing to help fund, what else).

This doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can make a living with your music even if you aren’t an international superstar making millions of dollars. You have to wrap your mind around something realistic. Don’t wait to hit the big time, start making money now doing what you love.

Here’s a great short blog about making money as a musician from CD Baby. I love the 7C’s:

1. CALCULATE
2. CAPTURE
3. COMMUNICATE
4. CANVASS
5. CREATE
6. CROWD FUND
7. COUNT

“Count De Monay,” Amen. That’s the fun part. Stop what you are doing right now today and make a business and financial plan. Look to the future and keep a macro perspective about being a full time musician.

You don’t have to starve to be a credible revered artist. We will all still think you are talented even when you can pay your rent. Change your thinking, change your attitude, change your life.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” Maya Angelou

3 Responses to “Starving Artist”…it doesn’t have to be that way

  1. scott alexander says:

    Determination not to starve comes from hard work in any profession, and the music business is very competative and can quickly bruise an already sensitive ego. Key # 1 try to lose the ego, or keep it in check while your in a professional situation. Knuckle-heads have a tough time not starving.

  2. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I am always extremely grateful for my mom on this front. She is a fierce, strong, and brilliant business woman – CEO, inventor, business developer – and she has always urged me to look at my music career as a business and has helped me endlessly as a business advisor. Even though I used to resist her insistence, Fame Wizard has made me own up to the truth – “yup, Mom, you were right all along…”! 😉

  3. Shecky says:

    Well this is an article that really hits home!I couldn’t agree more. I have recently started with a business plan and it really works with my scheduling. I was terrible with time management before but now I am consistent without being “overwhelmed”. However, the Pedulla Raptor sounds pretty tempting 😉 Thank you Ghezzi. I hear you loud and clear. Excellent points to be taken very seriously!

    Rock On,
    Shecky

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