[Editors Note: This article was written by Hugh McIntyre. Hugh writes about music and the music industry and regularly contributes to Forbes, Sonicbids, and more.]
The vast majority of people creating music also need to find another way to pay the bills, at least at first. Making a living from any form of art, be it acting, dancing, singing, playing an instrument, etc., is incredibly difficult, and as the economy stands at the moment, only a certain number of people can be supported. There are plenty of ways to work your way into the biz as a musician, but doing so at the right time, when you’re prepared and truly ready, is an important part of ensuring this is correct for you.
There could be millions of people who want to do nothing but write, record, and tour all day long, and that means quitting the “day job,” which may or may not actually take place during the day. That sounds wonderful, but before you give your two weeks, keep these warnings in mind.
You Haven’t Saved Enough
No matter how hard you try, chances are you’re never going to have a huge nest egg sitting in a bank account somewhere collecting interest, even though we all wish we had one. Even those who are incredibly careful with their money have a difficult time making their savings grow substantially, so don’t feel too bad.
When you’re on your own as a working musician, the money doesn’t come to you in the same way it did when you had a “regular” job. Paychecks aren’t guaranteed, and sometimes you’ll wind up going long periods without earning a dime. You need to have as much cash on hand as possible, budget carefully, be diligent about your savings, and think like a business owner.
You’ll be planning for tours months in advance and spending a lot out of pocket for things like studio time and video shoots, but you also can’t run out of dinero before you actually start making any of it back.
Having said all this, don’t get too insane when it comes to saving money. As I said, it’s hard for everybody, and there’s a good chance that you may have overestimated how thrifty you’d be able to force yourself to be, and that whatever amount you set down in stone as a minimum that must be met in order to leave the working world behind might have been too optimistic.
Be smart and think many times over before you make the leap and quit your job, but don’t wait forever. If you hold off for the day when you have everything perfectly aligned and money to burn, you will likely be disappointed at how long you’ll be waiting.
Many musicians complain at length about the hours they need to work between their regular jobs, whether that’s a 9-to-5 or a part-time gig doing anything other than creating music and building their careers in the field they desire to succeed in. It’s a completely fair gripe, and I don’t blame any artist for being less than thrilled about spending copious amounts of time away from what they love doing just to be able to pay the bills. That’s not how things should be, but of course we all know better.
Having said that, it needs to be said that just because you give up the position you took just to afford to live and eat, that doesn’t mean the hours are going to lessen and free time will suddenly become abundant. In fact, many working musicians will tell you that they put in truly insane hours just to make it all work.
Any artist knows it takes a very long time to craft something worthy of sending out into the world—whether that be a song, a painting, a film, a story or any other format—but many working towards doing music full-time don’t realize how much else goes into the career.
Musicians that support themselves based solely on their art only spend some of their time actually crafting tunes. Hour upon hour upon grueling hour can be devoted to a myriad of other tasks that need to be done and done well if the money is going to continue to flow in the right direction. Booking, accounting, all things social, merchandise creating, correspondence with fans and keeping in touch with members of the team (a manager, those in charge of syncs and licenses, lawyers, etc.) is necessary and time-consuming.
Don’t start thinking that just because you’re not reporting to a different boss you’ll have all the time in the world!
Being entrepreneurial sounds sexy and it’s made to seem glamorous by startup founders and those that brag about how they travel the world while still making ends meet, but at the end of the day, it requires an incredible amount of self-discipline and motivation, and the sad fact is that many people either don’t understand that, or they don’t have what it takes to run their own careers successfully.
The image of the rockstar that sleeps all day and parties all night may sound like a lot of fun, but it couldn’t be farther from what is actually required to survive. Before you can go out on your own and make a go at being your own boss, you need to both understand and respect how important structure is in your everyday life.
Waking up early to make it into a job may suck more mornings than not, but the musicians doing the best stick to the same type of schedule. They have a routine and they stick to it as much as is possible, and many indie acts at the top of their game will tell you that they have dedicated work spaces, hours set aside for this task or that, and enviable organizational skills. That may not be the portrait often painted of a rocker, rapper or pop star, but it’s the truth for many of those who have the career you wish you could.