Can You Make $50k A Year As A Musician?

It’s never been easy to make a living as a musician – even in the halcyon days of the recorded music industry when rock gods cavorted in mounds of cocaine-tainted cash, the harsh reality was that more than 99.9% of bands never achieved any sort of label-driven profitability. But now that even the labels are feeling the pinch, debate on the viability of making a career from music continues…

Music Wages War

The look needs more work
Creative Commons License photo credit: Funkdooby

David Hahn over at Musician Wages recently wrote a post which ostensibly was a criticism of the amount of bad advice being provided to musicians on the Internet.

He referred to another post – Want To Make $50,000 a Year In Music? Start With One Dollar a Day – by Chris Jackson, making a number of critical points which sparked an interesting debate both about how one should provide information as a blogger in the music arena, and also how to make money as a musician.

The comment chain of Hahn’s post contains several good observations by professional musicians – but it seems clear that for most, it is essential to have multiple revenue streams. Giving lessons is a good stream, but unreliable; playing at churches is another option mentioned – and in fact, religious music is a massive industry in itself (often overlooked by musicians, but full of revenue potential).

As also mentioned in this very informative post over at One Working Musician, there are plenty of angles if you’re willing to push the boat out a bit – perhaps even to the extent of playing music on a cruise liner…

Stick To The Facts

In the comments of Hahn’s post, Chris Downing presented some business guidelines that he adapted for the music industry. These are worth bearing in mind, as they tend to apply to any sphere of human activity:

  • Fact – The best qualified, the best performer, the best CV, the best looking people most often, don’t get the job. You know that’s true – look around and you can see idiots in high places every day.
  • Fact – It’s all about relationships. IT’S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS. Get it? You may not like it but we all operate like that. No relationship – no gig. It’s either a long lasting relationship; there before the audition. Or you need to develop it as fast as you can. ‘Relationship’ will always trump all other aspects of getting the gig.
  • Fact – WIFM – the ‘What’s in it for me’ factor looms large in everything. If the person you want the gig from can’t see what’s in it for them, you don’t get the gig. This is the main point of opening your mouth at an audition – tell them what they personally get from taking you on. Their agenda is everything – yours is nothing in this conversation. Nobody cares that you are ambitious and hardworking and talented – they are intersted in what you can do for their agenda – personal AND commercial.
  • Fact – Commercial Agenda – you must match what they need to do business-wise – this is the obvious money stuff and the basic requirements.

Essentially, it’s not what you know, but who you know – and who you can get to know. Realising that other people have different perspectives seems obvious, but many people don’t get what that means – nobody cares about you, by default, as much as you do. In the real world, people are primarily driven by convenience; when they have a problem, the easiest solution is usually the one they go for.

If the ‘problem’ is finding someone to play background music/church music/afternoon gig, then you need to position yourself so that you are the easiest solution – they know you, they know how to contact you, that you’ll turn up on time and do a decent job.

And of course, if you are a musician who intends to make a living from music, you should be very good at the music itself…!


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