I recently stumbled upon a great article by professional bassist Damian Erskine that deals with the realities of earning a living while making music full time.
I highly suggest you read the article if you want to make music for a living (and get the most out of this article), it’s a bit of a wake up call to anyone who doesn’t have a full understanding of the work involved.
Making Music Full Time
Damian does a great job of describing the realities of touring as a bassist for hire and breaks down exactly where his income comes from. For the record, this is directly applicable to other musicians too – it has little to do with what instrument you play.
When you look at how hard musicians like Damian work to make a living, it’s difficult not to respect them and appreciate their commitment to making ends meet without the day job. But if you check out this article and feel daunted at the prospect of signing up for a lifestyle with inconsistent pay and grueling schedules of late nights and constant touring…there is another way.
Before I state my alternative, let me make two fundamental statements that are (in my opinion) essential for you to agree with if you want to work smarter, not harder to make ends meet as a musician.
- “You’ll never get rich working for someone else”
- “You’ll never get rich playing other people’s music”
[Note – The exception to this rule would be someone like Robert Trujillo who Metallica paid $1,000,000 upon hiring as their latest bassist, but he’s the exception that proves the rule.]
But let’s go back to Damian’s income sources.
He provides percentages for each of his income sources and after making some quick calculations, it’s plain to see that 87% of his income is dependent on him physically being somewhere at a specific time for a certain duration. Gigging, teaching, sessions, clinics etc. all fit into this category.
By his own admission, while he affords a modest income with a mortgage and two cars, Damian states that he and his wife are “vulnerable” without having much of a financial safety net.
For instance, what happens if he got seriously ill or injured and couldn’t play? How would Damian be able to offset his ability to work/perform then?
So what’s the alternative here? Is it possible to not only earn a full time income as a musician but also free up the time demands?
Trading Time for Money
At some point along his career path, Damian has made the decision to focus on performing music to make a living, this is true for the bulk of musicians out there – but it is the hardest way to make a secure and consistent income. This is because you don’t get paid unless you are in a specific place, at a specific time for a specific amount of time.
This essentially means that the more money you want to earn, the more of your own time you have to give up.
It also puts a ceiling on the amount of money that it’s even possible to make. There are only 24 hours in a day and 7 days a week. You can raise the amount you’re paid per hour, but charge too much and soon nobody will be able to afford you…
Damian freely admits that he’s not a song writer and dismisses his abilities to earn a living that way. He also hints that others who talk about making money tend to focus on passive income sources, and that’s what I’m going to recommend you look into if you want to be a full time musician without the grueling schedule and financial uncertainty.
Taking your Time Back while Earning More Money
Ownership – Create assets, a website, songs, merchandise, training/teaching that you own so that you have the control and get the lion’s share of the earnings when sales occur. Ownership = options. As an owner you collect royalties, can sell assets or license them out. None of which requires you to be in a particular place at a particular time to be paid. Some of these options mean that you’ll be paid repeatedly for work that you did only once – that’s the sweet spot right there!
Pay Yourself First – This is going to sound like financial advice, but I’m actually talking about using your own talents to benefit yourself before anyone else. In other words, if you write articles for magazines, jingles for other people, photography for others, websites for other people – whatever…also do it for yourself. Invest in yourself at least 1 hour a day. You may not see a cent from this work in the short term, but this will be exclusive work that down the road could become an income source that you control. In the meantime, you’re building a good habit and investing in yourself.
1) Sell products instead of your time. When you sell a product, you get paid without having to be at a specific place or time, this allows for time freedom. You don’t want to trade your time for money, because the more money you make means the less freedom you have. It’s the ultimate worse case scenario where even if you make a lot of money, you won’t have the time or freedom to actually enjoy it! Think about everything you do and how you can package it up into a product that can be sold.
2) “One to Many” versus “One to One”. Would your rather have 5 students paying $30/hour or 100 students paying $5 each for an online bass clinic? For the activities you enjoy doing that still require your time – this is an alternative that gives you the maximum leverage to earn more with less hours spent.
Marketing/Promotion – It’s not enough to merely have something to sell, if nobody knows it exists or how it will benefit them then you’ll have a very hard time getting sales of any kind.
Allow up to an hour a day to promote yourself. When done consistently and tracked, you can determine what works best and do more of it and less of what doesn’t work. With some good marketing behind you, not only will your sales increase but so will your authority and reputation, allowing you to not only sell more product more easily but to also charge more. This is especially true if you make it to ‘celebrity’ status in your market.
Money Doesn’t Just “Happen”
By now I’m sure that the skeptics are out in full force. They’ll look at the points above and say that it’s too much work and effort to make more money. Excuses like, “I’m not a marketer”, “I’m not a song writer”, “I suck with technology”, “I’m not talented enough”, are all rational lies that keep you from your true income potential. There’s a great saying that comes to mind when I hear excuses like these:
“You can make money, or you can make excuses – but you can’t make both.”
The fact is, if you want to make a living as a musician like Damian does you’ll be exerting effort either way.The difference is if you build your career by focusing more on products and marketing that you’ll be able to grow to the point where you eventually earn more with less time.
Remember how bad you were at playing your instrument when you first started out?
You didn’t just happen to “get good”, you put in hours and hours of time on the instrument. You practiced scales, learned about theory, built up your blisters, invested in gear, lessons, music, sheet music and tab books.
While there is always more to learn and another technique to perfect as a musician, I’m suggesting that maybe it’s time to sharpen a few other skills so that you can start growing your income as well.
You’ll need to outgrow the limiting beliefs and perceptions that are currently holding you back.
If you’re already busy like Damian, you’ll need to actively take a step back and cut back on some of what you do now to grow your business. This will mean passing up money to work on your own business; taking the long road instead of the short term rewards of cash right now.
The point is that a successful career in any field doesn’t just happen – it needs to be planned and executed. There will be some wrong turns and dead ends along the way, but you’ll learn from it and get back on the highway again. Eventually, you discover that you’re on your way towards a better lifestyle.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway I can leave you with is this: it is because of the choices you’ve made in your life that you are where you are right now. Making the same choices will keep you where you are, but making new ones offer alternatives.
Getting back to Damian again, he’s doing a lot of what I’ve talked about here.
- He has his own website (www.damianerskine.com)
- He has his own products.
He gets paid to write articles for sites like Notreble, but forget about the money – more importantly each article is marketing who he is and what he does to his targeted audience of bass players. He’s building his own reputation and authority each time his articles are published on a well-regarded website or magazine and when he takes the stage with well-regarded musicians and bands.
I’d suggest that if anyone has the ability to grow their passive income and rely less on income from performance – it’s Damian. It could be as simple as investing that hour a day to marketing and looking into a few of those leverage points I touched on above.
You can also check out my free 1K Fan Formula Report that is one approach to building a six figure income as a musician.
Thanks for reading this, and until next time – keep working hard, but also work smart!