musician

Multiple Income Streams

In order to achieve some level of financial stability, every musician will leverage a variety of income sources to make ends meet and eventually break through to higher earning potential. The degree to which each category will be leveraged will largely depend on factors such as individual personality, career goals, style of music, and networking. The three biggest income streams for a musician can be broken down as follows: Teaching, Performing, Sales.

Teaching

Being a music teacher is by far the most stable hat a musician can wear, and this is serves as the foundation for world-class performers teaching masterclasses at Conservatories or Universities and serves as a steady start for the young teacher at the local music store. As you gain experience performing and word of mouth spreads about the success of your students, your studio will fill and your rate will gradually increase.

In major cities, by far the best place to teach is after school programs. You simply set up an interview with the principal or music teacher and then find out if there are any students interested in afterschool music lessons. You won’t get more than a couple kids per day, but the benefits are great: you can command a higher rate, cherry pick interested students, no charge for renting a studio, and parents will jump at the opportunity to keep their kids occupied instead of sitting around waiting for the bus or in study hall. If you’re worried about getting started and have no experience, the most effective way to get your foot in the door is to substitute teach for a friend (again – network!)

Performing

Who are we kidding? Getting on stage and playing is the reason most people pick up an instrument. Unless you’re already booked at the Met or solo regularly with orchestras around the world, performing will serve as a high but often unpredictable source of income. Concerts, background music, weddings, corporate events, and church services all count as a way to boost your income and get you playing for people. In order to get started you will need a website and a couple mp3s at the bare minimum and can expect to take about a year to get yourself up and running and no longer “paying your dues.”

 Some people like to look at their income as primarily teaching-based with performance as a bonus. This will gradually shift as you gain experience performing and once you find yourself turning down more events due to your teaching schedule, it will be time to evaluate your approach, crunch the numbers, and re-focus your streams.

Sales

This includes T shirts sold at concerts, CDs, mp3s, sheet music, iTunes, and downloads. Personally, this is the weakest of my income streams with performing shifting into the strongest stream over the past two years. I always bring CDs to sell to any event and all musicians should utilize sales as an income source. If you have a huge Facebook following or your band is a local favorite, you need to have something fans can purchase. Additionally, having a CD or mp3s you send concert promoters or include in your press kit is a must.

Implementing Good Habits to Take Charge of Your Career

The following is the first of a two-part Guest Post by good friend and fellow musician Frank Gulino. In this first excerpt, Frank addresses the importance of practicing effectively. Frank is a trombonist with the Capital Wind Symphony, composer, and entertainment lawyer based outside DC. His website can be found here.

Musicians are among the most gifted, dedicated, educated, focused, and hardworking individuals you will ever encounter, and yet so many of them find themselves struggling professionally. There are a multitude of unfortunate reasons for this, including the declining number of professional opportunities, heightened levels of competition, and the systematic under-compensation of musicians across the board. One phenomenon in particular, however, stands out: the “art” of music and the “business” of music are more disparate today than they have ever been, and too many musicians focus exclusively on developing their art rather than taking the time to develop both facets.

When I say that the “art” of music and the “business” of music have diverged, what I mean is that it is now appreciably more difficult to make a living in music by working for someone else than it has been in the past, making it more necessary for today’s musicians to be entrepreneurial thinkers rather than solely artists. As recently as two decades ago, there were many more opportunities for symphony musicians, more tenure track professorships in music, packed orchestra pits on Broadway, full big bands on cruise ships, and live music was ubiquitous. There were enough opportunities that, by perfecting your art, it was feasible to win the audition or land the pit orchestra job without having to be especially entrepreneurial or business-minded. In recent years, however, with orchestras folding, tenure track professorships being replaced by adjunct positions, and the widespread use of synthesized theater music, opportunities to be employed by someone else in the music field have become few enough that simply being the best player or interviewee is no longer the most consequential determinant of whether or not you succeed at making a living in music.

While artistic qualification and ability can still carry the day at the very highest echelons of the profession, the vast majority of musicians will need to allocate considerably more time to developing their “business” than they realize. Today, musicians have to be more prepared than ever before to work for themselves. And, as with almost anything else, the implementation of good habits is key.

Good Habits for Developing Your Art
1. Practice

There is no substitute for spending time with your instrument. No cutting corners, no feigning familiarity with the repertoire, no fooling anyone into thinking you’re prepared when you aren’t. Music directors, colleagues, and audiences alike will see through a lack of thorough preparation sooner or later. Practice smart and practice enough, but keep in mind that practicing your instrument is just one part (albeit an important one) of building your career.

I am a proponent of breaking up the day’s practicing into three sessions when possible. By practicing once in the morning, once during the day, and once in the evening, your body and mind will get past unhelpful conceptions such as the belief that “I can’t play first thing in the morning!” or “I never sound good this late at night!” You never know when you’ll be the person assigned to the 8:00 a.m. audition slot, or whether that wedding reception your band just got hired to play is going to last all night. Those become non-issues when you are accustomed to playing your instrument at any time of day.

2. Improve Your Concept
Two players of identical innate ability and practice habits will be readily distinguishable from in front of the audition curtain if one has made a conscious effort to inform and improve his or her concept of sound, while the other has never given thought to the matter. Listen to the best recordings you can, attend live performances, study with great teachers, and continue to refine the sound you desire. Take advantage of comp tickets, and familiarize yourself with the variety of genres and styles in which your instrument is used. The more you listen to great artists, the more you will be able hone your individual concept of sound. The informed desire to sound a particular way is what will ultimately set you apart from everyone else who plays your instrument.

3. Stay Healthy
Music is more of an athletic pursuit than many give it credit for. Sooner or later, eating poorly, neglecting exercise, and depriving oneself of sleep will all have an adverse impact on your ability to make music at the highest level. Eat well, exercise, sleep enough, stay hydrated, stretch, read, make time for relaxation, and surround yourself with wonderful people.

4. Play With Others
No amount of solitary, technique-focused time in the practice room will equip you with the ensemble skills necessary to play in most professional settings. Achieving a desired dynamic result with a decibel meter in the practice room does not mean you will be able to achieve the perfect dynamic balance within an ensemble; similarly, tuning a note to a tuner in the practice room is not the same as tuning a chord with other musicians. There is no substitute for making music with other people, and ensemble skills are absolutely essential to being a complete musician.

Coming Soon: Frank’s perspective on the entrepreneurial aspect of being a 21st Century musician.

Everything is an Opportunity

Early on, finding success can seem like a total mystery. You hear about friends and colleagues winning competitions, recording a CD, or having a concert and you wonder how they got so lucky – “why can’t it be me?” And this is the problem. The competition or gig or CD was not their “success” – it was the manifestation of the fruits of their labor, the intersection of timing and preparation. It was the moment when their hard work paid off. Success is total commitment to the process of work and practice.

With that in mind and after working long and hard on your craft, only then will what seems like luck to the untrained eye will reveal itself as opportunity. Everybody you meet and everywhere you play has the possibility to lead you someplace new. You just need to keep your eyes opened.

A rather wealthy, older gentleman who comes to many of my performances took me to lunch one day. We ate and spoke and we tossed around the idea of putting together a CD release concert, with him playing Host and taking care of the audience. Over the course of lunch, I asked him what he was doing when he was my age and how he ended up in the position of being able to help young musicians. What he said has stuck with me ever since: “Instincts – I look at everything and everyone as an opportunity.”

Price Reflects Value

This is a point I’m going to make frequently on this blog.  Price is a direct reflection of value.  People are proud to pay in full for a 100k sports car – it shows off their worth.  People buy designer clothes not due to functionality, but due to BRANDING.  Why do you think H&M gets a away with charging $200 for a blazer, that is really just Indonesian cotton that is beat up and dyed an obnoxious color?!  (I will admit H&M does have great sales…but you get the point.)

If you consistently try to engage your competition a price war , the only thing you offer is a LOWER PRICE.  Price becomes your BRAND.  Think – what are some companies known for low prices – Walmart?  McDonalds?  Sam’s Club?  Their entire business premise is around practical goods or services at the lowest price possible.  What about high prices – Whole Foods?  Banana Republic?  Fogo de Chao?  These companies charge high prices for their goods due to perceived value and higher quality.  Value – whether real or not – and offering a higher quality of service is their brand.

As a musician you can use this concept to your advantage.  You want to be the Rolex of your field, whether playing a wedding or corporate event, small concert series, or doing a recording session.  You want price to reflect your value – not how low you’re willing to go.  There will always be someone offering to do the job for less.   Don’t worry about your competition’s fees – if somebody wants to pay Joe Schmo $100 to play their wedding, well, that’s their choice if they want the music for the big day to sound like a total hack job.  Instead, offer a fair price that reflects your value – and offer a superior service.  Be punctual, friendly, easy to communicate with and make the performance about THE AUDIENCE . 

In the coming posts I will detail exactly how I negotiate contracts and what you can do to leverage simple business concepts to your advantage as a working musician.