new article series

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Your Music is Just a Hobby. So What? Part 1 of TBD


There seems to be no shortage of zippy headlines, tweets, and email newsletters telling you, usually with a proliferation of exclamation points, that “Your Music Can Be Your Full Time Job!!” If you haven't quit your day job yet to be a full-time musician, then ~wow~ you must really suck! Or you don't want it bad enough! (GRRRRRR!) Or you haven't bought the right program or coaching to get you there! Click here and pay $29.95 for the guide that will turn you into a millionaire by next Tuesday! Better yet, give me $2500 for my exclusive insight that will have you winning American Idol and get your songs placed in Super Bowl commericals by this time next year!

* eye roll *

* heavy sigh *

I can't be the only one who's tired of these trite, hollow promises. Not only are they silly, but they are patently untrue. I am not interested in perpetuating the myth that everyone can be a full-time musician. It's not necessarily that you don't have the talent or the drive (although, maybe it is). The main reason is that it is not feasible for everyone.

Notice I use the word feasible, instead of possible...


Feasible: possible to do easily or conveniently


Possible: able to be done; within the power or capacity of someone or something.


There seems to be only one viewpoint these days in new-indie circles, and it's a harsh one. If your music is a hobby, then that's bad. Full time music = good. Music as hobby = bad. Either you're a full-time musician, and you've “made it,” or you're not, and you've failed before you've started. Either you're one of the lucky ones, or you're not, and you should just quit and go home. Or, more realistically, you should spend every spare penny you have on trying to quit your day job, so you can start doing music full time and learn how to live on 1/3 of what you were living on before. (Sounds really fun, right???)

[PS: Please tell me you've noticed that every single person who is out there telling you that you can be a full-time musician has a bottom line...? Something they're selling in order to help that happen for you? Hmm...very interesting]

I think this viewpoint is stunted, short-sighted, and doesn't address the breadth of human experience. Viewing your music as a success only when you make enough to earn a full-time living from it limits you from doing the best that you can with your music when it's “just a hobby.” How does an extra $5000 per year sound to you? How would it feel to have $2500 in savings for your band, so that the next time you pressed a CD, no one had to eat ramen noodles for a month? What would it be like if every time you played a show, you ended up with enough cash to use as spending money for the rest of the week? Or how about doing something really old-fashioned, like actually having enough money to go on tour instead of begging your friends and family to fund your Kickstarter? Play your cards right as a “hobby” musician, and this can be your reality.

Some important (and human!) reasons why being a full-time musician may not be feasible or practical:

-You have a family for which you are the sole provider

-You live in an expensive city where you need a well-paying job just to survive

-You are in debt and need to get out

-You aren't in a situation to spend 10-20 years living on next to nothing in order to be able to be a full-time musician by the time you're in your late 40s / early 50s

-You suffer from chronic illness, or are dealing with a health issue that limits your day-to-day activities


Maybe you're not in any of these situations; maybe you are. For the sake of continuinty, your music at this point in your life is just a hobby. So what? What does that mean for you? I am starting a new article series discussing making the most of your music, at whatever point you are in your career. I believe in order to get to your dreams, you have to first start with your reality. It's my goal with this article series to meet you where you ARE, so you can get to where you want to BE.

We're going to start with the basics: How can you bring in more money, and make the money you have go further? I've got some practical and time-tested tips from my own experience and many other musicians I know....

Here's the first 5:

1. Have a Website, and a Product To Sell

Do you want to make any money from your music at all? Okay, you do? Great.

There are 20,000,000 reasons why you need your own website (your band's or some variation thereof) but the main reason can be summed up in one word: MySpace. Thousands of musicians and artists built empires for themselves online that came crumbling down when the interface collapse. Yes, Facebook is next. People have been saying this for years. If you're not listening, it's because you're not taking yourself seriously. Harsh words for a harsh reality. The good news? It costs you next to nothing to fix it. MAKE A WEBSITE NOW.

You cannot be in business without a product. You need to have a product (namely either an EP or a CD) and a website to sell it on. Doesn't even have to be a physical CD, but you know that by now.

Don't have a CD? Your product can be your live performance. Get videos of yourself performing, toss 'em up on that website, and go from there.

You cannot make money without a product to exchange for it. If you do not have a product, come back to the rest of this article later.


2. Step Down Your Expenses!

Yes, sometimes the key to having more money is... spending less money! You can go big with this, or small. It all adds up. Covering my monthly expenses when I was living in Los Angeles in an apartment by myself ($1200) was very different than covering my monthly expenses in San Diego living in a tiny room in a house ($400).

To prove it does add up:

$3.50 per day for a coffee x 30 days = $105 per month

$8 lunch out (4 days/wk) x 30 days = $128 per month

Musicians often talk about stepping down non-music-related expenses to pay for music-related expenses. I used to do this as well, until I realized it was stupid and it wasn't getting me anywhere. Do you have any music-related expenses you can step down? Is your monthly membership fee of $6, $10, or $30 actually getting you gigs or more importantly, fans? If not, drop it! I'm by no means a financial expert, but seriously – just Google “ways to save money” and see if you can put some of them in action.


3. Learn Some Covers Already

I'm always shocked by how many musicians act like toddlers when I bring this up. “But I don't wanna!” Most of my money from music is earned from live performance. I perform at least once a week as a singer, and I do fill-in work at piano bars. I'm lucky enough to be able to perform some of my original tunes in the mix, but 70-80% of the material I perform ends up being covers.

In my experience, when venues or restaurants (AKA: places that actually pay musicians) are looking to hire bands for live performance, they want bands that can do the following:

- play for several hours

I'm serious. The amount of times I've been asked, “How long is your set?” is far greater than the number of times I've been asked, “What kind of music do you play?” Even for those of you who have a four-hour set of original music, the likelihood that a room full of strangers will want to hear that for hours on end is (don't take this personally) pretty low.

Learning covers does so many great things for you as a musician, but mostly, it makes you a better musician. A curated set full of good songs will get you more gigs, and more money. Better musicianship + more money? Seems like a win-win situation to me.


4. Get Cozy With Your Audience, and Get Comfortable With Tips

Working backwards here: I'm not just talking about asking for tips, I'm talking about the concept of tips. It seems that a lot of people (who don't receive tips as part of their job) feel like tips are charity, or that they are patronizing.

Um... nope. Tips are a freaking awesome way to make some good money. I'm in a new band, singing once or twice a week, and I've been shocked to discover just how much people really enjoy tipping us. Often times, the only thing people want in exchange for their money is to know that you saw them put it in the tip jar. They want to be acknowledged, and they want to know that you know, that they gave you a tip. (Still following?)

When I give people who tip us a nod or a wink from the stage, their faces light up. It's an awesome feeling; to be appreciated for your performance, and to play and interact with your audience. If you're not doing these things, you're missing out on a big way to make money. Looking back on my career, I can say there are probably many shows where I had the opportunity to make good money in tips, but I didn't. Why? Because I wasn't comfortable enough with my audience to make them feel comfortable with me! Whew, what a mouthful!

Your audience is the reason you are performing. It is not about you. It is about THEM. If you don't feel comfortable with an audience, then you need to be performing as often as you can, because it's the only cure for AAS (Avoidant Audience Syndrome). This follows as a part of a bigger cycle; the better you become as a musician, the more comfortable you become as a performer, the cozier you get with your audience, the more your audience will do for you. Just remember: when someone drops a $20 in your tip jar, make it all about them, and they will do it every time they see you perform.


5. Work Your Email List

Most online sales come from your email list. Not your Facebook. Not your Twitter. Not your Tumblr or your Soundcloud, or even your iTunes page.

For good measure: most online sales will come from your email list. There are so many musicians out there who are writing about great ways to connect with your fans and stay in touch with them; ways that go beyond the played-out 'free song' for email subscribers or just sending your fans an email implying that they need to support you even more than they already are... you get the point.

Improving your writing skills, your blogging skills, and your human connection skills will help you immensely in your quest to make more money, and this might be contradictory advice but...


6. GET OFF THE INTERNET! (sung in the style of Le Tigre) 

I'm going to write a full article about why this is my strategy of choice in 2014, but I'll just tell you some of what happened to me in the past year.

I stepped out of my comfort zone and spent $25 to go to a music conference in town. I met a new friend who had just written a review of my music. Six months later, he booked me a show at one of the best and most appropriate venues in town for my music, a venue I probably couldn't have booked on my own.

I saw a Craigslist ad for a pianist auditioning female singers for a band. I ended up stepping into an awesome band that's now performing once or twice a week. (The band where I get tipped all the time!)

Through connecting with a local girlfriend, I've been given all kinds of leads on new places where I can perform. She's told me more about restaurants that feature live music than I've been able to figure out on my own.

This is not an exaggeration: every single good thing that's happened to me in the past year has been a result of getting outside and connecting with people in my community. Do not underestimate the value of face-to-face interaction!


This is an ongoing series. Stay tuned for more!

Comments? Leave them below! But be nice to each other or you'll have to deal with me.