Become a Full-Time Musician: 3 Steps

I can’t believe it- today marks my 9 years of making a full-time living as a musician. Since I graduated high school, I’ve been supporting myself one way or the other as a musician, and it’s been a wild ride. If you’re looking to switch to doing music full-time, here are 3 first steps I’d recommend taking:


1. Decide if you really want to do this


I meet many musicians that think that being a “full-time musician” is this magical dream of career and life fulfillment. I personally love this lifestyle, but it’s definitely not for the vast majority of people. There’s a lot of financial discomfort, constant career instability, and a whole host of other issues. 


To get a better idea of what you’re getting into before you make the switch, talk to other musicians doing what you want to do. Ask them about sacrifices they’ve had to make, what the lifestyle looks like, what they love and what they hate. If you can, shadow a musician for awhile. You might find you love it, and you might end up hating it or deciding it’s not a lifestyle you’re interested in living. 


2. Start developing your career while you’re still working at your current job


The only reason I’ve not had to get a more traditional job is that I had my parents to help me in the early days financially by providing me low-cost housing. With music, there’s a long period at the beginning where you’re not going to have developed enough of a reputation to get paid for what you do, and without the financial stability to take those early low/no pay opportunities, you’re going to have a hard time getting started in your career.


Musicians wanting to switch from a part-time to full-time music career I believe should keep working the job that pays the bills, until your music career develops enough to make the career switch less of a financial leap, and more of a hop. In the meantime, start saving money as much as you can to prepare for the jump. You’ll need more money than you think for gear and lost wages, and having a financial buffer is often the only thing that will keep you going in the early days. 


3. Get multiple income streams


I would never recommend getting into doing music full-time without having more than one income source, since you never know when that income stream will dry up. 


When I was getting started, I relied heavily on piano lessons to supplement my no-pay gigs. I now rely on live shows, recording, producing, lessons, patch design, blogging, arranging, session work, and corporate gigs for income, and I’m constantly developing new ideas that might pay off later down the road. Most of them will never pay off, but the few that do will help me keep doing what I’m doing as the market changes and old income streams dry up. 


Of course, there’s a lot more to kickstarting a career in music than I can possibly cover in a blog. Ironically, most of the music business books I’ve read aren’t that helpful in understanding the modern music business. Instead, I’d recommend reading in the areas of marketing, entrepreneurship, personal economics, and running your own business (after all, that’s what you’re doing). 


I’d recommend reading anything by Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell, and reading as many musician biographies as you can find. If you get stuck, let me know- I’m always happy to help or just lend an ear. Good luck!