I had a great conversation this week with a friend and fellow musician in Nashville. As it usually does among musicians, talk turned to how difficult it is to make a living as a musician.
My friend is an amazing drummer and has toured for years. He explained that most touring musicians were likely to make a maximum of$30,000 a year. That’s not enough money to raise a family on or even buy much of a house, and it doesn’t look like the music industry is going to be improving anytime soon.
I agree with my friend. In 2014, the vast majority of musicians will not be able to make a living as just a session musician, or a touring musician, or producer, or anything else for that matter. And that’s a good thing, because it forces musicians like myself to do something that we wouldn’t do if we weren’t forced to do it: diversify.
Diversify, Young Man
By diversify, I mean that we have to figure out multiple streams of income to pay the bills. That includes developing several parts of our career and gifts simultaneously, which can make us more creative, more engaged, and more excited about working each day.
In my own career, I have 4 basic income streams that keep my afloat financially:
1. Live shows
2. Piano teaching
3. Producing/session work
4. Mainstage programming and patch sales
Why Do it?
None of these incomes streams are over $20,000 a year, which gives me three advantages:
• Even if one of them completely dries up, I still have the other three income streams to rely on until I can get something else going.
• None of these take up all of my time, leaving me free to develop new streams of income that might pay off later down the road.
• No one can fire me. Even if I lose my biggest client (which happened last year) I would only lose about 5% of my income.
Realizing A Dream
By diversifying and slowly building up my career in small income streams, I’ve been able to realize dreams that I never thought possible. I get to work about 3 days a week. I have a super-flexible schedule. I get to do awesome stuff every week and I rarely get bored. Most importantly, I’ve been able to be creative and do music as a career, not just a hobby. Some days I can’t believe I’m this lucky.
Are there disadvantages? Absolutely. It’s miserable at tax time, I struggle to keep from overworking (being your own boss can suck since you’re not aware of your overtime hours), and it’s difficult to keep up with all the projects. Would I trade it for any other lifestyle? Absolutely not.
Bottom line: the only full-time paid musicians in the new music industry that are going to survive are going to have to start diversifying. If you’re wanting to have a long term career in music, start making the shift to multiple income streams today.