I’ve touched on this subject before, but I wanted to write an whole lesson on it. See, I’m trying to tell you the reality about becoming a professional performing musician. I’m trying to give you the list of rules that nobody else seems willing to write and put in one spot. Here’s the full list.
I don’t want this article to turn you off. I want it to make you believe you can do better. I just want you to be realistic about your chances and what you can expect the numbers to look like.
So, with that in mind, I give you the next lesson…
Rule #18: You’re gonna be broke.
I already told you to budget and I told you that you were going to be broke. Today, I’m going to tell you about how truly broke you’re going to be.
There’s a word for what you’ll be making: Poverty.
But, you can scratch out a living and even turn it into a career you’ll enjoy. You can even make acceptable money – just never a lot.
Trying to pin down exact figures was hard. I smashed a bunch of buttons and found this one site that looked to be the most useful. So, if you’re wondering where I got these numbers from, that’s where.
You can click through or I’ll give you a TheBuddha reading of it.
In short, you’re likely fucked.
The average musician “indie” (which you are) makes like $35,000/year.
They only get 75% of their income from music – or music related – activities.
That means they have a second job. Even with a second job, the median US income level, per person, is like $55,000. You’ll probably expect to make about the same amount of money that you make waiting tables as you’d make playing music. If you wait tables, you don’t need to have a second job to earn that much.
You’ll put in more hours than that service worker. Oh yes, yes you will. You will put in some tough hours. Count your travel time, practice time, rehearsal time, and time dedicated to even learn to play your instrument.
Never do that math. Never, ever, do that math! Don’t do it. You don’t want to know.
It gets worse.
When you’re up to 50 to 60 years of age, you’ll make like $65,000 per year.
Except you’ll maybe get 65% of your income from music-related activities. In other words, when you’re 60 years old – you’re gonna be working a second job!
Becoming a performing musician is just about the stupidest thing you could do. It’s financial ruin – with almost certainty. It’s called STARVING ARTIST for a reason.
There’s some things, like these rules, that you can use to move you up that pay scale. If you follow my rules AND you’re smart about them, as they often have clauses, you just might have the chance to put yourself in the upper levels of these income brackets. You can even exceed them significantly. Your odds are just really low.
That’s why I write this. This is what you need to know.
The difference between you and the rest is you have someone telling you to smarten the hell up, budget, and be a damned professional. If you do that, you’ll make good money. Well, maybe…
You’re still going to need to move up the ladder. Look around and find the best paid shows. Do them. Fit that genre. You’re not an idealist, you’re running a business.
I’ve played an Irish wake! I’ve played the Vivaldi piece, we call it Wedding March! I’ve played Madonna, for fuck’s sake. I’ve played Motley Crue (with umlauts)! I’ve played Bon Jovi and nothing’s worse than covering Bon Jovi at a chem-free club or a high school auditorium – when you’re in your late 20s/early 30s.
I don’t care if you have to musically whore yourself out as a fill-in or studio musician. There’s no shame in that. You’re just gonna be fucking broke.
I’m not going to sugar coat it. I told you, I won’t lie to you. I won’t intentionally steer you wrong. This is decades of experience and it’s only been my sole source of income for a few brief periods and those periods were pretty fucking lean in TheBuddha household.
Children can survive on Ramen Noodles for a very long time! (Just kidding, but I’ve eaten them myself. I’d never feed that to toddlers. If my children tell you otherwise, they’re liars – or I was inebriated.) Oatmeal is cheap! My daughter still hates peanut butter.
I want you to know EXACTLY what you’re getting into. Here’s the money quote from the article.
After expenses and taxes, it’s estimated this musician will bring in around $12k in Net income.
Yeah, it’s not pretty. That’s net, and you have an accountant who will help you write stuff off!
That’s the reality, folks.
Now, you know the chances and the numbers. I’m not out of stuff to add, but I want you to know how hard this is going to be. You can get five of you together, rent a house, and drink cheep beer and shag groupies!
Or you can do better. My goal is giving you the tools to make it better. It means you have to not be a fuck-up. It’s a business. Treat it like one. Otherwise, you’re gonna stay poor. You might think it’s great to be a starving artist, but it’d be nice if you sent your kids a gift once in a while.
Chances are, you’re gonna be living with your buddies when you’re 45, give up, and get a real job. If you stick it out, you’ll still be able to keep your heart in the music. You’re just going to be poor.
Finally, we made it this far. I’m surprised the series has gone on this long. Thanks for giving me your eyeballs and I hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Until next time…
Shut up and play us a song!