So You Want To Be A Full Time Musician? – 15 Tips To Get You Started

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Since posting my celebratory blog post about having been a full time independent musician for five years a bunch of folks have been asking how I did it. So here are a few tips to get you started!

1. Stash some cash! As with all start-up businesses there will be a period when you don’t make a lot of money. You will need some saved up to get you through. How much you need to get started is up to you.

2. Plan for your risk threshold!  What do you need to make you feel secure? If you like life thrilling and daring you will be able to get along without much to fall back on, maybe  you just need a few weeks cash to cover the rent and you’ll busk it from there. If you like life totally secure, well this probably isn’t the life for you, but if you think otherwise maybe plan further in advance saving some money for an emergency fund, and to make sure your bills are covers way in advance. This is not easy in the gigging world because with small scale gigs most places only book a couple of months ahead but if you start with savings you can plan around it.  Basically be aware of how much risk you can take and plan accordingly.

3. Cut your expenses. There’s no two ways about it. When you start out you are not going to make a whole lot of money but if you can minimise your expenses then you may not need to make a lot.  There won’t be room for a heap of luxuries to start with but this is your dream isn’t it? Can you forgo the daily lattes to live your dreams? Can you find creative ways to reduce your cost of living so that paying the bills isn’t such a massive target to hit every month? You can scale it back up again once you’re established!

4. Find some bread and butter gigs. I really started to seriously consider quitting my job when I started busking. I was making more in my lunch break busking than I was making in a whole day at work! It wasn’t guaranteed income of course because if it rains then there’s no crowd stopping to listen and therefore no money. But it was enough to make me think twice about giving my time to the corporate world. If I was short on cash I could always go busking! It started there but I also talked a bunch of local pubs and venues into giving me regular paid gigs.

5. Turn every gig towards your dream! Now, some muso folks are snobby about what gigs they will play but I have found that you can grow your fan base, road test your music, hone your act, grow your performance skills and get paid, if you are prepared to take gigs that may seem out of alignment with your dream and flip them to your advantage.  It really comes down to your creativity and courage.

6. Realise that you need multiple income streams to make a living! This applies to everyone really. You don’t want to be entirely dependant on gigging/time based income so as soon as you can, set up other ways to bring in cash. That might mean adding Adsense to your website and youtube channel, teaming up with other companies in affiliate schemes, or writing the odd blog post or article for your local paper! It could also mean getting your tunes into places that pay royalties or licensing fees. You are only limited by your creativity and ability to see the opportunities.

7. Maximise the merchandise! One of my friends makes most of his living in music selling branded clothing and other merchandise. He was moaning to me once that he wasn’t making his cash from music… But without the music there is no merch, and without the merch there is no music! It’s a synergetic relationship that you need to get established as early as possible! So get that merch stand going at your gigs, and get that online shop up and running asap! – So people can buy stuff from you while you are sleeping! 🙂

8. Start building your email list immediately, fervently, and hang on to it for dear life! I learned this the hard way. Ultimately your email list is your customer communications database. Statistics show that about 3% of your email list will buy from you so the bigger your list the more you’ll sell. It’s also the key to having a generative income not a time based one, so don’t neglect it! Warning: Make sure you build it with a proper email marketing company that you can stick with for the very long haul because if you have to move it, as I did, you could loose 80% of your subscribers – That’s pretty bad for business!

9. Take advantage of all the benefits offered by PRS (or whatever scheme is similar in your country).  Sign up to PRS and submit claims for all your small gigs through the small gigs and pubs scheme, or the Concert/festivals scheme. Which ever is appropriate. You can be paid anywhere from £6+ per gig if you’re performing your own tunes. It may seem like a negligible amount but if you gig a lot, that can add up to hundreds of pounds over the year!

10. Get agents to book gigs for you. Get as many as you can. They’ll take a percentage of your income but they will get you more shows than you can get for yourself. At this stage I don’t use an exclusive booking agent. I have about 5 or 6 different agencies working for me. If I were to go exclusive, the agent would have to guarantee me a hefty monthly income. As yet no-one has been up for that challenge! I still book a lot myself too.

11. Sell more music! Sell hard copy CD’s at gigs, and in local record stores (Don’t forget to go and claim the money from them afterward!) and sell more online. Music marketing master, John Oszajca has an awesome course all about this which I have used to build my email list and sell more music, it also had the knock on effect of gaining me more well paid gigs because I fixed up my website during the course!

13. Be honest with the people you work with. Share your situation. Most of the musicians I have worked with have been happy to get paid when I can pay them and rock up anyway if we’re just doing it for the thrill and the fun of it. It’s all good as long as you are open and honest! If they’re not on board, they’ll walk. Fair enough. It’s gotta be a win-win.

14. Use the difficulties to drive you forward. Short on cash? Don’t go get a temp job to cover the shortfall, get on the phone and book another gig! Make your fall back option further your career! As Tony Robbins often says ‘If you want to take the island, you have to burn the boats’.

15. BELIEVE! This is the magic ingredient. Your attitude and your beliefs. Like Henry Ford so famously declared ‘Whether you think you can’t or you think you can’t, either way you are right.’ You have two choices at all times, fear or love. Fear says ‘I can’t do this, people don’t make money in music.’ Love says ‘The universe loves me and is supportive, the opportunities are abundant, the like-minded people that want to work with me are out there, and I will find them!’.

If you want even more help with this check out these articles from Cyber PR – I’m still working through them and applying them to my business!

Oh and I have just thought of another one – Every time you get paid for anything be it £1 or £1000, stash a percentage of that cash! You’ll need to some to pay the taxman (eventually this will be cause for celebration!) and also very importantly, put some aside for holidays and sick days!! I always put 10% into my Month Off Fund because when you are self employed there’s no one else to pay for that stuff! And in January, which is customarily a low income month for musicians (depending on how well you planned ahead) you will be very glad of the money!

Now go get ’em Tiger!

Love,

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