This is the third and final part to my “Chasing the Dream” blog series. In this blog, I discuss the next step I’m taking in my music career: I am transitioning to a semi-professional musician.
What do I mean by that?
I mean that I want my music income to cover my music expenses. I will no longer subsidize my music with income from whatever job I happen to get. Music must pay for itself from now on, including recording projects.
“That’s it?” I hear you say. “What’s the big deal?” Why not set a goal of becoming a professional musician?
Because that’s too big a leap to happen in one year. It’s not realistic. Ever since 2007, when I made the decision to call music my career, I’ve lost thousands of dollars at music each year. That’s not a career, that’s a hobby.
So going from losing money each year at music to breaking even, will be a big challenge, especially given the current trends in the music industry. Maybe someday music will not only cover its expenses, but also pay some of my bills, but I have to take it one step at a time. The immediate goal is to break even. A day job will have to cover my living expenses.
On the other hand, what’s wrong with having music for a hobby? Nothing at all. Calling someone a hobbyist doesn’t mean they aren’t serious or passionate about their hobby. Just the opposite. People love their hobbies, whether it’s fixing up old cars, skiiing, or music. Some music hobbyists are no doubt more passionate about music than some music professionals. The terms “professional” and “hobbyist” simply define whether one makes a living at music, or subsidizes their music with income from another career.
So why not remain a music hobbyist?
Because there’s no other career that appeals to me. All my life I was searching for my career, and never could find it. I met with career counselors, read books and took tests, but nothing really appealed to me. Actually, many years ago, a career counselor suggested music– and so did tests– but I immediately rejected the idea, thinking there’s no way I could make a living playing the kind of music I like.
What do you do?
I used to dread the question you’re always asked when you first meet someone, “what do you do?” I didn’t want to tell them want I did for my job, because people assume that your job matches your personality. And that wasn’t me. I feared that by answering “what I did” people would get false impression of me (which, many times, they did).
It was in 2007 that I finally realized that I should have been doing music for a career. So beginning in 2007, I began answering “what do you do?” by saying, “I’m a musician.” That was a big step for me. It was quite liberating, in fact. But I hadn’t faced up to the financial implications of saying that. A professional musician makes a living music. So now– 10 years later– I’m defining myself as a semi-professional musician– one who is in between a hobbyist and a professional; someone who makes enough money at music to at least cover their expenses, but not enough to pay their living expenses. I feel that’s the least I can do if I really want to call music my career.
How do I plan to do it? How do I plan to break even financially at music? It will be accomplished both through reducing music expenses and increasing music revenue.
On the expenses side, I decided at the beginning of 2017 that I would break even on music gear. Any new music gear purchases would have to be paid for by selling old gear. So far I have met that goal– I’ve sold a lot of stuff in the past year– 3 guitars, an amp, and a bunch of pedals– so I’m slightly in the black with 2 1/2 months to go in 2017. I should point out that “gear” isn’t just the big stuff– guitars, amps, and recording equipment– it’s the little things, like guitar strings, which must be replaced periodically. This has required a lot of discipline– there are some guitars and other music gear that I really want, but I’ve held off.
(I have more than enough songs for a new album, but I have not made plans to record those songs, because I don’t have enough music income to afford it. And, actually, now, I don’t have enough money period. There are even a couple of songs I started to record, and have spent money on, so it would just cost me a few hundred dollars to finish, but they will have to wait until I have more music income.)
Another way I hope to reduce expenses is that I’m going to ask fans to volunteer for some of the work that I would otherwise have to pay people to do– band photography, videos, graphic art design for CDs, posters and flyers, etc. A professional who makes a lot of money from their music can afford to hire professionals for this stuff. I can’t. I have to ask for help.
On the income side, I need to raise more revenue than I have in the past. Here are my potential sources of music revenue:
1. Revenue from Live Performances
Unfortunately the pay for live music has paralleled the dramatic fall in pay for recorded music. The reasons for this are not as clear as recorded music, but nonetheless a reality. The majority of gigs I’ve played over the past 10 years paid nothing at all. I will continue to play live because I love to play for people. My plan is to play with two bands– acoustic and electric. I may become more selective with the venues, however, in order to realize my goal of becoming a semi-professional. I will favor the venues that pay better, unless there is a chance to reach a lot of new people with my music.
2. Revenue from film and TV
In the past year I have begun exploring the possibility of composing music for film and TV. I joined the organization Taxi, which connects composers and songwriters with film and TV industry people. I plan to go to the Taxi convention in LA in a couple of weeks to learn more about this. That is a significant expense, but I think it could pay off, although more likely in a couple of years. So this will result in increased costs in the short term, but hopefully significant revenue in the long term.
3. Revenue from Teaching.
Most music professionals realize a significant portion of their income from teaching private lessons. I actually like to teach, and am good at it. So it is high time that I start offering lessons. I tested a songwriting class last summer, and it was successful. I can also teach beginner guitar lessons. I just have to figure out how to offer the classes and market them, and get my first students.
4. Revenue from Producing.
Producing other people’s recordings is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I have a good ear for arrangements, and have recording experience of my own now. I need to figure out how to market my skills in this area and get my first clients.
5. Revenue from Recordings.
This includes CD sales, downloads, and streaming. Given that the big corporate streaming services only pay between 2/10 and 6/10 of a penny for streams, that is clearly not a viable source of revenue. So I have been on a campaign to get my fans to join the Standing O Project, an alternative artist-friendly subscription streaming service. Which leads me to….
The Misfit Club
I want to– no- I’m going to— become a semi-professional musician. Would you like to help me?
The Misfit Club will consist of people who want to help me “chase the dream” of becoming a semi-professional musician by giving me regular financial support. There are 3 ways you can do that:
1. Join the Standing O Project
2. Join the Misfit Club in Bandcamp
I mentioned the Standing O Project earlier. When you subscribe to this artist-friendly streaming service, you are asked to choose one artist to support. Half of your monthly subscription– $5, $10 or $20– goes directly to this artist. I already have 3 subscribers of the Standing O Project supporting me. My goal is to get the number to 10 by the end of the year. Who’s next? Here’s the site:
Another way you can become of member of the Misfit Club through my Bandcamp download site. That site is:
I mentioned earlier that reducing expenses by recruiting volunteers is another way that I can achieve my goal of breaking even at music and becoming a semi-professional musician. I already have two volunteers. One hosts my web presence, and another does my taxes for free.
Here’s some other work for which I could use volunteers:
* Booking assistant
* Photography at gigs
* Video at gigs
* Recording at gigs
* Create videos for my recorded songs
* Poster design
* CD artwork design
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to volunteer in one of these areas. All those who provide significant volunteer work will automatically become members of The Misfit Club and receive its benefits.
The Misfit Club Benefits
Upon joining, members will get a Misfit tshirt and a copy of the Misfit Deluxe CD. Also, I will share with you songs-in-progress– lyrics and/or music– that I’m working on, so you can see a song develop. But mostly, Misfit Club members are treated as my inner circle, as friends. They are helping me to “chase the dream.”
So how am I doing on my goal to break even at music? In 2016, with two album releases, I lost almost $9000 on music. In 2017, I’m only $528 in the red, with two months to go. So I’m getting there. And with a little help from my friends, I will get there.
1 thought on “Chasing the Dream, Part 3: The Next Step”
Thoughtful series, Rob. I appreciate watching your thought process. I remember the first time I proudly answered “I am a singer-songwriter.” It was incredibly empowering. No one achieves any thing of any worth all on their own. I love the Misfits Club idea. I’ll be following to see how it goes.
And can’t wait to hear the new songs!