Over the years I’ve been able to benefit from a lot of guidance from various sources; family, friends, cops, lawyers, judges, people living on park benches and people living on Park Avenue and it all centers around focus and developing a long-term plan for yourself.
As a musician, you create music believing that next song will be the one that will propel you into the next level, either through increased promotion, attention or financial gain. The reality is that most artists will never make enough to even compete with a minimum wage paying job, this isn’t to say you should give up on music, you should never give up on your dreams but you should always have a consistent source of revenue that will benefit the music, your basic needs and maintain your mental stability. I’ve had plenty of conversations with artists who have either won or have been nominated for a Grammy, sold millions of units over the years, tour on a regular basis and are unable to pay their cell phone bills. Not because they forgot but because they simply can’t afford it, I’ve placed guys on tracks that they initially weren’t going to be on because I wanted to help them out financially. They’re living check to check and depending on how consistent the tours are or the span between royalty checks, they are often struggling financially.
As you get older you begin to understand the importance of job stability and financial security, when you’re young it’s cool to have a job pay the rent while you’re doing gigs or recording songs but as you get older and either are planning for a family or have a family, you begin to understand how important a consistent revenue stream is. If you are sick for example and don’t have a full-time job, you probably don’t have insurance and you probably will pay out of pocket. Those bills begin to add up, phone, utilities, pants all cost money and a few quick shows here and there will only benefit you in the short-term which is why long-term planning becomes necessary.
I have a full-time job that isn’t music-related, I have a wife and kids and yet I am still one of the most prolific artists in my field. I have earned decent money from my releases and yet I give most of it away to either those in need, charities or back to the label to help benefit other artists. Music is not my full-time job, it’s not even my first love yet I’m fully immersed in it and devote countless amounts of time and energy to help strengthen the artform I grew up on.
That last paragraph was thrown in there to counter the “I can’t make music and have a full-time job” argument. If you’re focused and dedicated you can easily do it, you can do shows in the evening/weekend, record after work, etc. but you’re still creating the music while at the same time planning for your future. The money from your job goes into buying equipment, marketing, management, etc. You can develop and hone your skills without forcing it because you need a check. With an established job, you can begin to focus on your strengths and try to use that to your advantage in a job setting. For example, If you like to draw, you might consider working as a designer. Music success is few and far between yet you can still be successful without major financial/exposure and be able to sustain yourself and others in the future. Of course if you blow up, you need to invest properly but that’s a different topic.
I’ve been in difficult financial situations, I’ve had to sell equipment I saved for years to obtain to pay the electric bill but I was always able to (eventually) continue my career based on a path I had already established. As you get older, you begin to realize that spontaneous risks must be carefully planned and weighed against other factors.
This brings me to the job vs. career point, first off, I understand how difficult it can be to establish a career. Sometimes it’s the nature of your profession, sometimes you have legal issues, sometimes you’re just unlucky but whether you’re working for a fortune 500 company or a local hardware shop, it’s important to take advantage of any employment opportunity to begin planning out your own future.
If you’re lucky enough to find a job that is music-related, embrace it and take advantage of it, if you aren’t you’ll need to work around the situation but it’s important that you are in a situation where you aren’t hopping from job to job with kids and gray hair. Plan a career now, plan a long-term employment path and save yourself the pain and mental anguish of trying to find a job in a barren market with no clearly identified skills.