One of the reasons we started MusicianWages.com was because of the huge reservoir of unqualified career advice that was being served to musicians online. I usually keep quiet about the charlatanry tips I find online, but I just can’t pass this one up. It displays the characteristics of bad career advice so acutely that I just have to point it out.
The Busking Alchemist
This article dropped onto my reading list this past weekend. Want To Make $50,000 a Year In Music? Start With One Dollar a Day. There’s a pair of sentences early in this article that are particularly telling. One of the things that mystifies me about this article is why it continues after this:
How does a musician make money? Honestly, I don’t know for certain.
The article goes on to explain how daily busking, YouTube videos, Adsense ads and CD sales could net a musician $5 to $10 a day and ends with the epitaph:
What else? Do you have ideas on what can generate money on a daily basis? I think my ideas above could get an artist up to $10,000 a year. What would push it to $50,000?
The difference between $10k and $50k is a BIG difference - especially when you’re already spending 7 days a week busking on the street for $5. I can’t imagine how anyone would turn that janky business model into a $50k/year career. Telling musicians to busk 365 days a year is terrible career advice, but the inconsistencies in the article (namely, the huge discrepancy between the title and the content) are not really my point here.
Every day my RSS reader gives me pages and pages of what I think is lousy advice and useless data. What is the deal?
Here’s what I think. For about 100 years there was this economic bubble in the musician industry. We called it the “Recording Industry” and it made a ton of money. Some people made money hand-over-fist. (Most of that money, though, went to the people that ran the business and not to the musicians, but that’s another story.)
The problem was that the whole industry was dependent on a closed distribution system built on limited technology. Eventually some smart people created a way to circumvent that distribution route with computers and the whole house of cards collapsed.
100 years. It’s really not that long. Humans have been on Earth for about a half a million years, so the record industry era represented just a tiny percentage of our history. Beethoven made a living as a musician, as did many of the musicians that played in his orchestras and operas. They never sold a record. So what’s the big deal?
I think the 100 years of the record industry created a set of unrealistic expectations and entitlements in the musician business, and we’re still having trouble getting past it. Selling recorded music used to make a lot of money - quickly - and we want it back. When we can’t get it back we try make up substitute business models that might bring in quick money just as easily.
So what kind of content do we see being served to musicians these days? Articles about the collapse of our beloved recording industry. Articles claiming to give advice on how to make quick money again. Articles about mega-stars that are still making quick money.
It’s all nonsense.
You know how you make money as a musician? The same way everyone else makes money - get a job and go to work. Or start a business and make it grow.
There are plenty of jobs in the musician business - at schools, tours, churches, theaters, the military - we talk about them all the time here at MusicianWages.com. We have a whole jobs board full of them.
Can’t find a job where you are? Move to a place where you can find work. You don’t see fishermen complaining that they can’t find a job in Oklahoma.
Musicians start businesses all the time - your private studio is a business. Your band is a business. Your solo career is a business. Make it grow and expect it to be difficult.
That’s good advice.
How to Really Make $50,000 a Year
- Get a church job (3 services a week @ $100/service) = $15,600
- Start a teaching studio (12 students @ $50/lesson) = $31,200
- Play background music once a month (@ $250/gig) = $3,000
- Play in a band twice a month (@ $50/gig) = $1,200
That’s $51k a year. That’s how it’s really done.