Many artists I know tell me that they’d love to be able to do music for a living, to make their band a full-time occupation. Often times, my initial reaction (that I usually keep to myself) is asking, “Really? What would you do?”
It’s easy to get caught up in this romanticized notion of what things would really be like if a music career was at a self-sustaining level, let alone one that would provide enough of an income to pay for band members, day-to-day expenses, and support staff (manager, booking agent, publicist, road crew, sound and lighting). Realistically, most musicians who are doing this for a living aren’t catapulted into fame and glory. We all know about the stories of the hardworking, starving artist or the band with the brilliant marketing angle that helps their story spread. We see the process but don’t always connect the dots to get from here to there.
So what does a path to a full-time music career look like?
Like starting any new business or career pathway, this comes in steps. Most likely, you’ll want to:
- Create your music business plan: This includes working on your products and services (music, live show, merchandise), your marketing, creating a business structure that can attract investors and sponsors, and creating a plan to attract and retain customers. Learn the difference between a business plan and a marketing plan – but be sure to have an idea of both.
- Invest money into your career: Beyond the obvious investments of hard assets (quality music gear, well-produced recordings, etc.), consider things like training, skill development, or even a business class. If someone wanted to become a doctor, lawyer, or even football player, you’d expect them to study and train in the appropriate fields. Yet, for some reason, many musicians don’t invest in music consultants, getting professional vocal coaches, take regular lessons, or do more than a quick, topical Google search. There are many great resources in this area, invest in some!
It amazes me when musicians ask me about getting sponsors or investors to help pay for their tours or music when they aren’t willing to invest into it themselves!
- Dedicate regularly scheduled time: If you want to make music for a living, you have to start treating it like a job. That means you and your band-mates need to take it seriously: invest regular time on developing your skills, create a cohesive “brand” (band image), and schedule “job time” working on marketing or business development. Think about it in terms of an hourly job: the more time you spend (working strategically), the more you’ll get in return.
You should use time-tracking software (I use Toggl) to measure how much time you are investing into what areas. It also gives a you realistic picture of how much time you’re actually spending on your music career. If you had 40-50 hours a week to invest into your music career, how would you fill the time? What if you only had 20 hours? Well, you probably have close to that, begin planning and strategically using your time now!
- Set the Business Portions Up Properly: The last thing most musicians want to do is deal with business forms, taxes, and contracts. Try and get these things lined up as quickly as possible. Hire an entertainment lawyer to help. The better your business is set up, the more attractive it will be to investors (a.k.a record labels, booking agents, managers, sponsors, etc.).
- Attract, Retain, and Grow Your Fans: A big part – perhaps the biggest part – of your music career will be fan management. Your band should be run like a business. As such, you need to have a piece addressing customer service. What does over-the-top customer service look like? How do you develop a hardcore fan base? Fan outreach (such as a regular, consistent e-newsletter, social media, appearances, etc.) shouldn’t be something you is shoot from the hip. It should be part of a bigger plan, measured, and strategic.
Following your dreams is not always an easy task. These days, it’s quite difficult to develop a music career without the business portion of it. Maybe someday, you might find someone else to take over these areas. By that point, your music is probably already your job. However, success doesn’t come to those who wait patiently. It comes to those who strive for, invest the time and energy into it, and pursue it relentlessly. If you’re not willing to put the sacrifice in now, you aren’t ready to take this on as your career.