My advice to the younger musicians who want to earn a living at their craft.
Recently I read a post about a younger player who wanted to know what they would need in order to be successful in a music career. They questioned attending music college and how to convince their parents they were doing the right thing. Here’s what I said. It’s not everyone’s gospel but it sure helped me.
As in many of the arts one doesn’t necessarily need a college degree in order to succeed. It’s a combination of various skills that will determine your ability to make a living with your career. Those skills are not just limited to how well you can play your instrument but rather those that are found in the hands of anyone who runs their own business in the entertainment field. Choosing whether to be an entertainer, a recording tech, a songwriter, a studio performer, a teacher or a combination of the numerous other jobs in this field will determine what you’ll need to know in order to be successful. Does college help? Perhaps but it most cases it’s what you bring to the audition that gets you the job. It’s not like your applying for position as an paralegal.
In my case I’ve chosen to be an entertainer, guitarist and instructor, successfully earning a decent living for the last 35 years. Notice I said entertainer before I said guitarist. If you’re planning on being on stage learning how to entertain your audience is your primary function. So in that regard you’ll need to study how other entertainers ply their craft. While Youtube makes it easier to do these days there is nothing like attending live performances to see what works and more so… what doesn’t.
As a guitarist I’ve had to put in MANY hours in order to master my instrument. There are no shortcuts but there are better ways of learning and having a good instructor and/or instructors, while being expensive will be a huge pay off in the long run. When I started out I learned numerous styles in order to take any type of job that came my way, whether it was playing with bands or reading charts in a studio. Shortly after I became a guitar instructor in a local music store which helped pay my bills. Oh… the nice thing is that you never stop learning… even from your own students!!! There are always new horizons to climb.
Skills that I’ve found helpful over the years were communication, marketing, promotion, organization, booking, accounting, designing, basic knowledge of studios and P.A. systems, reading music, teaching, performance art, acting and many others.
Making a living in the arts is tough but then again so is running your own restaurant. Don’t let anyone try to convince you that it’s impossible with their own personal horror stories. The ones that constantly harp on those stories are usually the ones that have quit and are now frustrated, inviting others to their own personal pity party. When I talk with my fellow colleagues… pro musicians… the talk is much different. While we own have our own stories of hardships… broken down cars, cancelled gigs… etc… we have all found a way around the bumps on the road. Learn how to budget your expenses and live within your means… always.
Whatever you do… never, ever sell yourself short. The value you place on yourself will be perceived as such by the ones around you. There is always a payoff in every situation. Sometimes you may have to take a lesser paying gig in order to gain something else, be it exposure, a way in the door or a way to build up your fan base…. but make sure you’re gaining that something else. There are too many musicians out there working on the cheap for no other reason then to satisfy their egos, grab whatever money they can or to pacify their boredom. For them there is no end game, they’re reached it. Now, the exception are the ones that do it as a hobby, for the sake of pure enjoyment. While there’s nothing wrong with that I think.. in my own opinion, they shouldn’t be looking for payment and should steer clear of the stages that the pros earn their living on. For the aspiring pros those types of jobs should be stepping stones to your long range goals.
Your young now but as soon as you can get yourself some financial advice and take out an I.R.A. or some other type of savings plan. It’ll really pay off down the line. Health plans can be trickier. Years ago I found a plan that was tailored for those running their own small business. It was very affordable.
Convincing your parents can be complicated, especially if they’re paying your bills. Once you can show them how responsible you are and start earning your own way in the world it’s not only easier to convince your parents of the path you’ve taken but ironically it becomes less necessary to do so.
Finally… there is NOTHING as nice as doing what you love for a living. As I said before, while there are always going to be bumps in the road it’s much easier to go over them when you’re enjoying the ride.
Good luck amigo.