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The Real Life Of A Musician


I read a great quote a long time ago that said ‘a musician doesn’t do just one thing, a musician does many things’. Great words of wisdom. Unless you’re lucky and hook onto something immediately, you’re going to end up doing a lot of things to make ends meet and ultimately become successful in your career. Instead of just going out there and just getting 'any job to pay the bills', it may be in your best interest to really think about what you want to do and how to go about getting there. Something that you should take into consideration when trying to figure out how to get into the industry is (oddly enough) 'industry related' jobs. These are better than your regular run-of-mill jobs because a) in some cases be a greater source of income than your standard part-time wage b) it may be something you're already skilled at, and most importantly, c ) it may create excellent opportunities that take your music career to the next level.


A Little Of This, A Little Of That

For example, you may start out in a band and end up becoming the ‘go to’ sound person when setting up the PA. You may end up being the most knowledgeable when it comes to recording and mixing. Or, you may be the person who takes care of all of the PR and social media chores. You may end up being the web person; taking care of all of the updates and coding. Whatever it is, these can all be potential sources of income. Gaining some expertise in these areas and using them in the music industry is a great way to get a foothold in the industry. Once this happens, you automatically become surrounded by other musicians and industry people. I don’t know how many musicians I’ve met who had they’re big break by knowing the right person in the industry; often through the oddest circumstances (e.g. I helped this guy with his website and his uncle happened to be in the industry). There have been many composers who got the gig because they were ‘already there’ e.g. working at the company at another position (that's why becoming an intern can be so valuable). Or, getting to know industry people from just getting another job (e.g one of aforementioned skills) within the industry. You get a job somewhere in the industry and suddenly, you’re there right in the middle of it all.

The List

Here are just a few of the things that you can do to make some money and may help get your foot in the door:

Teacher / Educator
One of the best things that I’ve done is teach. Not only is teaching rewarding, it can be financially rewarding. You can make much more money teaching than most part time (or even some full time) jobs. It also helps in your own development, because trying to explain a concept to someone else really helps clarify the concept in your own mind. Teaching can be a great (and usually reliable) source of income. You can work for a while, go on the road (or whatever) and return at almost anytime. It''s also a great source of networking within your own community. Working at a local school or college, you learn about all of the extra community affairs and shows going on. It's easy to get involved and meet tons of people. Most musicians I know have taught at one time or another.

Performer
I firmly believe that every musician should go on the road, or at least perform on a regular basis. As far as musicianship goes; nothing is better for your development than performing with a band. Performing is beneficial for all musicians no matter what else you may be doing. If you're teaching on the side, this is a great way to get new students and to showcase your talents. Nothing gets students more excited than seeing their own teacher up there showcasing their skills. Performing is also one of the best ways to network. Everybody wants to be part of something cool, and shows are cool. If you're performing on a regular basis, always let anybody you come in contact with about your shows. There are so many musicians out there; having a great live show is a great plus and sets you apart from all of the 'non-performers' out there.

DJ / Remixer / Laptop Musician
I got into this unexpectedly and was very grateful for the experience. It added a whole new dimension to my music career.There are many facets: DJ'ing, VJ'ing, remixing, laptop musicians, MC'ing etc. Of course DJing is a great source of income and may be a way to showcase your own tracks (some DJ"s feel that it's poor taste to play your own tracks) and network within that community. Most DJ's develop their own style and sound. Remixing has become part of the skill set; adding another dimension to their career and another potential source of income. DJ's also become producers in their own right. Some DJ's are more laptop musicians with a whole new generation of 'Ableton Live' specialists gigging out there. The digital music scene has become another whole section of the music industry.

Studio Work
While not the same as before the home studio revolution, studio work can be another source of income. There are tons of people with music software wanting to create tracks, but then finding their 'VST guitar simulator' just isn't cutting it. If you work with a lot of musicians, and money is scarce, you can parlay your musician skills into getting them to do some of your work too. Like we've talked about here, musicians are usually well versed in a number of areas. Find out what the other person is skilled at and see if you can trade your musician skills for their internet/mixing/whatever skills. Beware; be absolutely clear about these things before you go in. It'll save you headaches, misunderstandings and arguments later.

Mixer / Engineer
Like mentioned above one thing that is widely available to most musicians is recording software. What most musicians don’t take into account is the learning curve involved in using that software. Not only is there the learning curve for the software, there is the engineering and mixing. Anyone how has spent anytime in a studio knows how hard it is to get your demo sounding great. There are some many facets that need to be taken care of. If you’re good at mixing it may be a great source of income. Most musicians need a good engineer and/or mixer. Again, be clear about your fees and what you're responsible for up front. Most people like to come back numerous times, with numerous changes and revisions, asking you to redo it/touch it up without paying you any extra for your time.

Professional sound
If you’re spent any time on the road, you’ll know all of the trials and tribulations of live sound. Being knowledgeable in this area can be another area of potential income. Look into local live venues that have live music on a regular basis, there always seems to be a need for someone in this area.

Music Sales
Another standard for a lot of musicians. This is another source where you may be a pro in this and not even know it. Music sales is also a great source of networking because you eventually get to know almost every musician and industry professional in your area. It's a great way to network with other musicians because you literally meet tons everyday. It doesn't take much time before you know have a dozen like minded musicians that may be potential band-mates or a source of gigs..

Songwriter / Composer
This is something I generally do all the time depending on the other things that are going on in my life. Depending on what you want to accomplish, this is something that you would be doing on a constant basis anyway. Always think about how to use these skills to make money. It probably won't be your sole source of income for a while, but it has to be maintained and updated/revised constantly.

Producer
This goes along with the writing but in this case, it's writing specifically for an artist. This also involves getting the right songs and right sound. It involves all of the aspects of business. This is another aspect that will take some time to get steady work going. The key is to start working with other artists and start producing as soon as you feel you're ready. It's a learning process like any other and will take some time to learn all of the ins-and-outs of the job. Be patient, and try to get work and  your name out there whenever you can.

Marketing/PR
Like many musicians I know, this is something that I’ve never been very good at; yet it’s one of the most important things you can do as a musician. If you think that this is just for artists releasing material, you’re wrong. We’re all in a constant state of working and looking for more work. Whether you’re a gigging musician, songwriter, teacher, or a band on tour, it’s always important that you are connecting with other people. This is something that most musicians don’t take seriously enough yet it’s one of the greatest resources of getting ahead in your career and making money. If you're good at this, the industry always needs these kinds of people. There are always positions opening up for outgoing knowledgeable people to help with marketing and PR. A lot of them may be internships or low pay but now always. Either way, it's a great way to meet tons of people in the industry.

Music business/Management
This is a something a little different than the marketing. This means taking care of the business and administration. One of the great things a publisher does is take care of most of the administration for musicians. These things can be quite involved and time consuming. There are copyrights, correspondence, and a million other things that must be taken care of on a regular basis. This (along with marketing) is arguably where musicians suffer the most in terms of skills. Like marketing skills, if you've got 'em use them. I know a few people in the industry that do this type of work and they always seem to be working. Like every other area of the industry, companies are always looking for hard working, outgoing people.

Lecturer / Industry Pro
This is a bit different from teaching in that you become a lecturer or a ‘expert’ in a particular area. While this isn’t something that you would start out doing, you may find yourself being knowledgeable in a certain area and may use that to help other musicians. There are many of these 'self proclaimed experts' online so setting yourself apart from the wannabees is something valuable. You don't have to be an 'industry veteran' either. Lecturing on software (e.g. how to use Ableton Live) and/or gear, music styles, are other areas where this may apply. A successful blog, is also a great outlet for this. I know of other musicians who work for various music supply companies, traveling the world, promoting certain products.

Web Stuff
This is a huge subject. It has all of the website/coding/etc issues but also all of the other things that go along with maintaining an internet presence. A couple have been mentioned before: social networks, marketing, website creation/maintenance, graphics, video, etc. All of these need to be created and maintained on a regular basis. These days they're also incredibly invaluable because it's something that every musician needs and pretty much has to do. Sure, all of the tools are out there but there's a learning curve and keeping it all updated and relevant is an ongoing task. 

It's All There

Yes, there are a ton of things on this list and there are tons more! It's easy to get too wrapped up in it all and lose sight of why you're here in the first place. You may to do a majority of things on this list at one time or another. Pick the ones you're best at. The ones that you can do without taking too much time away from your primary goal. If there are things on this list that you need but are unskilled at or reluctant to do, try and find a way to outsource that skill. It's the best of both worlds where you can spend the majority of your time working on the things you love best and are most important to you, while letting others take care of the rest.