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SESSION TWO: Part 1 - Finding Work as a Musician

I was wondering if you could do a short video about making a living as a musician.
You seem to have been doing it for a long time and nobody around me personally
has been all that supportive of my interest in it as a career. They just don’t think
that I can make a living as a guitaist.

~ Mac - Bakersfield, CA. U.S.A.


This topic is one of the most popular questions that I get asked off of both my web-site and from my YouTube channel....

Being a musician is overall - financially dangerous, Because there is no steady income. Our work is centered around a wide range of micellaneous employment. All musicians face one central problem - Finding work.

Each year there aren’t necessarily more & more events and celebrations that need music - however, competition usually outpaces the work. There are already far more players than there are jobs. And, the "musician to job ratio" unfortuneately gets worse all of the time.

Colleges, universities, conservatories, private teachers and special music programs continue to produce thousands of Classical musicians every year. The big question is where are all of these talented musicians going to work? Established symphonies can only absorb a few new classical msuicians each year.

These styles attract untold thousands each year. Since anyone can call themselves a professional, (and play for pay), there is simply no way to know how many “part-time” musicians there are. One thing is for sure near every one of these musicians has a day job and music is a part-time thing.


You will need a system - a Job Finding System. The music business is not an easy place to make a lot of money. Practice makes perfect, but in the music business it doesn’t make a lot of money. You have to view music as a product. It’s the
reality of the music business. For a lot of players, music is better as a hobby than as a career. This can be said because sometimes making a living at it means that you will have to play music that you don’t like, or even music that you find questionable in quality. Remember that almost every job that pays money has elements that the worker probably finds dissagreeable. Maybe a carpenter hates doing bathroom reno’s - but they do them because that is a part of the job. There is an old saying in the music business, “the quality of the music is not the central point, the central point is whether or not enough people will like the music enough to pay for it.”

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           Part 2 - The Business of the Music Business



As you’re beginning to see... Being a successful musician is a lot more complicated than it might seem at first. You must not only be an excellent player, but also an excellent; salesperson, advertising specialist, secretary, accountant, sound engineer, and much much more. It is a highly detailed business.

You’ll need a data-base software program. FileMaker Pro. To track everything that has to do with the business side of how you’ll run your music career. Another piece of software you’ll really need is an accounting program. I use QuickBooks Remember that literally any expense related to your business may be tax deductable, so you have to keep accurate records. Whatever you do, don’t ever spend money you make without recording in in your record keeping system. Whether you live in Canada or the US or wherever... The taxman will more than likely review you in your life as a musician. They know that it is a business where those involved are artists and let’s face it - artists are more or less known for not keeping very accurate records.

So, this brings us to the aspect of getting yourself a really good accountant. And when I say “Really Good,” I mean to basically stay away from the seasonal storefront types as well as the part-time tax preparers. You’ll need an “Independant Accountant.” In Canada they are called “Certified General Accountants.” They will give you expert advice, figure out your deductions, compile your depreciations, prepare your returns and most importantly lower your tax liability and keep you out of tax trouble. So, please take my advice get a good accountant and by all means don’t get your Mom or Dad or your uncle etc. - Unless they are fully employed as professional accountants of course - don’t even begin thinking of letting them do your taxes - it will eventually - more than likely - come back at you to cause you a great deal of problems in the future.


The trick here is to price yourself just above the average in your music scene. If you price too low - a client might be suspicious of the quality they will recieve. If you price yourself too high - you’ll probably lose jobs. I’ve boiled this all down to the following points:

1). Join a Union: The Union will offer you the advantage of using Union Scale for certain jobs that you do. This will be especially true when you get recording work that is more industry related. The Union keeps watch on the scale for these jobs and they can also often give you good advice on certain contracts.

2). Join a Booking Agency: They will take care of the details of contracts and booking for you. Plus, when you go and book events directly, you will have an excellent idea what the fees are to stay competative with the agnecies. You don’t want to undercut the agencies, because they will quit using you.

3). Never Perform Free of Charge: It is important to remember that only amateurs play for free. This concept is usually called a, “free for exposure gig.” The problem is that this “so-called” exposure is almost always non-existant making the gig
worthless. Please keep in mind that if you play for free, you are likely being taken advantage of. You gotta remember that if you agree to play for free at a legitimate charity or fund-raiser event - it is very likely that many of the other participants are getting paid, such as the caterer, florist, photographer... and the list goes on. Now I don’t want to seem unfeeling to charities or anything, but there are so many good causes that you could give your music away everyday - it just doesn’t help pay the rent.


4). Make a Chart Listing all of Your Prices: For all of your groups, projects and jobs overall - have a detailed price list ready to quote possible clients. You have to be consistent and fair in your pricing. Quote overtime charges, costs for PA sytems, lighting, travel and any other related expense. Have a system that you stick to for your billing and always use it. You’ll discover that if you’re good at what you do, the more you charge, the more you’ll be respected. And, the opposite is also true - the less you charge, the poorer your reputation will become.

5). VIDEO TAPING: Musicians in larger more Union Conscious cities will sometimes walk out on artists (when unannounced to them) the artist started audio or video taping the stage show. This is because audio or video taping any performance requires that the musicians involved be paid, “Production Scale.” Here is an example; in Canada if you are hired by our National Broadcaster, the CBC to go into their studios to perform a piece for a radio program - you will get one scale of pay. If your band is recorded in a venue, you’ll get another scale. Live production and studio production basically carries different pay scales. And, they are certainly different than playing a performance that is not recorded. Many times the artist being backed up will either think (or try to convince) the musicians to think that producing a video recording will help sell the show - and the musicians involved will reap benefit in some manner from this. Professional musicians - tend not to bank on artists pursuing personal careers, because they know from experience that these artists seldom reach any true success. And, any success had - carries no actual guarantee with it that every musician on the recorded gig will actually reap any true benefit. So, unless everyone is truely happy with audio or video taping a performance - it is best to either get paid production scale or just simply don’t record the performance.

6). HAVE A CONTRACT FOR EVERY GIG: Once you and your client have agreed to the details of a job, get everything in writing. There are two main reasons for this:
(a). It reduces misunderstandings by spelling everything out in detail.
(b). If the worst should happen, and the client won’t pay. You have a signed contract to take with you when you take them to court to claim your money.

Save yourself time by using a standard contract with every client. Trust me everything will go better if you do, and you might be very sorry if you don’t.


“No one should drive a hard bargain with an artist.”
Ludwig van Beethoven


In the next video in this series we will take a look at the internet and the resources available to you if you can educate yourself about online marketing systems... Also, we’ll be discussing some long term goals and planning which are involved in choosing to be a musician as your career path.

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