You are self employed and full time in the music industry and complaining about the money……really? Full time? Let’s check..

OK the ‘ bee in the bonnet’ is coming out again……..
In the last week I have had a few people contact me about how to make a living from this industry….each said they were full time and wanted to discuss the basics…. Not the left field stuff like sync rights etc. but just ‘normal make an living’ stuff

After a few questions it was obvious why they were unsustainable and having issues…. even though they asked for input, they were not happy to have the mirror raised (some do but most don’t it seems) and quite offended and a little disrespectful….So I thought I would put this post up and then I could just share the link from now on rather than having the angst.

So let me start with a couple of scenarios

Scenario 1
Let’s say you are doing private instrument/vocal tutoring …and let’s say you had 30 students a week – would that be a good number of students to have you think?  Do you have that many?.

In reality that = 15 hours of actual face to face
And if you are working to a basic teaching plan don’t fool yourself that it’s more around another 5 hrs a week in preparation as most of it is regurgitating similar training patterns and just adapting examples that are relevant…or you are doing it wrong (note I said basic teaching plan so beginer to intermediate students which is where the majority of instrument/vocal teachers spend their their time)

Scenario 2
If you are a gigging musician /singer and SAY you are getting regular gigs 3 nights a week, every week.
And let’s say they are all functions … so 3*45 minute sets (rather than just a 20 minute set’) …
Most would be now saying ‘I wish’  (are you?).
And lets add a bit of an allowance for bump in/out (discount dinner but add something for travel) .

Result……….Each of those add up to ONLY about 20 hours a week max!!!

If you have 60 students a week or, 6 night/arvo gig bookings regularly or, doing both at that level …….. then you are doing the same hours as a full time employed worker and would probably getting commensurate $$$ (whether the same as a production worker or middle management – that gets down to a separate discussion on charging levels etc) …………….. you would then have at least a base sustainability – – but I dont know of many (a small handful only) who have that many students or coming even close to gigging that much,,,,,,,,,,,, or the combination.

So my question then is,,,,,,,,,, if not, what are you really doing with the rest of your time to call yourself “full time”???????

In most other industries (and I am sure you know many), most people who are self employed/ running their own businesses are working 50, 60 or more hours a week ….whether that is someone running a retail outlet, the guy with his coffee van, the plumber or carpenter, the business consultant, etc.
But it seems often in the music industry (and other areas of the arts too) we want the independence of being our own bosses, the income of a senior executive, but are only willing to put in the hours of a part timer………… and at the same time be complaining about the lack of support, reducing income streams, not the same as it was, lack of understanding by others, etc etc etc etc……

I’ve even had one person quote me the income of someone as an example of those ‘doing it’ for minimal time. Not only did it happen to be one of the top of the industry (who are probably less than 1% of the whole sector and who did the hard yards in the past  -somehow that being forgotten). ….. but it happened to be a friend and I was able to draw their attention to all the other things he was doing when not up on stage or in the studio etc.

So again I ask  – what are you doing with the rest of your time?
Because if you claim to be full time and are only putting in part time hours – dont complain about the money!!!!!

Now, I am not saying all the hours are, or should be income based – but if not, they should be orientated towards income generating (marketing, contacting, networking, getting bookings etc etc etc) until you have the work and cash flow that you need and that is sustainable.

Let me do this differently

Start with one thought – $40 an hour * 40 hours a week * 48 weeks a year = $76,800 gross – so if you were an employed office worker, say low/middle management that would be your expectation (if not more)…. plus holiday pay, super etc etc

“But I am ‘worth’ $80 per hour or even $100 per hour” I hear some say.

Then why aren’t you charging (and getting) $50 per half hour lesson? Or invoicing (and receiving) $500 per person in a group every gig for a 4 hr gig + travel? ………………….

And if you are, why aren’t you doing more of it???
Because $100 ph * 40 hrs * 48 weeks = $192.000 pa…… And you wouldn’t be complaining if that was the case eh?????
Even $100 ph *20hrs *40 weeks = $80,000

So you may think you are worth that much money – but if you cant get it, then in reality, in your market you are not. And if you want that income level for the hourly rate you can get …… have to do more hours, or do it smarter or do something else or something has to change.

But I am a creative – I need my freedom, unbridled, unshackled by the constraints of modern society, a regimented life and I need to have time to just be and allow the creative juices to flow” …….etc etc etc …..blah blah blah…
Now dont get me wrong while that might sound condescending or disrespectful to those who make that choice its is not meant to be – I totally support you making your life choices…… – – – but dont then complain you are not getting enough income at the same time.

Your lifestyle and work level choices have ramifications to your income and other areas of your life. Just as much as your choice of location for living and working does.

(If you dont want to do the “other stuff” but want the income of those who do-  maybe in the long term its worth getting someone else to to that for you – whether management, marketing etc etc – but thats a whole other discussion and has its own ramifications)

So time for a reality check people (or for those that want to). Put the spotlight on yourself. Step back and take a dispassionate assessment of ‘your business’.

  • What do you consider to be the hours of a ‘working week’ for you (including all the time needed for back end stuff, marketing etc and allowing for life and family etc)? 40? 60? 80? 20?

Then really analyse your ‘working week’ and what you are doing within those hours you have said ..

  • Count up the hours of what you are actually doing and see if you are comfortable with that or not
  • what are you actually doing in those hours – comfortable or not?
  • Compare the hours to the dollars and see if you are comfortable with that or not

And then decide that you are fine and be happy ………. or set in place change to get where you want to be.

What changes? well that depends on your individual situation. But some quick examples may be

  • increase the marketing level (whether for yourself, your merch, your songs etc etc direct. online etc)
  • increas the days and nights you are available to gig or run lessons etc
    For example, private lessons arent just before/after school and weekends – there are day time lesson opportunities all the time  – eg think adult and think say retirees, shift workers, school mums  etc (as well as some options within adult education and schools themselves depending on qualifications and way its established etc)
    Similarly, gig potential is are not just Thursday -Saturday night and Sunday arvo.
    For example lots of  clubs have stuff on during the day, or specific functions in local community etc
  • think outside the square
    For example, maybe investigating internet gig options (like StageIt) or pay per view options as ways to be ‘gigging more in front of paying people’ (but remember there is a heap of marketing, pr and planning hours needed behind these areas to be successful) – or set up your own gig space (see other blog articles where I talk more about getting gigs etc)
  • considering to get some/more merchandise to add to sales at gigs etc to increase the bottom line(stuff thats interesting, attractive that people will want and can sell at a premium)
  • working out the viability of getting someone to help or joining up with others in your field to do some combined ‘stuff’
  • spending a bit to get an independent advisor to delve in to your world and come up with ideas and plans that you can then implement (sometime the view from a distance adds some clarity)

If you are really happy with where you are and what you are doing then great, Ignore this article and keep on keeping on and be happy  – the saying, “if it aint broke dont fix it” comes to mind.

But if not, then there is another old saying ……”You want get anything different to what you are already getting if, you dont change what you are currently doing” Think about it!

Cheers till next time.



3 comments on “You are self employed and full time in the music industry and complaining about the money……really? Full time? Let’s check..

  1. Aliyah says:

    Awesome article! Way too often I seem to be hearing the same complaints! If you want to drive that Ferrari, you better work b*&#+ 🙂

    Thanks for sharing these words of wisdom!

  2. Craig Shaw says:

    Great article Ian. So many “full time” music professionals ARE complaining about how tough things are today. Your article helps put things in perspective and bring to mind the saying … “The harder I work, the luckier I get”. Finally, if you are performing on stage without a banner or at least some type of sign showing your name/stage name, how do expect to become better known. Also, why not have a logo created to further enhance your brand. If on a tight budget, try “fiverr” or similar outsourcing sites.

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