Being a full-time musician has a lot of great perks.
You can be flexible with your time because you’re not tethered to certain days or hours, you work solely for yourself as a freelancer so you only have yourself to answer to, and you get to perform music – doing something that you truly enjoy and love. What could be better?
The truth is that making a career out of being a musician is not easy. Sometimes, the work isn’t very stable either, and you will struggle to make ends meet.
However, there are certain tactics and tools that you can implement and use to make it easier on yourself so that you can create a fulfilling lifestyle for yourself as a full-time musician.
What Skills Should You Have?
Before getting into the ins and outs of what it takes, be sure you have the talent to make it in a music career.
It can be very disheartening to put yourself out there and realize that maybe you aren’t as talented as you thought. This may sound harsh, since everyone is unique and maybe their talents lend to different styles, etc. but it is important to be sure that you can truly play, sing and/or perform well to establish yourself in the business.
If you have already performed many gigs with your band (or solo) and you have a commanding stage presence, or you know how to teach others how to play and/or sing, these are great skills that demonstrate your ability as a musician.
Maybe you even studied music in college or took up conducting your church’s choir. It is important to never stop learning and growing, especially when you want to make it your career.
If you don’t feel you have enough of these skills, take some more music lessons, get involved with some music workshops, take a class on performance anxiety, or even join a local musical theatre company and work at it. You can’t get better if you don’t practice!
Identify Your Goal and Create a List
Most people can’t walk right out of a regular full-time job into full-time music gigs. Unless of course, you win America’s Got Talent (or something similar).
The decision to go into this is going to be somewhat of a gamble, but there are things you can do to carefully and tactfully achieve your goal.
You should identify what your priorities are. Write them down so you can see them. What is your money goal? What is your goal as far as how often do you want to work/practice? Think of everything involved with being a musician and what you hope your weeks will look like shortly.
You will probably have to make some sacrifices, like giving up weekends you might want to be with friends or family because you have a music gig booked, for instance. Other events or things that you are invited to may be difficult to attend when you’re busy with your performances.
How willing are you to make those sacrifices for your career as a full-time musician? Be realistic with yourself. You know that you will have to work some ideal hours/times that you may not want to, but is it worth it to you?
The Money Aspect
One of the most important parts you need to establish is your budget. What is your “bottom-line number” that you need to make in your career to live off of playing your music?
Get into the nitty-gritty of your budget and break your expenses down so you can note what you actually will need to sustain your lifestyle from month to month, and ask yourself questions along the way, like “Do I need that coffee from Starbucks every morning, or can I forego my latte and save myself an extra $20/week?”
You would be surprised by how much you can save when you add up all those little “extras” you treat yourself to.
Take some time to cancel memberships or subscriptions to things that you no longer need and see how much you can save yourself.
Working as a struggling musician is a common trope for a reason and there likely won’t be extra funds to go around. Budget your bills and other expenses so that you have a realistic view of what you need.
Teaching Music as a Full-Time Musician
Do you want to rely on performing as your sole stable income? Let’s be realistic. What is the going rate for bands and performances in your area?
This is another question you might need to evaluate for your career. To offset the lack of pay, a lot of musicians also teach lessons as a part of their full-time job as a musician to create a more stable lifestyle.
Could you be teaching easy violin songs or voice lessons to beginners? Most people who know how to sing or play an instrument will use those skills to educate and enrich others.
If you only want to perform, it would be hard to get by month to month. You can also supplement your income from another music industry job.
Many musicians have full-time careers doing part-time jobs. If you can take on a few part-time jobs in addition to your gigs and create a full-time income, then you’re set!
In some cases, if you have teaching experience and/or licensure, you can teach music in a school or organized school-type setting, while also giving yourself the freedom to book gigs as a musician.
Teaching music lessons both full-time AND part-time can be a career with more stability than the unknown of trying to book as a performer, so this may be a route to consider if you have other priorities that might keep you from having free evenings.
Many musicians will turn to teach when they get married and start families because every-night performances are no longer a reality. Priorities can shift and evolve as you grow – so keep this in mind!
Consider the environment around you. Do you live in an area where you could benefit from being a musician? Small towns most likely won’t have a lot of opportunities for performances. Make sure you know if you’re willing to travel or how many performance theatres/venues are around.
You should also be aware of what months you are more or less likely to be booking gigs, when private music lessons have their “dry” spell (psst – it’s summertime), and the BEST months that work for musicians.
It is important to do your research – look at other musicians who have gone full-time and see how they were able to make it happen.
Can you do something similar? You may find that becoming a musician might be more attainable to achieve than you even realized when you look at how other musicians paved the way!
Get Yourself in the Right Frame of Mind
A word of advice: Don’t jump into this new career head-first.
A lot of times you hear people telling you that you need to go for your dreams and just dive into something. This is not a smart idea if you are thinking about musicianship, especially if you are not the only person you need to help support (as in, you have a family to provide for).
Pursue your music career while not quitting your day job right away, so that you can establish yourself, build relationships and obtain gigs and/or students.
Try setting an income goal for your music career, and a date goal to reach it. Then you can work your current job while also working on the side to reach that specific goal.
For example, if you have a specific amount you can get by with month to month, then you need to establish how you are going to get there:
“I want to have a monthly income of $3,200 coming in for 3 months by November so that I can quit my full-time job and go full time with my music.”
You can break it down even more from there on HOW you will get there:
“I will perform 8 gigs a month at $600 for me my band partner ($300/each per gig) and teach 8 students at $25 per 30-min guitar lessons to reach this income.”
“I need to get 2 gigs per week and teach my 8 students once/week”
$300/gig x 8 gigs/month = $2,400/month
$25/lesson x 8 lessons/week = $200 x 4 weeks = $800/month
$2,400 + $800 = $3,200
When you write all of this down and see it broken out from total to monthly to weekly income on paper, it makes the goals easier for you to reach, puts you in the right mindset to help you get there and helps to give you the motivation and courage to go for it.
Are You Ready?
So is being a full-time musician in the cards for you? Did you read this and think to yourself “that’s too hard”?
If so then it is probably safe to say to stick with your day job. But if you feel you are committed to making this life for yourself where you can be rewarded as a musician, and maybe even one day recognized for your talents, then perhaps it is time to think about a career change into music.
Be ready to live poorly and scrape and save money, look for other sources of sustainable income where you can utilize your music talents (Can you play the piano for a church choir? Could you lend your flute skills as a pit orchestra member of a show?). The possibilities can stretch, so don’t sell yourself short!