Must-read article on the music business, and what it’s like for a typical musician to work as a full-time player. Written by Jeremy Gantz.
This piece explains (in a very articulate way) what it’s like for most musicians who are making a living in music, and addresses a lot of the misconceptions that “civilians” tend to have about what it’s like for a musician. Some of the quotes that really stood out to me (along with my own commentary):
“though music is more ubiquitous than ever, consumers are less willing to pay for what they hear”
You can barely get people to pay $1 to download their song. Sometimes I’ll tell someone that I bought an album, and they’ll actually look surprised. “You paid for it?” If you love music and you want to see musicians you love succeeding, BUY THEIR FREAKIN’ RECORDS. It’s the least you can do.
People think music is just a gift and it’s born out of nothing — that it’s in your genes. No: Musicians work hard. You practice for hours and hours and hours.
It actually frustrates me when people say things like “oh, you have so much talent. I was born with no talent whatsoever.” Guess what? Most of us were born that way. The great musicians who APPEAR to have some kind of gift from the gods actually got there by spending hours on end every day for years on end practicing what they do.
Now, I can be working with 10 to 12 bands at a time, and it’s a lot of music to learn. You have to do your homework; you can’t just show up to the show without learning the music first. So there’s a lot of work that I do at home.
I can relate to this one. While I don’t do 10-12 bands at a time, in the week before I posted this, I had to learn several funk/jazz tunes for a session in Denver, 10 songs for a kid’s thing that I’m involved in here in my home town for July 4, and a whole bunch of songs for a wedding that I played with DeadPhish Orchestra. If I totaled up my hourly wage, it wouldn’t be much better than a job at McDonald’s (fortunately I do enjoy it too, for the most part).
What I’ve learned during my time in the industry is to diversify my income and to be proactive. If you’re waiting for some big artist to give you a call with a life-changing opportunity, or if you’re the band waiting for the big break, you’ll keep on waiting.
There’s such a wide range of things that people do within the industry beyond club shows and concerts: teaching, performing as a session person, being an engineer, or working as a wedding band or a corporate group.
Yes. If you’re playing in a band, don’t just focus on that as the one thing that’s going to make you “hit it big.” It could happen, but the odds are that it won’t, no matter how good you are. You have never heard of 99.9% of the working musicians out there in the world. They are doing lots of different gigs, teaching lessons, writing music, whatever they can do to make some money.
The pay scale hasn’t changed in 30 years.
Yep, still a lot of $50 and $75 gigs out there (not to mention $0 gigs) if you want them. A musician is in a very fortunate position if they can pick and choose their gigs.
The big misconception is that being a musician is like a hobby.
They’re surprised when your band charges $2500+ for a wedding. They think you want to do it because it’s “fun”. But you had to rehearse twice to learn the material that they requested, you had to drive 3 hours each way to the gig, you had to set up (and break down) PA, lights, and your guitar rig, and you had to stand around watching people who you don’t know getting married, eat cold leftovers from the caterer (if they feed you at all), and you had to stand there and play a bunch of songs that you can’t stand while watching a bunch of drunk amateurs getting sloppy on the dance floor. $2500 is barely enough.
I’m not saying that being a musician isn’t fun. It is–I love it, and I love almost every minute of it. But it’s a lot of work, and a lot of it is not particularly glamorous.
I think the most important point here is that to be a career musician, you need to be willing to look at multiple ways to earn money. Be good at what you do, of course, but don’t expect that to be enough to make you successful.