Your Life and Career as a Musician

Music is a beautiful art form but a very difficult profession for many musicians.

The artist inside of you often must struggle to become a capitalist to survive. Where are you in this lifelong process? Interested? Committed? Frustrated? In Doubt? Sorry!

How are you going to survive your career in music as a successful musician and business person?
Listen to me: No musician with talent, flexibility, resourcefulness and a savings plan needs to end the last years of a music career in poverty.

First, you must in all aspects be an excellent performer regardless of your chosen area of specialization. This means you must be able to play at a level comparable to national competition standards.

No self-promotion techniques will work if they are unsupported by your abilities. You must be a self-starter and willing to practice long hours. You should have a great teacher, but you must remain self -motivated. When you win an audition, you must be willing to work evenings, weekends, holidays and be willing to travel for great lengths of time.

What do you do if you never win an audition?

Quit now for even considering the question! You MUST develop the ability to rebound after losing – call it your soccer ball concept: dented for the moment but bounce right back.

Second, you must be able to teach your knowledge to others in a practical, useful way. This preserves the art form and is still one of the best ways to make money in the music industry. Advanced degrees may help you secure a good teaching position, but you must care deeply for your students. You must have short and long- term goals for all those you teach. You must be highly organized, able to sell yourself and your teaching concepts and be willing to work long hours.

Third, regardless of the proficiencies of your primary performing and teaching areas, you must develop secondary areas of competence.

Those secondary or related areas of competence could be in non-related fields such as marketing, accounting, computer science, etc. or you could develop your performing and teaching skills to a professional level in more than one area of music – voice/piano, percussion/guitar or bass, all woodwinds, all brass and so on. In addition, you must be knowledgeable in the areas of music history, conducting, composition, improvisation and arranging.

Fourth, developing and marketing a new or improved concept or product in the music business is as frustrating, time consuming and expensive of a challenge as in any area of business.

It requires absolute persistence and determination. At the same time, the inner development and outward expression of your creative abilities can become some of the most positive and rewarding experiences you can have as a working musician. You’ll find these experiences to be rewarding both financially and emotionally. So, make it a habit to expect a new idea. It may be a hunch, inspiration, intuition or even a momentary stroke of genius. When something new comes out of your mind and you are inspired, your life will be more fun. You will take on a new meaning and will discover more about the wonders of life itself.

Fifth, regardless of whether you are a performer, educator or innovator as a musician, it is important for you to remember that you are first and foremost also a business person.

You and what you produce are the products. The position you occupy is where you are when marketed against your competition. The marketplace is all the possible places you can work and sell. If you are a performer, the seller is your agent, the buyer signs the check. Advertising is your bait for the public consumer of your service. The asking price is how much your audience is willing to pay. Your profit is what you have left after all your expenses are deducted.

Music is business. To be marketable you need a resume, biographical information in outline and paragraph formats, references, recommendation letters and a CD and DVD of your performances and teaching. Your portfolio needs to be the highest professional caliber and available in multiple formats suitable for multiple career areas. And you need it all NOW! 

As you can see, the business of making music is not all the music business. After all, it’s probably easier to make a musician out of a businessman than it is to make a businessman out of a musician. If you don’t spend as much time and effort in the business aspects of the music business, as you do in making the music – you won’t make any significant money.

  • Students and amateurs don’t make substantial money.
  • Professionals – businessmen – make large amounts of money.

You should strive to make at least $100,000 a year gross as a musician – however hard you must work and however many jobs you must work. Understand that this gross income could put you in a high federal and state tax bracket. There could also be a larger deduction for Social Security and Medicare. These and a wide variety of other deductions substantially reduce your net income. As a tax balance to your primary income, work at the very least “X” number of days of each year doing performances, recording sessions, clinics, private lessons, sales of inventory and so forth, where you gross an extra $1,000 in an “X” period of time. Put all this extra income into a separate savings account.  Use that account to pay your annual federal and state income taxes.

You should strive to have at least $1,000,000 in total cash assets or the equivalent in income producing assets when you retire!

You should have multiple health insurance benefits (1 primary and 1 secondary); life insurance; disability insurance; long term care insurance; car and home insurance; personal umbrella insurance, as well as instrument insurance.

You should have a balanced investment portfolio for your retirement that includes stocks, bonds, employer-sponsored retirement plans, IRA’s and various cash assets.

You should strive to save a minimum of $500/month or more after paying all other monthly expenses – including home, car, utilities, insurance, medical services, credit card bills, contributions and unexpected expenses.

You should budget all expected expenses to equal no more than 75% of your net monthly income.

You should run a home business so you can deduct a portion of all utilities, phone, gas, etc. and all other business-related expenses from your income.

You should use only two credit cards. 


  • A Visa Card for your personal expenses
  • An American Express Card for your business-related expenses

You should pay off your American Express card each month. If possible, also pay off your personal Visa card monthly as well. This commitment will build excellent credit while disciplining your spending.

File an aggressive tax return each year. Your greatest risk is not taking all allowable deductions. In the Yellow Pages throughout major US cities, music and musicians come right after museums and right before mutual funds. Look for yourself. You must find the balance.


Do whatever you choose to do as a musician a little better than anyone else around you and you will succeed. Never measure your journey toward success by watching the clock.

Instead, wisely use every second of every minute of every day so that someday when you look back, you will realize your life has been successful and seems twice as long.

Remember: In life, everything is changing and all things will pass.


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