MMy name is Greg and I earned over $100,000 my first year with a music degree. Not a bad starting salary considering what the average humanities graduate earns.
These results are not uncommon, impossible, or unlikely. If you’re interested in increasing your income, you have nearly unlimited control. But first you have to overcome a few obstacles.
If money is your enemy, it’s time to make friends with it
Many musicians are engaged in a losing war with money. To them, money represents a constant battle to pay bills, make ends meet, and figure out the answers to future uncertainty. This focus on the negative can keep you in a “scarcity mentality” that makes it hard to recognize and seize opportunity. But money can also represent freedom, independence, and the power to spend your time pursuing the things you love, including music. If you have a negative relationship with money, it’s time to change that.
If there’s a knot connecting your music to your income, untie it
Image credit: J. Chaikin on Flickr
Many of us set out to earn a living through music, but I have come to believe this focus can be a mistake. During your life, your music may or may not produce all of your income. But you need to earn money to pay rent and the wonderful thing about money is that your landlord doesn’t much care where it comes from. The most efficient use of your time earning money will be that which provides the greatest wage per hour. If you can earn $50 per hour doing massage, and $5 per hour playing your original songs, you’re better off paying the bills with the massages and spending the remaining time improving your songs. After a while, the fact that you’re “technically still doing music” loses the comforting ring it once carried at the beginning of your adventure. And you realize that just because your instrument is in your hands much of the time, that doesn’t mean you’re really advancing along your path.
There’s no shame in pursuing an income outside of music, either. Just ask Guinga, one of Brazil’s top guitar players and also a dentist who practiced for 30 years.
If people will pay you for your musical skills, accept their money
Many young musicians seem to have too much dignity to apply their musical skill in a manner directed by market demands. These demands include teaching, playing at weddings, playing on cruise ships, and many others. Do you think you’re too cool to teach? Chopin, Sting and many more of the world’s finest musicians in history didn’t feel that way. If you’re at the bottom of the ladder, don’t be too proud to touch the first rung.
If your location sucks, change it
When I was graduating music school, it seemed like everyone was heading to New York City, Los Angeles or Nashville, to “see what happens.” Some of my classmates have been enormously successful (though location was not the deciding factor for many of them). And many of them are still seeing what happens. I wish them luck. But in my opinion, many of them are running on the hamster wheel.
It used to be that you had to go to where all of the action is, but that’s changing rapidly. Some of the most exciting opportunities I know of for musicians are in unexpected places. Think outside of the box and find an opportunity that nobody else is even competing for.
If you want to learn new skills, stop holding yourself back
When I think of the best musicians I know, many of them have other amazing skills and personal qualities. Imagine a person who has no redeeming features except the ability to play an instrument. Do you really want to trade places with them? Whether it’s computer skills, foreign language, cooking, Yoga or martial arts, your time on this Earth is limited. At any given moment, your greatest opportunity is probably the one you’re most excited to chase. After focusing on guitar for 10 years, I decided to switch things up and learn Chinese. That was 6 months ago, and now I can speak, read and write one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. And I can still play guitar, too. Sometimes I’ll stop and chat with complete strangers in Mandarin. And at those times, it’s hard to feel regret for the 6 months when I neglected my guitar.
If music is becoming your prison, get out of it
Why did you decide to pursue a career in music? What was on your mind at that time? For me, I recognized how happy I was when I was playing music, and I wanted to stack the cards so I could get paid to do it all day. But as I got older, I began to see that there are many ways to accomplish the true goal, which is having the freedom to do what I love. I realized that an unhealthy focus on just one method limits me. And I realized that traveling, enjoying life’s luxuries, and retiring comfortably are all things I deserve. Stay focused on what you truly want, but don’t get too stuck on the methods you chose to achieve it. Define the desired end result as clearly as possible, and ask yourself: “What’s the best path to this result?” The answer may surprise you.
Greg Arney is a musician, hacker, entrepreneur and now world-traveler. He began forming his first business while he was a student at Berklee College of Music, and was later invited back to the college to give guest lectures and presentations to help other students start their careers. Now he is focused on his new business, Hub Guitar, LLC (registration pending), the focus of which is to help musicians all across America get on the fast track to supplementing their income by sharing their musical gifts through private lessons.