Making the transition from hobbyist to professional musician
As of 2019, over 1,500 full-time musicians were working in the U.S. The key word there is “working.” Being a professional musician is, indeed, a job. Some people take different routes to get there. But, we can probably all agree that there’s a big difference between touring the country to play nightly gigs and having jam sessions in your best friend’s garage.
However, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with that! Many musicians start as hobbyists. Some have no desire to “make it big” or turn themselves into a money-making music machine.
If you do, though, there are things you need to be aware of as you transition from hobby to business as a musician. You’ve undoubtedly heard stories about how hard it is to make it in the music industry. While those can be intimidating, they shouldn’t stop you from working toward your dreams.
So, what should you start doing to bring the reality of the business world into your musical endeavors? How can you start working to market yourself and effectively “break in” to the industry?
Your Voice is for More Than Singing
There’s no denying that the music industry is tough to break into. You’re not going to make a consistent living as a professional musician if you aren’t willing to speak up.
That’s often easier said than done. You might feel more comfortable belting things out behind a mic than sitting in a room full of record executives. But, you can practice finding your voice as you work your way up the ladder.
That starts with making sure you’re getting properly paid for your gigs. Using invoicing software to work with your venues can make it easier and help you keep track of what you’re making. Don’t let venues cheat you into playing for free, especially if they aren’t doing their part in marketing your gig.
Can it be intimidating to speak up for yourself? Absolutely. But, no one works for free. Adopting that mindset now will make it easier to negotiate the things you want and need as a professional later. Find your voice and use it to be relevant in this industry.
View Yourself as a Business
If you want to turn your hobby into a career, it’s time to officially turn yourself into a business.
Good news – that doesn’t have to involve putting on a suit.
We’ll be the first to admit that looking at yourself as a business probably doesn’t seem too “cool.” If it helps, you can throw on some leather pants and shades while you work, but that also isn’t necessary. Instead, try to understand that being a musician is about more than traveling from gig to gig. It involves staying organized and on top of things like:
Your songs and lyrics
Your touring schedule
New marketing ideas
Keeping things well-organized with tools like online sticky notes and whiteboards will make your life so much easier. You’ll have everything in one place whenever you need it, so you can focus on the “business” side of things in-between gigs.
In addition to monitoring yourself as a business, you also have to market yourself as a business.
That can be as simple as hanging up flyers for a show. But, in today’s world, it should also involve some serious digital marketing. Develop a marketing strategy, identify your audience, and cater your campaigns to them to build an online following. When you’re able to do that, the fans you connect with will start to do a lot of the work for you, promoting your music and encouraging others to do the same. You just have to put in the initial legwork and remain consistent.
You Might Not Be an Overnight Success
Everyone wants to be the next great success story. There’s nothing more rock ‘n roll than strumming a guitar in a Nashville bar only to find out some big music executive is in the room, and they want to talk to you after your gig.
Unfortunately, reality doesn’t usually work that way.
You might still have to work a full- or part-time job while trying to get your music career off the ground. Being a “starving artist” shouldn’t be literal. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to choose jobs that will allow you to further explore and expand your music career. That typically includes standard daytime jobs that will allow you to play gigs at night. Working with the USPS as a mail handler is a great way to work during the day and get in some exercise while you’re at it.
Other part-time considerations that can let you further your music career include:
Musicians tend to have soft skills that employers are always looking for. That often includes self-discipline, perseverance, adaptability, and effective communication. You can use the tools and talents you have as a musician to land a job that works for you right now.
Like any successful business, it can take time for you to get off the ground as a professional musician. But, if you’re willing to dive head-first into the industry, you can make it happen. Speak up, market yourself, and keep pushing forward to get your music heard.