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Thread: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

  1. #1
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    Default Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    My column this week in No Depression takes up the issue of the difficulty of making a living on the road for full time musicians. One of the examples I use is the great West Virginia mandolin player Johnny Staats, with some discussion and a video from his TED Talk a couple of years ago called "A Mandolin Master's Tribute to Keeping Your Day Job" as well as some further discussion. I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to participating in any discussion. - Ted

    http://nodepression.com/article/making-living-musician

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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    Que the jokes on playing for a living and paying your bills ....... R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    Good article, Ted!

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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    Thanks for the comments, folks. Seems like I hit a nerve.....

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    Registered User Nathan Kellstadt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    Quote Originally Posted by Ted Lehmann View Post
    Seems like I hit a nerve.....
    I, for one, will not be quitting my day job any time soon. Thanks for the cautionary tale, Ted.
    Dear sir, I am terribly sorry, but I fear I must inform you that what you are playing is most certainly not any part of anything.

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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    That seems pretty realistic Ted.

    I do appreciate the touring musicians who stick at it and bring their music to us in far flung corners of the world and I'm more than happy to part with my shekels to see them perform and buy some of their merchandise.

    I hope some of it gets through to them. I'm under no illusion that they're living high on the proceeds.

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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful commets - Ted

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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    Someone is going to post this. It might as well be me:

    Would you like to play the guitar?
    Carry money home in a jar
    From a coffeehouse or a bar,
    Or would you rather get a job?
    A job is the thing that makes you get out of bed
    And work every day until you're dead.
    Your back is achin' and your brain is numb
    And you just can't wait until the weekend comes.
    But if you don't want to starve or beg or rob
    You're gonna have to get a job
    Or would you like to play the guitar?
    Drive for miles and miles in your car
    And pretend that you're a big star?
    Or would you rather book the gig?
    The agent's the guy who takes his twenty percent.
    What he says isn't always what he meant.
    He'll clean you out in ways you never thought
    Because he's good at business and he knows you're not.
    And then he'll sue if you ever make it big
    Cause he's the guy who booked the gig.
    Or would you like to play the guitar
    For a living ~ hardee-har-har!
    I'll admit it's kind of bizarre.
    Or would you rather be the wife?
    The wife is the one who has to rescue our butts.
    She's either a saint or else she's nuts.
    She gets impatient and she gets annoyed
    Cause she's the one who must remain employed.
    And by the way if you want to wreck your life
    Become a gittar player's wife
    Cause all the monkeys aren't in the zoo.
    They can be trained to play guitar too.
    Some do a whole lot better than you.
    But even if you don't go far
    You could be worse off than you are.
    At least you're playing your guitar.
    Indulge responsibly!

    The entire staff
    funny....

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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    Ted - I think that most of us who live in 'the real world',fully understand that being a Bluegrass musician isn't going to make you a wealthy person,let alone a millionaire - unless,you have a lucrative sideline such as owning a reord co. or a recording studio to augment your Bluegrass cash. Even then,it's doubtful that if your music is solely Bluegrass,you're not going to be selling millions of records.

    I suppose that it's as true today as it was back when i was a teenager,that music has to appeal to the 'teens' in huge numbers, for it to be a finacial hit,& Bluegrass music,as much as we love it,is never going to be 'that' popular as a music form for the vast majority of teens. I must admit to being very surprised back when i first began playing / performing Bluegrass music ,& meeting the players from the USA for the first time,just how many still had ''day jobs''. I met Tex Logan over here when he came over with Peter Rowan & he was still working as an Elec.engineer. I will qualify one thing - when i had my band together,we were out playing & getting paid almost every night. As little as it seemed back when i was 22 (ish),i was earning more money playing than i was working as an aircraft design engineer. Would that have been maintained ? - no way,not over here anyway. We were riding the crest of the Folk Music 'boom' & clubs were springing up overnight like (magic) mushrooms. I think that for a while,the same thing went for the US Bluegrass bands on the University / Bluegrass festival circuits. Unforunately,it was all too short lived & bands / singers had to face reality. You'd either made it into the big time as many 'Folk singers' had done,or you got back to a day job.

    I suppose that it's a huge testament to the love that the Bluegrass musicians that we all admire had for Bluegrass music,that they stuck with the music as well as their day jobs,so let's all be thankful for that, & support our favourite musicians by buying their recordings,as most of them are doing it more for the love of it,than for the cash - that's why they began playing in the first place,
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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    Reality is a harsh mistress!
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    In his autobiography, Eric Clapton talks about how much he enjoyed doing construction work when he was young. In "Hail, Hail, Rock 'n' Roll," Chuck Berry says only moved away from house painting because playing music started to pay better.

    It was nice to learn that they had no problem day jobs.

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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    Quote Originally Posted by Timbofood View Post
    Reality is a harsh mistress!
    Music is a great mistress, but a lousy spouse.
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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    I've had a band together for 13 years. We've all had to have other jobs to survive. That being said, we gig around 100 shows a year. About 20 of them are wedding parties. We have nice gear, nice axes, and lots of fun. The food and drink on the job part of things adds up when almost 30% of your dinners and drink tabs are covered for the year. Before family life increased budget needs, my other job was as a private music teacher. No savings for retirement at that level, but had a car, a roof, power, food, insurance, comfort and fun.
    So if anyone is wanting to quit their "soul sucking job", I say do it. You won't likely get rich, but you can get by.
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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    Great responses and thought provoking for me. - Ted

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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    I'm an amateur with a full time day job. I gig a little for fun and music money to help pay for my music toys (doesnt come close).

    But I have a few full time musician friends who eek out a type of meager "living". They seem ok with not having the conventional "stuff" and thrive more on "life experience" and answering to no one.

    I think they would say that in regards to Making A Living As A Musician, that for them,

    " its better than working...and better than not working ".
    No matter where I go, there I am...Unless I'm running a little late.

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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    I used to play around 180 days of the year, and had my own business. Since I was my own boss and worked out of my house I could set my hours so playing was possible. As Matt says you don't have retirement, or get rich, but I had a house, car, and got by. Now that I would like to be retired I still work some to make ends meet and still play some. Looking back it was a great few decades of lots of music and fun. Most folks think music is just fun, but there were several times that I played sick and break time was when I was about to loose it. Wouldn't trade all the years and gigs for the world tho.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    I see people making middle class income as musicians, but they are flexible in "what" they play (Most commonly the good cover bands), and the ones doing well are nabbing most of the money as band leaders. They do the whole business end and are essentially a solo artist that hires guys at $100 per man per night. They bring in good money on the weekends, sell a few CDs each show, take random smaller gigs during the week as available, and when they don't have gigs of their own, they play sideman at $100 per night for someone else.

    Now, nothing about it looks easy. I see examples that play country one weekend, rock the next, and have the additional "Tribute Band" side projects that pay real well when they book shows. They really have to hustle. Most have original music, but that is not what pays the bills.
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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    My take is that I've been a "professional" musician for over 40 years -- and I probably made a solid middle class income from it for about 4 of those years. They tell me there is a certain charm in living like a college student at 60 years old -- but I'm starting to get tired of it!

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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    Its a hard thing to do making a living playing music unless you have some serious luck! Case in point my Uncle Gene Johnson played and recorded with some great bands in the early 70's through the 80's, He went to Grass school with his brothers and My Grampa Bill and Uncle Dick Smith then from Cliff Waldron and the New Shades of Grass, II Generation, Night Sun, JD Crowe and the New South, David Bromberg Quartet, Loads of session work with others also obscure Grass records like the 1976 Album "The Voices of Bluegrass-also with my Uncle Dick on banjo". Gene struggled, continued playing and worked carpentry until he got his real break with Diamond Rio. Had to go to Country Music to make a steady living. Being one of the best Tenor singers and his style on mando is one of the best. He put his time in for sure and is still doing the Country thing some 25+years later.

  29. #20

    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    You can have another job, and enjoy that one also. I happen to really enjoy helping businesses and individuals expand their businesses, plan their finances, etc. it’s taken me years to find a balance between that and playing music, but I enjoy what I do. What I don’t understand is all these university programs that attempt to teach musicians how to make money. Personally, that’s something that should be part of an undergraduate degree, and it shouldn’t take two years and $100k to learn.
    Good Advice: Play before you pay, and know your product and your market.

  30. #21

    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    Early on, i left berklee to return to college (russian studies and language/music min), then law school.

    At berklee, i saw the tough life. My highest hope would have been a studio musician.
    The amount of talent , true talent, is way over my own.

    Any job , done well, is hard work. Might as well get paid.

    I am now retired, and not sweating the future.

    I play music and gig. I love to play. Gigs......
    They vary. Little money, lots of time, some travel, ok audiences. Its all about control, as to comfort.

    If we gigged daily, id still make less than minimum wage i think for my time.

    The reality is that art , sports, cooking, landscale, and other areas simply arent going to make much dough.
    As i grow, i have less tolerance too, for the inconvenience of gigging. Yet, it is a unique test and reward.
    Otoh, while rock pays more, bluegrass seems to have far greater tolerance for older and non "glam"players.

    You pays yer nickle and ya takes yer chance.

    I have sweated the rent in my life. Im glad thats past (hopefully).

    I play bg with a rock star from the 80's. Hes got a family, modest house, and continues to tour, in his mid 50s.
    He wrote all his bands songs.
    I imagine hes comfortable.
    I know his touring is tough on his family life.

    he's not the average of a working musician.

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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    It's time for my time honored quote:

    In my life as a professional musician I have made hundreds of dollars.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    There was a time when a bluegrasser could make a living playing, Jimmy Martin always said it was possible but as it was stated above the band leaders usually made most of the money.....In my neck of the woods there aren`t that many places that now book bluegrass, I suppose a person could make it if he branched out to other forms of music also, I have seen a lot of bluegrassers do shows that are not bluegrass so I assume whatever the audience wants is what they play, Doyle Lawson, Dailey and Vincent have seemed to branch out to a more country style...The pickers that were members of The Country Gentlemen all had day jobs, same with the members of the Seldom Scene and those two bands were in demand for quite a number of years.....Myself, I turned down a few offers to join some bands and travel because I felt I need to support my family by having a decent paying job and not take a chance or just playing music....

    More power to the person that can do it though...It also might depend on what you want or need to get by, no retirements, no medical insurance things like that kept me from doing it I guess...

    Willie

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    The bloom is off the Bluegrass rose around here too Willie. My band used to play anywhere from two to five nights a week “back in the day” now, we play once every six months or so. More often now, we do private parties, better food and pay. Time changes everything.
    Timothy F. Lewis
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    Default Re: Column: Making a Living as a Musician

    In retirement, I'm quite active as a musician, playing about 200 gigs a year, mostly for seniors. I don't make anything like a "living wage" doing it, but I have my civil service retirement and social security to take care of the bills.

    Never had the nerve (nor, realistically, the talent) to try to support a wife and two kids on what I could make playing music. It was always a nights-and-weekends "extra" activity, though honestly more fulfilling in its way than my "day job." The money I made went for vacations, instruments and accessories, part of the cost of cars and computers that were also used in my music "business," and, of course, into the bank to be saved against a rainy day.

    Kids are grown and successful, house is paid off, and I look on my musical activities as a very rewarding "second career" that I can pursue into my 70's. Most of the "full-time musicians" I know in my area supplement their income from performing, by teaching music, working in music-related businesses, or arranging and administering music performance venues for others. Part of the reason for this is the old realtor's formula, "Location, location, location"; a small upstate NY city doesn't offer the club and recording scene that "music hubs" do. On the other hand, there's less competition.

    I love playing music, but am glad I never tried make it a full-time career. I remember a column in Sing Out! magazine years ago, discussing of the economics of music performing, especially with regard to "open mic" clubs. The columnist said, "It's hard to make a living doing something that others are willing to do for free." Were I trying to charge near-"union scale" for my seniors' jobs, I'd book very few of them; $60-75 for an hour's gig is standard, and I'm sometimes negotiating even that.

    I admire all those who can make a good, secure income from a career in music performance. Many of the musicians I know have spouses who carry the health insurance and retirement responsibilities. It ain't easy, despite the undoubted non-monetary rewards.
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