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First off I don’t want anyone to think that I’m real wise to all of this or that I’m sort of certified genius on the subject, I’ve only been a self employed musician for the last two years; but in that time I haven’t had to borrow money from anyone, I’ve been able to pay my bills, I ain’t homeless—and I don’t live with a girlfriend. Secondly, everything you need to know to survive in life can be learned from Old Black Musicians. So if you think you got talent and you think you got enough to quit your job. Where do you start ? First heed the words of Bon Scott: “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock & roll.” Consider the following:
I suggest saving up at least four months worth of rent before you quit your day job. You never know what kind of expenses you might concur while gigging. Equipment must be maintained as well as your primary mode of transportation—eventually wear-and-tear will take a toll on every musician, from his gear to his vehicle.
Homelessness isn’t overrated for a reason, believe me. If you don’t appear be of stable mind and environment it could affect your chances of getting work, so make sure you got the rent money.
I also suggest establishing a budget for four months so you can watch, monitor and control your spending habits. Get into a habit of saving all of your receipts—the IRS gives musicians a lot of slack on write-offs. Also never forget what the IRS did to Willie Nelson. They can and will catch up with you. Pay your taxes, son.
Get some business cards printed up with your cell phone number, along with a list of skills. I was told by an Old Black Man once that if I wanted to make it as musician, I best be able to “hustle” in more than one field. If you have the patience, consider teaching others how to play music. It can provide a good side income. If you can run sound, consider working special events. If you can book music—do it. The closer you keep your side hustle tied to music, the better your chances of getting gigs you need to pay the bills. Of course, if you can fix a car or repair an amp, those trades can be just as valuable. Being a musician is like being a shark—you gotta keep swimming everyday or you’ll die! Also, try your hand playing multiple genres! The more marketable you are the more markets you’ll get into.
Be professional, be on time, and remember—it’s your job. Be grateful for every gig you get, cause not everyone gets ‘em. My mentor Roby Kap says, “If you go to work and you do a good job ...every gig begets another gig.” Buy a calendar and carry it with you—never know when you’ll get a call for a gig. The faster you call them back, the more often they’ll call.
Use a tip bucket—you’d be surprised how many folks will throw money in your jar—but before they’ll throw it in there you got to put it out.
For those about to rock full-time, I salute you! Remember, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose and, in the words of the great BB King, “The night life ain’t no good life but it’s my life.” God bless and good luck.