You've heard it said, "don't quit your day job" and to some extent that's true -- at least, not until your music business tells you it's time to quit...

File Under: Building Your Music Business

You've heard it said, "don't quit your day job" and to some extent that's true -- at least, not until your music business tells you it's time to quit.

Making a living and career simply off music can be difficult, especially since our industry is in flux. But it is do-able. While there are a lot of opportunities to make money with music, every successful musician we've interviewed over the last 9 years created multiple sources of income to sustain them. And most of these musicians made sure at least one of their income streams was relatively stable to sustain them day-to-day while the inconsistent streams like music royalties or licensing deals occasionally gave them an extra bonus when they paid out.

For example, one musician we interviewed for The Indie Band Survival Guide had a wedding band that regularly pulled in cash while he maintained a solo career, a popular podcast, worked licensing deals, and collected royalty checks. Others worked as producers and studio engineers while promoting their indie band. Still others taught music while they pursued a solo career.

A common question we get when we do our talks or panels is: when is the right time to quit the day job and give up benefits and steady paychecks to pursue music? This is a personal decision, but as you think about whether to quit that day job, consider the following:

1. Music opportunities usually happen outside of regular work hours.

Music and daygigs are not necessarily in conflict; you can maintain both. Gigs, shows, and concerts are usually scheduled at night or on weekends. You can rehearse your show anytime. As far as recording, that too can be done at anytime you have an hour here or there, and if you create music on your laptop, you can even do it at lunch or in between work if you have a job that allows this. Our own band, Beatnik Turtle, was able to complete a year long song-of-the-day project -- 365 songs in one year -- with everyone maintaining day jobs. Where other people choose to watch TV, see movies, or hang out, our band would be busy in the studio writing and recording music instead. The other benefit is that we were forced to learn the time management skills to pull such a project off, letting us take even more on.

2. Day jobs can provide opportunities for your music.

We've landed opportunities such as playing festival bookings or corporate functions thanks to networking at our day jobs. Also, the skills you use on your job likely are applicable to promoting your music or building your music business. Although some separation is sometimes necessary, we've found that many musicians put up too much of a wall between their jobs and their music, never seeing how they can complement one another. Both of these sides of your life can sometimes create opportunities.

3. Your music career will "tell you" when it's time to quit your job.

If you want to know the real point where you can quit the day job, it comes down to simple math. Make a detailed rundown of all your expenses throughout the entire year. Leave nothing out -- especially once-a-year payments you might forget about like car insurance, taxes, etc. Once your music business is bringing in that amount, you can let your growing business trigger the decision to quit.

Keep in mind one of the best new ways to help build that steady source of income is by using Patreon, the crowdfunded patronage site. This site has helped many creatives -- not just musicians -- quit the day job so they can focus on their art. This is because Patreon is a service that allows your fans to regularly give you a certain amount of money each month or per release (of a song, album, or video). To encourage fans to do this, you can incent them by giving rewards. To build a following and encourage pledging, you should use all the good crowdfunding incentive techniques we've discussed in EM feature articles. The best thing is Patreon estimates how much you'll be taking in each month -- and because it's recurring, you can consider this amount a steady stream. And, if you achieve a big enough of a patronage following, your fans will be rooting for you when you tell them you're quitting the day job to make music for them. You can even make that a funding goal.

The decision to quit the day job to make music is a business decision that needs to be made carefully, so make sure that you put the time and effort into thinking it all the way through.


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Photo credit: Yasser Alghofily