Music is expensive.
Music as a career is almost terrifyingly expensive.
Gear is expensive. Recording music is expensive. Releasing music is inexpensive, but the marketing can add up to a hefty sum, especially if you’re releasing professionally. Making videos. Taking photos. Crafting merch. Touring.
The list goes on and on.
Learning where to spend my money has been a huge learning curve. The same goes for every working artist I’ve ever met.
Should you cut costs on recording to spend more on the release?
Should you cut costs on touring and spend more on publicity?
There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer, and what works for one artist may not work for you.
Up until this year, I’d never worked with a publicist I felt was worth the money. This year I spent less than I have ever spent on a publicist, invested the rest in ads, and had a successful campaign.
It took me five years to figure this out!
So, with that, here are eight ways I’ve made my financial life more organized and free. It’s always a work in progress, and I would love to hear your tips!
Build Relationships With The People You’re Hiring/Paying
Over the last few years I’ve been making an effort to hire people – and befriend and connect with them.
This means making time and hanging out with them outside of work and generally being a good friend.
Obviously, this doesn’t always work (not everyone wants to be friends with me for some reason) but it has definitely paid dividends.
For example, I have a team that I hire for most of my photo/video needs and they’ve become close friends of mine.
Now that we trust and like each other, they cut me deals on their services, we spend time just sitting around brainstorming, and our projects are more collaborative. We’re both more invested in them, which makes them better.
Similarly, at my local music store, I know all of the rental employees. Because of this, they cut me slack on my rentals all the time. Need an extra week? No problem. Want a free upgrade to the best rental available? Done.
Having friends in the industry creates a sort of social capital that makes life much easier.
Don’t Pay For Drinks & Be Frugal In Everyday Life
Check your priorities.
A $100 night out could have bought a few hours of studio time, or been a payment on a piece of gear you’ve always wanted.
Before I buy literally anything, I ask myself what I am not buying.
The biggest thing I’ve cut back on is drinks at bars.
Being a musician means spending a lot of time in bars. Whether you’re playing, attending shows and/or networking.
Because I often get free drinks at the bars/venues I’m playing, I’m used to drinking at least a couple drinks when I’m out.
I’ll still buy a couple drinks to have fun and support the bar, but it’s two at the most.
You do not need to drink more alcohol, and you do not need to pay for those drinks.
Drink at home, have soda, drink water. Live better, save your money.
Far too many musicians/artists have kept themselves in financial purgatory by partying too much. It’s not worth it.
Barter & Exchange For Services
I trade services with my friends all the time.
I trade my grant writing services for recording time, I trade piano lessons for photography, and I trade studio time with a friend who does college radio campaigns.
Exchanging services is a great way to beat the system. You save money, you save taxes and you get to hang out with friends. I love it.
I love paying my friends for their work. The majority of my friends are absolute professionals who deserve to be paid four times what they are charging.
That said, I am sometimes broke. And, they are sometimes broke. And, life keeps moving on. You still need to make new music, snap new photos, learn new skills.
So, exchanging services with your friends can free up your financial life!
Only Hire Team Members When You Are Ready & Have A Plan
One of the biggest things I’ve wasted my money on is paying team members like publicists and radio trackers to work for me when I didn’t have a proper plan or was not ready.
When you are hiring team members, make sure to consider or ask:
- What can these team members realistically achieve for me based on where I am in my career, my current level of success and notoriety?
- What can these team members realistically achieve for me based on their past accomplishments with similar artists?
- Ask your prospective team these questions and if you don’t feel they are answering honestly, or are answering dishonestly to get your business, don’t commit to working with them.
- Once you’ve established what your realistic goals are, ask yourself: is the chance of achieving these goals worth what these people are charging? Is this the best use of my money?
- Above all, ask yourself: how much of this could I achieve myself? If the answer is “most of it”, maybe you should just do it yourself. If the answer is “none of it”, maybe you need to hire someone.
The reason I’m warning you of this is that I have hired people to pitch to radio programs that I had basically no chance of ever getting on.
I hired publicists that didn’t get me any publicity I couldn’t have gotten myself.
All of this cost me thousands of dollars, which left me feeling disappointed.
On my last release, I spent the least I’ve ever spent on a publicist, but was happy with the results, because they scored playlists that I had no connections to. I did everything else myself and achieved almost exactly what I set out to.
Trade Your Gear & Buy Used
There are few pieces of gear that you need to buy new.
In-ear monitors, certain pieces of recording gear – not much else.
The music community has an active used and trade market.
Buying gear used has many benefits. For one thing, if the product is in good shape, you’ll get it for under what you paid new, less the taxes. It’s always better to buy outright anyways and save on the interest.
You can also occasionally score insane deals. People sell things to pay rent, to pay for cars – sometimes they just need the money, and they will try to sell their gear for cheap to get a quick sale.
Don’t just go to Craigslist and Kijiji – look around at garage sales and pawn shops as well. I’ve found microphones and keyboards for cheap.
Buying gear can be a crutch for some musicians. It’s important to invest in yourself and your studio, but it’s also important to have cash flow. If all of your cash is getting eaten up by gear and you get yourself into a mountain of debt, that can become stressful.
Invest In Good Quality Recording Gear & Record At Home
Ok, so this idea isn’t for everyone, but it’s an option if you’re willing to put in the work learning how to do it all.
One of the best things about making music these days is how much recording we can do at home.
People used to have to save up for months and years to get a few days in the studio.
After that, you still have to pay for mixing and mastering.
These days, most studios cost $500 to $700/day to record in, with some studios charging as much as $1,000/day.
Obviously, this adds up quickly. Recording your entire album in a studio is almost not an option anymore.
The good news is you don’t need much to make a professional recording in your home. You need:
- A decent computer.
- A two-channel interface with good preamps (I would recommend Apollo or Apogee if you’re trying to make a pro recording).
- A good large-diaphragm condenser mic (spend around $400 to $1,200) and a Shure SM57 ($80).
Obviously, you can buy a lot more gear. Getting into recording is a bit of a black hole, because it’s so fun and addicting.
With the gear I listed, you can record drums at a pro studio, and then do everything else at home.
I made a full album that sounds as pro as anything else I’ve heard by recording bed tracks and lead vocals at a pro studio, and tracking everything else at my home studio and my friend’s home studio – to take advantage of whatever gear they had.
Now, I’ve invested over $20,000 into my studio, so I’m able to capture quality recordings. Still, anyone can do this. It’s fun, it’s satisfying and you’ll save a ton of money.
The money you save on the recording can be put into other things that cost a lot of money:
- Hiring a high-quality mixing engineer.
- Hiring a great publicist and/or marketing company.
- Buying a good ad campaign.
- Buying better/more merch and physical copies of your record.
Record at home! It’s the way of the future.
Maintain Your Own Instruments
All instruments require maintenance.
Learning how to do a few basic things like soldering connections in pedals, setting up your guitars, adjusting the action – whatever it takes to keep your instrument working properly, will save you quite a bit of money.
Beyond the money saved, if you suddenly need to repair your instrument at a show, knowing that you can fix your problem will give you peace of mind.
Learning to maintain your instruments also builds a stronger relationship with your instruments. You’ll have more respect for a well-made instrument and will be able to recognize good craftsmanship.
Keep Records & Do Your Taxes
Keeping records is harder than it seems. For me, anyways, I’m still working on it.
Save every receipt. Log all of your expenses and all of your income.
The more you keep track of your income and expenses, the more you will end up saving. It helps you maintain awareness around what you’re spending and budget better.
It also helps at tax time.
When you start making most of your money off of music and music related activities, you must keep your finances sorted.
I haven’t and it’s been awful.
Keep An Eye On Your Finances & An Eye On Your Goals
You must balance being frugal and organized and investing in your goals.
You will have to spend money. It’s just the way it is.
Don’t let yourself get into a financial situation that cripples you or stressed you out, but also don’t be afraid to spend money if you think it’s worth it – because sometimes it totally is!