Many artists dream about one day becoming a full-time musician.
In my experience, it’s altogether too easy to envision a rosy future when a humdrum or unwanted future is just as likely.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a chance. Far from it. Becoming a full-time artist could be better than you’ve ever imagined.
But there are certain realities that are worth considering – certain things you may not even be thinking about right now.
So, let’s take a deeper look into becoming a full-time musician and whether it’s right for you.
Pro: You Get To Spend All Your Time Working On Something You Love
Ask most serious musicians and they will tell you – “it would be so great to be able to focus on my art full-time and not have to do anything else.”
As a full-time musician, your work will be made up entirely of music related activity. You’ll get to turn your creative vision into reality and share it with the world.
This isn’t to suggest there won’t be pressure from the label (if you’re signed) or your fans to create a certain style of music.
And, to keep your career afloat, you may even choose to go in a commercial direction with your art.
But the key point is that you get to engage in your passion wholeheartedly, without reservation – even if that means having to do boring admin work, marketing, booking and so on.
Many say this would be a small price to pay to live their dream life.
Con: You Must Spend All Your Time Working On Music
Former CD Baby Founder Derek Sivers says the happiest people he knows are those who spend 50% of their time on their career/job and the other 50% on their art.
The main benefit of living this balance is that you won’t ever need to depend on your art to sustain your financial needs.
When there are so many artists out there wanting to pursue their passion full-time, how could this possibly be a con?
Here’s a question you need to ask yourself:
Have you ever taken a few weeks or even a couple of months off to pursue the artistic life without any distraction?
If not, I would highly recommend giving this a try. Save up some money, max out your vacation time and try living the creative life full-time for a while.
Some artists discover they like this. Many others discover that once they make their art their work, their passion suddenly turns into work too.
Having to spend all your time making music can be just as exhausting as any other type of work – perhaps more, because creative work forces you to use your mental energies more.
When passion becomes duty and obligation, it basically becomes a job. And, many people don’t like their passion becoming a job.
Pro: You Get To Travel & See The World
One of the coolest things about being a full-time musician is that you get to fulfill many of your natural desires all at once.
You get to make music and perform it for adoring fans. You get to meet a lot of people. You get to make some money doing what you love to do. And, you get to travel the world, too.
Now, that statement will be an exaggeration for some, as their tours might be limited to the country or continent they live on.
Still, getting to see new sights, meeting new people and trying local foods and cuisine can be a lot of fun and nourishing to the soul.
Some artists, of course, don’t tour and work entirely from home and will never experience this benefit.
But with touring often making up a significant chunk of an artist’s revenue, many full-time musicians will enjoy this aspect of their career and will be the envy of many others who wish they could travel more.
Con: You’re Constantly On The Road With Little Room To Breathe
We live in a world of contrast, and practically every pro to becoming a full-time musician is tempered by an equally unattractive con.
When you’re constantly on the road, your relationships can suffer, whether it’s family, friends or significant others, with significant others often being the most difficult to navigate.
And, even though your band mates will likely be your best friends, even if it’s just out of necessity, you can start to get on each other’s nerves after a while too. The same goes for your team.
Unfortunately, it’s what happens when a group of people are in close quarters for a long time, going through good days, bad days and everything in between.
Again, we know that touring plays an important role in a musician’s career, and most who want to make a serious go of it will be required to gig and tour a lot.
This can be exhausting, especially as you lose any sense of “normalcy” and stability in your life.
Balance is important, but if you’re at the height of your popularity (or working your way up to it), there’s a good chance you won’t be able to achieve any sense of balance because you’ll be on the road a lot.
Pro: You Get To Make Your Own Schedule
I’ve been making my own schedule for over three years now, and I must say it’s a great feeling.
I go to bed when I want, I wake up when I want, and I work when I want.
This, of course, is tempered by certain inescapable realities (see the next con on this list).
As a full-time musician, you will have certain responsibilities and commitments – interviews and media appearances, rehearsals, performances, recording sessions and the like.
And, if you’re working with a label, you might not have complete control over your schedule, but you’ll still have some freedom to choose what and what you don’t want to do.
Basically, you can do as much or as little as you want.
There is still a consequence for your actions, of course, as doing more can help you generate more results in your career, while doing less can leave you achieving less.
Still, many people feel the flexibility is a nice tradeoff. I can honestly say I like being in control of my schedule versus working a day job.
Con: Your Schedule Will Be Run By Your Commitments
There’s a saying in the entrepreneurial world that should give you a sense of how much freedom you actually have when you’re trying to carve out a niche for yourself in the world:
We all have the same 24 hours in a day. An entrepreneur gets to choose which 18 hours in a day they want to work.
As a full-time musician, you are basically an entrepreneur. Even if you’re signed, much of the responsibility will fall in your lap to produce results.
Even though your schedule will be flexible in theory, you will need to schedule in all your commitments (even those you don’t particularly want to keep), keep track of them and show up when and where you’ve been asked to.
Don’t want to do a radio interview at 6 AM on a Sunday? Too bad, that’s the slot they have available.
Not interested in playing three shows in Chicago (by the way, I have nothing against Chicago – this is just an example)? You might have to do it just to keep the tour afloat.
It can be extremely rewarding and empowering to create your own opportunities and fulfill on your commitments, but the compromise is that you will need to deliver on what you’ve promised.
In many cases, your schedule can run you, and you’ll need to do things when it’s convenient for others – not necessarily when it’s convenient for you.
Pro: You Get To Collaborate With A Lot Of Talented People
Unless you’re doing everything yourself (e.g. recording, mixing, mastering, marketing, publicity, setup and teardown at shows, etc.), you’ll likely get to work with a lot of talented people who are good at what they do.
From session musicians and publicists to mixing engineers and tour managers, you’ll be working with a team of your choosing (if you’re independent) and get to deepen those relationships over time.
And, you might even get to work with other artists you love, which would be exciting.
Working with other talented people will only elevate you as a musician and performer. You’ll learn a lot from them.
Relationships are what bring a lot of excitement and fulfillment to a career, and there’s a good chance you’ll meet a lot of amazing people.
Con: Not Everyone Is As They Appear
I’ve talked to some full-time musicians that ended up leaving the industry discouraged and heartbroken.
In my experience, the only thing that can leave you feeling that disillusioned is other people.
As a musician, you’ll likely try to put your best foot forward in every situation.
Still, there will be those who criticize, put you down, tell you that you’re never going to amount to anything and so on.
Label deals can go sideways. Venue owners can break promises at the last minute. Tours can be derailed. Recording sessions can come to a screeching halt over disagreements.
The people you develop a strong relationship with can turn around and stab you in the back.
Nothing is ever set in stone in the music industry. Success is fleeting. Artists come and go. The market can change in a hurry.
If you’re lucky, you’ll never have to deal with any of these challenges. But that’s unlikely.
Pro: You Have Control Over Your Destiny
As a full-time musician, you can chase your creative vision, decide on your branding, market your music how you want to, choose how you want to monetize your career and more.
Now, of course, if you’re signed to a label, some of this won’t be within your control. But the level of success you achieve will largely be up to you and the effort you put into it.
It can be incredibly freeing and rewarding to have control over your own destiny and to be rewarded for the effort you put into your career.
If you try something that doesn’t work, no big deal – you can try something else.
If you try something that does work, you’ll feel validated and you’ll be able to build on what you’ve created.
Most importantly, you’ll be free to find fulfillment in creating something you care about.
Success is up to you. That realization alone can be incredibly empowering.
Con: You Don’t Have Complete Control Over Your Destiny
The truth is, you are never in complete control over your own destiny. There are things you can control and there are things you can’t control.
What you can control is the effort you put into your career. The songs you write. The marketing work you do. The phone calls you make. And, so on.
What you can’t control is how people respond to you.
Whether a label wants to work with you, and whether they keep you on their roster. Whether they choose to pay you what you’re owed or hold onto the money. Whether a venue chooses to work with you and whether they hold to their promise.
There are so many things you simply don’t have any say over. As a musician, you’re always sticking your neck out and taking a chance.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. But if you keep risking and keep failing, your tolerance for risk might diminish over time. That could leave you with no access to breakthrough in your career.
As a full-time musician, you can do what you want, but if you have certain goals in mind, you need to be more intentional. You need to make the right strategic moves and align yourself with the right people to achieve your desired level of success.
Is Being A Full Time Musician Right For You? Final Thoughts
I will never discourage anyone from becoming a full-time musician.
If you feel it’s a worthy goal, then give it your best. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.
But if you can, do a trial run before you go full-time. Get a sense of what it looks like and feels like before you commit 100% to it. You may have some important discoveries.
Going full-time is not the right choice for everyone. With that in mind, it is absolutely the right choice for some.
At the end of the day, it depends entirely on what you want, whether that’s fortune, fame, fulfillment, happiness or some combination thereof.