In a country obsessed with money, fame, and overnight success, building a sustainable career as a musician can be a huge challenge. Banking on becoming an overnight sensation in a world as saturated with content as ours is a risky move. But without immediate profit, music-making can quickly turn into a money pit.
So how do you reach your goal of being a musician without making money right off the bat? How do you monetize your passion while facing the inevitable hardships musicians face?
To start with, it’s important to do away with the American-born need to define your abilities by how much money you can make off of them. Creativity is not often born from immense pressure to pay the bills, instead, it requires space and time to grow and flourish.
Let’s talk about how you can fund that space for your creative passion and cultivate personal and professional contentment in an industry solely focused on the next rung on the ladder of success.
What does “making it” even mean?
“Making it” as a musician likely means something a little different to everyone you ask. But a basic understanding of the meaning would be to reach the level of a career musician where you’re able to live off of the money you make from your music. Obviously, there’s a huge amount of range within that based on the kind of lifestyle you’re trying to support.
The concept of “making it” consumes us as a culture.
We watch people go from “nobodies” to “somebodies” on singing competition shows, obsessing over the way the winners’ lives change so drastically from one day to another. Our interest in these overnight sensations translates to how we think about success in our own lives whether or not we mean to: as something relative to our overall talent and worth.
This kind of mentality defies contentment and makes it very hard to be satisfied with your successes. Recognizing your achievements along the way is tricky when the grass is always greener in someone else’s yard.
How to encourage contentment: celebrating the small wins
Fostering contentment in where we’re at in the present moment demands that we recognize our small victories–that we enjoy the journey that is our life.
Our culture isn’t great at celebrating little wins–everything has to be bigger and better all the time. Once you reach the first milestone your reference point is the next. It’s a frame of mind based on the idea that you can always improve, be better, and have more.
While this framework is not always negative, it can easily translate into an inability to be satisfied with what’s right in front of you, because you could have more.
Too often we creatives move the goalpost immediately upon reaching it without celebrating our achievement because we’re too focused on the next goal. We’re making a beeline to the imaginary pile of money and fame that we’re told makes us worthy.
That fantastical final tier of ultimate success, something which is barely real in the first place and most certainly not a measurement of happiness, is the thing that distracts us from appreciating our lives in the present moment.
The key is to balance celebrating those victories regardless of finances with maintaining a focus on the endeavors making you the money that allow you to keep creating art. It’s not an easy thing to do.
To put it simply, envisioning the dream can be inspiring and motivating, but at the end of the day, you have to make the money to live, and that money is not going to materialize overnight. And if you’re not enjoying the journey, then what’s the point?
The secret to monetizing your passion: portfolio diversification
One of the best ways to monetize your passion is to build a portfolio career so you don’t have to rely on one job to fund your life. Having several things going at once (not too many, you don’t want to overdo it) helps to create the resources, time, and space to devote to your creative work without the pressure that comes with it being your only source of income.
This might mean you have a day-to-day job as a manager or a side hustle in the form of a consulting business or Etsy store. Whatever side hustles or extracurricular work you develop for yourself, you can grow these jobs intentionally over time so you always have the means to work on your art.
The reality is that it’s not financially possible for most people who are musicians to get by only doing music. Making it work often requires them to diversify their income and separate creativity from their money-making endeavors. And that’s not a bad thing!
Holding many different roles as a creator doesn’t mean you’re less talented than the people who find creative success immediately. And it also doesn’t mean you’re not good enough to “make it” in the entertainment industry.
What it does mean is that you’re being smart about building the life you want. You’re pacing yourself and being realistic about how to make money in this world while still prioritizing your creative drive.
Let your career fund your creativity
By establishing a career (or careers) separate from your creative outlet, you give yourself options.
Not only are you able to fund your creative work with these multiple incomes, but you also free yourself of a timeline attached to your creative process. You can go at your own pace.
Diversifying your income allows you to chase your creative goals later on in life, giving you the flexibility to pursue your music at different stages. Because your paycheck isn’t based on the success of your music, your next song doesn’t have to be a hit single, it can simply be a song you wrote because you were inspired to.
In this way, there’s not so much pressure on your art being “good.” If you want a family, you don’t have to rely on the inconsistency of the entertainment industry to make sure they’re fed and housed. Creating an environment in which you feel free to pursue your art without the need for it to provide for you and your family will not only be more realistic financially, it will also likely be beneficial for your creativity, giving it room and time to breathe and mature.
Essentially, diversifying your income can set you up for freedom.
The ultimate creative goal: connecting with your fans
When it comes to forging a career as a musician, connecting with your fans is vital. Without fans, you have no career, so gradually building a fan base should be of ultimate importance. Direct relationships are difficult to forge and maintain–they take a lot of time and effort–but they pay off in the end.
With streaming royalties making up fractions of pennies and a host of algorithms dictating the content that gets shown to your social media followers, using a platform like ConvertKit, which lets you cultivate direct relationships with fans sans algorithms, is a smart place to start.
While there’s no easy route to making it in music, ConvertKit is one of the platforms that can help you connect with a community of fans who are willing to pay a consistent amount per month for your content, and with whom you can develop solid connections over time. This might look something like putting on a virtual concert series once a month, creating exclusive merch, or taking the time to chat 1:1 with your fans over chat or email. You can easily do this by setting up a paid subscription through ConvertKit Commerce.
Realities of a career musician
The reality is that being a musician is tough. There’s no easy pathway to a financially solid career. It’s particularly difficult if you are trying to make money solely from your music. While not impossible by any means, it helps to have another source of income to lighten the pressure on your art by funding your day-to-day life and creative process.
Taking a balanced approach to being a creator by diversifying your portfolio enough that you’re not reliant on your art to pay the bills is a way to be realistic about making it in music. And giving yourself the funds and the time to spend on your art might be the most beneficial thing you can do for it.
There’s an unhealthy perception in our culture that to find success in the music industry you need to do one thing really well. If we’ve done anything right in this article, you’ll know that’s not the case.
While it’s not discussed nearly enough, the truth is that the practice of diversifying income streams is common across all kinds of creators. All of us are building portfolio careers and none of us can describe ourselves with one word. Our various jobs and side hustles all come together to form a weird and wonderful mashup of a career that gives us the ability to make a living and our art.