Do you want to become a professional musician, but don't know where and how to start? Do you really want a successful career in music, but your fear of failure is holding you back? Are you unsure about what to do if your plan doesn't work?
Most aspiring musicians receive a lot of advice from friends and family about the best approach to take with building their music career. Among the many things suggested, is the idea of having a backup plan. Many people give advice about "the need to have something to fall back on in case the music career doesn't work out" or "a Plan B". Typically, musicians are encouraged to go to school and get a degree in something they can easily find a job in, and do music on the side, in their "free time".
If/when you reach the point where your music career begins to develop, you are probably advised to work less in your day job and focus more on the music until you can leave the day job and make the music career work for you. This advice sounds good in theory, but in reality fails to work as intended in almost every case. Why? Usually the job that most musicians get to support themselves until their music career kicks off, has nothing to do with music in general, or their music career specifically. As a result, most end up in a very frustrating situation that makes it virtually impossible to achieve lasting success as a professional musician.
4 reasons why this kind of "backup plan" is usually doomed to fail
Reason #1: Not having an effective exit strategy.
The idea of slowly phasing out your day job while building your music career is good, but in order to work, it needs to be done in the right way. Most musicians have nothing planned or prepared that will allow them to gradually decrease the time spent at their day job and focus more on music. When choosing a "backup plan", musicians typically find a job that is the most "safe and secure" and the one that pays the most money. However, most people fail to plan the "exit strategy" and think ahead to the time when their music career situation will allow you to focus less of your time on the day job. When they finally reach that point, they realize that they are trapped in their day job and are unable to "gradually" phase it out. They are faced with the choice of either quitting the job entirely, or sticking to it until retirement (more on this shortly).
The best exit plan is to have a job that will allow you to gradually decrease the number of hours you spend on it: from 40 hours per week to 30, from 30 hours to 20, from 20 to 10, until eventually you can quit the job altogether! That means you need to be careful to select an occupation that allows a lot of flexibility in work schedule. This way, when the time is right, you can make a "gradual" transition into a full time music career. Unfortunately, most traditional occupations (such as being an accountant, computer programmer, office manager etc..) do not allow this flexibility. Remember, your boss at work will not all of a sudden allow you to "work 3-4 days per week instead of 5", simply because you want to work on your new CD an extra few days per week. It is possible to begin by working in a non-music related job at first, BUT do not select "any" job offer without considering the exit strategy first.
An ideal job for an aspiring professional musician is teaching guitar. Not only can you make very good money doing it, but you are in complete control over how many hours you choose to work. Not everyone may desire to teach full time for the rest of their life (and this is fine). But as long as you are going to be working anyway, why not do something that is already related to what you enjoy, help students reach their goals faster and make money in the process? In addition, teaching is already a "music related" activity that is probably much more fun to do than sitting in an office!
Another possibility is to work as an independent contractor in sales or marketing or doing consulting work for hire. Always check about the flexibility of work schedule before accepting a job offer. Remember that in most industries, the 40-60 hour work week is the norm, with little or no possibility for part time employment. This makes it impossible to make a smooth transition to a full time music career.
Reason #2: There is too much risk involved.
Slowly phasing out your day job seems to be a very 'safe and secure' approach, but it can actually backfire and "trap" you by its sense of security. If you are making $60,000 per year at your day job, and have managed (through working nights and weekends) to build up your music related income to $25,000 per year, then, all together, you have a total income of $85,000 for the year. Here is where the reality catches up to you. Should you decide to go full time into music, you will invariably need to quit your day job completely at some point. Until you can recover and build your music career to higher and higher levels, you will be making $60,000 less per year than before! This kind of risk is uncomfortable to think about for most people (especially those who get married, have kids and/or have significant expenses), and keeps them trapped at their day jobs their whole lives.
Reason #3: You are often not able to take advantage of opportunities.
What if you put extraordinary effort on nights and weekends into recording a great sounding CD with your band, spend a lot of time promoting it in hopes of getting signed by a record company and go on tour, and then you really get the opportunity to do a 10 week tour in another country in the world. It is VERY probable that you would NOT get paid a lot of money while on a first tour, but as a whole, this kind of tour is exactly the kind of breakthrough you have been searching for. What are you going to do? Are you going to turn down a huge opportunity to advance your music career? Or are you going to agree to take a huge cut in pay by quitting your day job to do the tour? I think you can agree that neither of these options sounds entirely appealing. Wouldn't it be great to do the tour and not worry about how you are going to feed yourself (and your family) while you are gone?
Reason #4: There is not much quality time and energy to get anything done.
This may seem like a more subtle issue, but it is actually very important. If your most productive hours in the day are spent on the least productive activities, then reaching your goals will take MUCH longer than it needs to. Think about it: if you wake up at 6:00, get to work by 8:00 or 9:00 and spend 8-10 hours there, and another 1-2 hours commuting back home, by the time you are ready to begin working on your music career, you are already tired! This is also not taking into account the time taken up by other things in life that you have to tend to. It will take a truly extraordinary effort to get anything worthwhile accomplished during the time on nights and weekends, to build multiple streams of music related income that will enable you to quit your non-music related job without putting yourself and your family in financial struggle.
Now that you see why this kind of backup plan isn't as good as it seems to be, you can work on improving it.
I saw an interview with the legendary band, NRBQ, and they were asked about what their backup plan was. They replied: we didn't have one, so we HAD to make this work! It hit me then that a "backup plan" implies that your music career is going to fail at some point. But not having one forces you to work harder.