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Transitioning into a professional musician


The Legendary Zoltan
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I am in the process of doing this. I am currently an English teacher at Japanese elementary schools and I am lately becoming obsessed with find a way to quit that job (even though it is a good job). In the end, I'll probably end up having multiple sources of income but for now, one of the best things I can do is become a guitar teacher. I just recently started telling people about it so I can start getting students. Along the way, I got motivated and decided to apply for a job as a guitar teacher at a music store/school. I am so scared now that I almost hope I don't get the job. It will be my first time teaching guitar so the first lessons are quite scary to me! Whether they hire me or not, it was all a good experience.

Anyone else here trying to become a full-time musician? We can information and help each other.

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I hear ya. I'm also trying to get there. Difference is that I'm unemployed and would happily lose a toe to get a job in this wrecked economy. Don't know if I can give any advice other than "keep practicing" and "keep your best foot forward" :nicework:

I say keep your current job as long as you can and get more involved in music until it can support your needs :)

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Man, I'm trying to become a professional musician and a professional author all while holding a day job.

From experience with other people I know that have successfuly crossed from the M-F grind into the arts full-time, their biggest advice has always been to persevere. KEEP PLAYING. KEEP WRITING. Keep doing whatever it is you want to do, and never make the excuse that you don't have enough time. Everyone I know that's been successful in the arts has been successful because they only got 4 hours of sleep for 2 years as they worked 3 jobs to try and get to the top.

Myself...well, I'm not pushing so hard on the music side, but I've written 4 novels since 2010 and I've been spending money going to conferences and workshops. I also work 2 jobs and do freelancing work as a voiceover artist.

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If there is one thing I've learned about this whole thing it's this:

In this day and age, you can do all of the things "professional" musicians do without actually "making a living" doing music. There has never been a time in history when musicians of any specialty made a good living doing what they do. It's just an unfortunate truth. Teaching is also one of the worst possible jobs in music unless you're a college/university professor.

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If there is one thing I've learned about this whole thing it's this:

There has never been a time in history when musicians of any specialty made a good living doing what they do.

Well, there's never been a time when ALL musicians made a good living doing what they do. You CAN make a good living doing what you do. Maybe. With luck and a lot of perseverence.

Teaching is also one of the worst possible jobs in music unless you're a college/university professor.

There are a lot of high school music teachers that would resent that statement. It's all about what you love. If you want to work low hours and make some actual money, then yes, high school sucks and you should try for college. But if what brings you joy is impacting the lives of young people with music, and you have no issues working 15 hours a day toward that goal, then a high school music teacher may be the best and most rewarding job you've ever had. I know lots of music teachers that think this way.

Teaching PRIVATE lessons is an AWESOME gig. I used to make $40 an hour in my house in my spare time, and there's nothing even remotely difficult about it if you've been properly trained and can articulate yourself properly. It's very unlikely you'll make a living doing that, but it's a great secondary source of income if you're only making 30k/year as a full time music teacher.

Edited by XPRTNovice
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Well, there's never been a time when ALL musicians made a good living doing what they do. You CAN make a good living doing what you do. Maybe. With luck and a lot of perseverence.

There are a lot of high school music teachers that would resent that statement. It's all about what you love. If you want to work low hours and make some actual money, then yes, high school sucks and you should try for college. But if what brings you joy is impacting the lives of young people with music, and you have no issues working 15 hours a day toward that goal, then a high school music teacher may be the best and most rewarding job you've ever had. I know lots of music teachers that think this way.

What I meant by that was that it's one of the worst jobs unless you're employed by some academic institution. Basically, a school.

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@AngelCityOutlaw: You are wrong about that. In my case, I want to be a metal guitarist that tours and releases albums. Being a private teacher that is unaffiliated with any school is the BEST possible job one can have. Aside from being able to make LOTS of money if I run my business correctly, you also have total freedom of schedule. So if I want to go on tour for a month, or go record an album for a few weeks in Sweden, I can just tell my student that I'll see them in a month. There aren't many jobs that let you do that. This is the life I am striving to reach.

@XPRT & Platonist: Let's support each other throughout the journey. I've been taking lessons from Tom Hess about becoming a professional musician and it has taught me a lot about needing to always find the good in everything and staying positive about every experience you have. Stepping out of your comfort zone to just try some things is important too. I recommend taking his Music Careers Mentoring Program to anyone who wants to be a musician. LET'S DO THIS, GUYS!

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This is a great read if you're interested in becoming a professional musician:

http://www.amazon.com/Welcome-Jungle-Success-Manual-Freelancers/dp/1458474496

It's less about the technical end of things and more about all of the "common sense" advice that really isn't common sense for a lot of people. Jim was a mentor for me as a student and the book distills a lot of his best wisdom, so I highly recommend it.

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If there is one thing I've learned about this whole thing it's this:

In this day and age, you can do all of the things "professional" musicians do without actually "making a living" doing music. There has never been a time in history when musicians of any specialty made a good living doing what they do. It's just an unfortunate truth. Teaching is also one of the worst possible jobs in music unless you're a college/university professor.

He is unfortunately right.

Back before the internet came around and secular music and more mainstream stuff was actually by artists that were talented, studio musicians would actually make a good deal of money and they enjoyed what they did. There was good music then.

Now, most studio musicians are beginning to hate their job. They are just playing on untalented, uninteresting crap all the time. It's really rather unfortunate.

And then as an ARTIST, things could either be good or bad. Good part is if you are lucky enough, you can sign with a label and pray to God they will let you do what you want with your music. And you could go on tours and get a good deal of popularity and make a good amount of money.

But there's the big problem. Selling albums is now only there for people to hear the original recording and maybe once and a while you'll make some money off of it. So much piracy happens these days (and even though Spotify isn't legally piracy and is a completely legal application, it's still sorta unfair, as an indie artist myself), that you get fortunate when your record actually made money. Most money that an artist makes comes from concerts.

The music industry is just a pure pain nowadays. And even the film industry can be hard. Really, media-related work is just hard to deal with these days. It's really sad. I wish I had lived during the 80s or 90s or even much earlier than that (well I lived in the 90s but I was only a tiny little kid then).

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If there is one thing I've learned about this whole thing it's this:

In this day and age, you can do all of the things "professional" musicians do without actually "making a living" doing music. There has never been a time in history when musicians of any specialty made a good living doing what they do. It's just an unfortunate truth. Teaching is also one of the worst possible jobs in music unless you're a college/university professor.

This, except for that last statement. :<

Everyone I have known that was involved in music when I was a student, and that wasn't a college professor, was dirt poor. Barely able to get the money together to keep playing and certainly not enough to develop a home studio. My highschool music teachers especially were far better teachers than what they were paid to be. The non-traditional music teachers if you want to call them that bounced around from day job to night job to playing live as often as possible and taking as many students as they could fit into their schedule. It's not as free as you might think, especially once the a$$holes want to start taking lessons from you. Remember though that you have youtube and living room studio musicians to compete with now so any potential to earn a living through music, which there wasn't much of, is dwindling further.

When I was in school I attended a few guest composer lectures and they all said that they were living at a deficit no matter how many commissions they earned. They made all the money they could working like crazy earlier in there lives and now they sit at home and write music and lose money. And that was before the recession.

If you can make it work go for it but know that nothing sucks quite as bad as getting up one morning and realizing how tired you are of living like this. Kind of like those people with jobs except they have money. :)

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If you're a composer of academic / concert music then yeah, you're going to have a bad time if you want to do nothing but that as a living. On the other hand, a career in music is definitely possible even without a major label deal. There are plenty of people who make a nice living as composers and producers. They're not famous but they support themselves doing what they love, which is the definition of 'success' in my book.

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If you're a composer of academic / concert music then yeah, you're going to have a bad time if you want to do nothing but that as a living.

Yeah, it's incredibly rare for composers of concerted music to make a living solely off of those efforts -- one could likely fit the number of people in that category on a single sheet of paper. It's much more common for someone to hold a composition professorship as their main source of income, and then take on commissions as a means by which to establish why they should maintain the professorship.

Consider this: Jeremy Soule, who by any reasonable measure is a successful composer, required a Kickstarter (which you should be supporting!) to write a single full-length piece of concerted music. It's just not something that is profitable in and of itself these days.

I could speak at ridiculous length about this topic, but it's ultimately tangential to the thread, so I'll leave it here for now.

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Part of the problem is - let's be honest - that academic composers just have no business sense. They're not trained to think of themselves as freelancers or entrepreneurs. They are brought up and educated in an extremely insulated world where most if not all of their professors followed the same career paths. It's a little sad, really. If you are going to make it in music, you NEED to have an entrepreneurial mindset. There's another book on the topic which was written with conservatory students in mind called "Beyond Talent":

http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Talent-Creating-Successful-Career/dp/0195382595

I highly recommend this one as well, though it is again more oriented toward folks who went through a traditional music education. I think it does a great job of bringing up all the practical issues that most people just fail to consider at all.

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nothing sucks quite as bad as getting up one morning and realizing how tired you are of living like this.

This is the only thing we need to think about. If living a life of trying to do what you want, having multiple failures along the way, and barely surviving until you make it or die is what makes you tired, then yes, you shouldn't be a musician.

However, living a life where I just accept that stuff sucks instead of THINKING hard about how to make stuff not suck is MUCH more tiring and unsatisfying to me.

Luckily, everyone has the choice to live how they want, which means that we can also choose to find a way to make it work.

By the way, I just ordered "Welcome to the Jungle" that Zircon suggested. Anyone want to join me in making their dreams come true!?

Edited by The Legendary Zoltan
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I'm attempting to make the transition, and I have had some degrees of success with some flash games and a film credit to my name now. The best advice I can give is to get yourself out there in EVERY WAY possible, and then some, because these people aren't going to find out about you without your help. You have to do research, find where the work is and throw yourself at it like a bullet. Many instances of people getting work that i've heard of was being in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. Get yourself out there. Show people you exist and they'll notice, otherwise they'll go with someone who could be doing what YOU should be doing. Don't let them, get there first :D

There is of course, more to it than that, but getting your foot out of the door is the first step to making it in this industry.

Edited by WillRock
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But there's the big problem. Selling albums is now only there for people to hear the original recording and maybe once and a while you'll make some money off of it. So much piracy happens these days (and even though Spotify isn't legally piracy and is a completely legal application, it's still sorta unfair, as an indie artist myself), that you get fortunate when your record actually made money. Most money that an artist makes comes from concerts.

The music industry is just a pure pain nowadays. And even the film industry can be hard. Really, media-related work is just hard to deal with these days. It's really sad. I wish I had lived during the 80s or 90s or even much earlier than that (well I lived in the 90s but I was only a tiny little kid then).

I disagree. Piracy was rampant in those decades too. It's just that the internet allows it on an even larger scale. Making decent money on recordings has only ever been feasible if you're already a fairly well known musician or people licence a lot of your music.

I know a guy who runs a hair salon and used to be in hair metal bands in the 80s (lol I know right?) and as he explained "Back in the day, it was easier to get gigs but hard to get recordings done. Today, it's basically the exact opposite." For the most part, that seems to be true.

As for what I'm doing to increase my chances of writing music as a pro one day...well, education wise I'm studying Marketing in the fall so that I could not only learn to promote my music better, but also hopefully get a job in the music or video game industry. So that could potentially help and it sure as shit doesn't hurt to have a full time job in an industry you enjoy. We can all agree with that I'd hope.

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I thought being a professional musician just meant that you get paid to do what you do. If that's the case then a lot of us could be considered pro. Remixes and stuff we do out of the kindness of our hearts (which I love all ya for) could be considered pro bono.

Haha beautiful play on words. After reading this thread I basically agree 100% with what zircon brought up.

No matter how talented you are, if you don't have business sense you're screwed.

I do professional sound design on the side of my day job. Which for me is a nice happy medium that allows me complete financial stability, something I have rarely had in my life. Whatever you choose to do in life make sure you can emotionally handle it and are willing to roll with the good and bad parts.

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You may have to learn some things to save money initially: learn how to build your own website until you can afford to pay someone yourself, be creative with cheaper samples until you can upgrade, create a youtube channel and put together a quick video with mass appeal (easy, right?) to gain you some exposure, familiarize yourself with basic tax principles to take advantage of sole proprietership...

Still, to echo what WillRock said, you can only prepare yourself so much. There comes a point when you just need to start stepping out and taking (calculated) risks.

As long as it excites you to keep trying to figure out ways to keep progressing and you capitalize fully when an opportunity comes up, you'll be in good shape. You make your own luck.

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Thanks, Argle. It is a thread for support and all support, no matter how simple, is appreciated. Most people on OCR are very positive and I like that. Sole Signal said you make your own luck and I agree 100%. I believe it was Gene Simmons of KISS who said "The harder I worked, the luckier I got." Another testament that nobody's success just happened because they knew somebody.

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Thanks, Argle. It is a thread for support and all support, no matter how simple, is appreciated. Most people on OCR are very positive and I like that. Sole Signal said you make your own luck and I agree 100%. I believe it was Gene Simmons of KISS who said "The harder I worked, the luckier I got." Another testament that nobody's success just happened because they knew somebody.

Tommy Tallarico's start happened by what was basically a freak accident. If that never happened, his career probably would've taken a very different path.

The point I'm trying to make here is that it's totally possible to make money with writing, performing etc. with music (hell, even I've done that) but making the same amount or more than what a person with a full-time job definitely does have some determinism involved and isn't 100% in your control.

The same is true of actors, magicians and writers.

EDIT: And I'm willing to bet an undisclosed sum of money that Gene Simmons has made more money on all the useless "KISS" merchandise that's been sold over the years than actual music.

Edited by AngelCityOutlaw
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"and isn't 100% in your control."

That's the only part I don't agree with. It's OK something happened to Tommy Tallarico to get him in the business but that doesn't mean that he wouldn't have been able to do it without that accident. Bad stuff is going to happen no matter what we do but we can always find a way to overcome it or turn it around into something advantageous. That's what I believe anyway. :)

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