Business Standards

On a Business note

I’ve been reading a lot about the frustration of some musicians with the current state with the music business. I share in this frustration; I live in it!

Music BUSINESS is no different than any other business. You put yourself out there as a product in a market that has been over-saturated with other similar products. There for sure is a supply and demand imbalance. For me I wanted to get beyond the obvious surface issues, those being for example that clubs/restaurants aren’t hiring musicians like they used to or that musicians are often viewed as a lesser important entity, this becomes obvious if one is ever asked to do a “charity” or “fundraising” gig. The caterers get paid, the venue at which the event is held gets paid, but the musicians are almost like an afterthought, an idea the organizers come up with after their budget is allocated to the obvious.

I have realized that no matter what I do, as an individual I cannot just change the rules of the music business overnight. I have to treat it like any other business and be smart about knowing the current state of affairs and deciding if I am willing to operator within the framework of the music business. I use the word sustainable which will be relative to where one is in life. Sustainable out of college for me meant something different than where I am now, paying off for a house/car and having a family with 3 members. Right now, I will use making $30,000 per year per individual (not household) at least as sustainable.

When I think about this, I come up with two different models:

One Source Sustainable Income Model (OSSIM)

This model depends on a single stream of income which takes enough time where it is harder to do other projects. In the OSSIM, one pro is that the income you do receive is a bit more secure and dependable. Of course there are always risks, but this may be a low-risk environment. A con is that every now and than you might get called up to do a really interesting gig which unfortunately conflicts with the OSSIM. The choice is risking losing a long term revenue stream for a one off “sweetheart” gig.

Some examples within the OSSIM are:

  • Full time music teacher at a school (I would personally think of Colleges and University, but some may also bundle high school into this category. Also notice FULL TIME vs part time or contract. I’m thinking fulltime only within the OSSIM catagory)
  • Doing musicals at an A-house venue (Mirvish and Stratford for example. Even these may only be seasonal and dependant on who you know, however, if you are connected to the right MDs, you’re likely going to get a call if the production requires your instrument/skillset)
  • Being a band leader in a high demand sector (wedding bands for example)
  • Being in a high demand sector band (again, wedding bands come to mind, but there are certainly other niche bands and musicians that have the drive to have several of their own projects on the go which generates enough sustainable income)

Multiple Source Sustainable Income Model (MuSSIM)

This model likely is where most full time musicians fit into. It requires a bit more creativity and being open minded. Being comfortable with exploring new or lesser familiar territory is important. The attitude and strong work ethic will yield a better reputation, and as more and more people know about the dependability you bring to the table, the more income streams you’ll have.

Some examples within the MuSSIM are:

  • Being a freelance musician available for gig opportunity on an on-call basis. Being familiar with various genres of music will lead to an increase in calls
  • Providing various traditional services such as teaching, transcribing, arranging, or recording
  • Providing various non-traditional services such as ebook work and social media income channels

Of course, there are lots of part time musicians that may have a day job, there are hobbyists, weekend warriors, etc. This is a reality in today’s music industry. I as an individual cannot change this. I can choose to let this unfortunate reality make me bitter or I can come up with ways of adapting.

A direct example of operating like any other business is having standards under which business is conducted. For example, I have a price sheet for services I perform. No matter what happens, I adhere to this price structure. I have heard a few musicians indicating that their rates for services is variable pending on how busy they are. If it is a dry month, they may take the $25 gig at the local dive bar down the street. If it is a busy month, they will not take this type of gig. I decided for myself that I will not divert from the standard I have set for me. This gives me a certain pride in the work I perform. If someone is offering me a gig that pays less than my standard, I will thank them for thinking of me and will professionally let them know my rate. Of course, this standard isn’t just inclusive of the monetary element, but is perhaps the most direct example I can come up with.

Closing Thoughts

In the end, we all have the power of saying “NO”. While there isn’t much I have turned down in the past 6 months of working as a full time musician, there are a few instances where I have said no. One time it was even to a good friend of mine, who was understanding after I explained my position on the subject.

Establishing one’s own standards is an important step towards being sustainable. Your standard MAY NOT be equal to someone else’s, that’s OK! As long as you stay true to what you decide as an acceptable standard. Now, there are of course industry standards that you need to be aware of. If you are not sure what an “industry standard” is, seek out advise from a person that has been in the industry for a long time to get their viewpoint.  For me I try to have a standard that I stick to for a longer period of time, perhaps 3 months. Than you can analyze where you are at and if the standard still makes sense. It is so easy to go day to day and raise and lower your standard based on how hungry you are. For me, this isn’t what makes a model sustainable. If I charge X/hr, that is the price. If I lower my standard based on not making much money one week, two things happen:

  1. I feel dishonest to my self for sacrificing my own standards
  2. I put a vibe out to the clients (band leaders) that I’m flexible and will adjust my rates

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this topic. Please feel free to comment below.