Year 1

It’s been a little bit short of year 1 for me in the music business as a full-time musician. I am writing this blog to reflect on my career change and how things have developed in 525,600 minutes (or 525,960 to be precise).

There are several topics that come to mind when reviewing the year. I have listed them below.

To social media or not to social media

I noticed that there seems to be a divide amongst musicians with regards to how to use social media. Some musicians seem to be regular bloggers, facebook posters, and twitter-ers(?!). The question that came to my mind early was how to use social media effectively to get my brand out there and stand out amongst all the other brands without coming across as someone that says “Hey, look at me, look over here, see what I’m doing!!!!!”

On one extreme there seem to be musicians that post about every aspect of their life. Opinions on everyday social events and circumstances, gigs they are doing, how many gigs they have done, awards won, the colour of shirt that should be purchased, how lame this is, how awesome that is and so on. At first I wanted to see what reactions were like if I was more like this, so I started a twitter page, Instagram, was more active on facebook, and put out semi-regular blogs. This was the first half of the year.

For the second half of the year, I was a bit less active on social media. This is to experience the other side of the social media position, which is that social media while nice to have shouldn’t be an integral part of promoting the brand. If a musician is good or amazing at what they do, the skill alone should carry them (the brand) through their career.

In conclusion, I found that I would likely be somewhat in the middle, but for sure leaning towards the former point of view. I believe that social media is an important tool that musicians who want to get their brand out there need to use. However, it seems that some are better at using this tool than others with regards to maximizing the effectiveness of social media. One item that I for sure can improve on is the frequency at which I put my postings out there as well as recognizing that different social media platforms require different standards based on the trend of those social media platforms. This for sure will be a focus of my second year as a full time musician.


I have set myself a monthly financial target that I wanted to measure my income by. At the start of the year it was rather slow and I relied on other household income to make up the difference. As the year progressed and I put more effort into marketing strategies as well as search for more revenue streams, the target was very close or exceeded. As I enter year 2, my interest is to see a trend in terms of monthly income from one year to the next. For example, will Jan.2016 look like Jan.2017? If I see a 2 or 3-year trend, I will be able to better plan on how to manage my finances throughout the year. Below is a breakdown of the percentage of my monthly goal I obtained as well as how much of my income was performance, teaching, and other based.


Month % of Monthly target income achieved
January 2016 49.5%
February 2016 58.45%
March 2016 47.2%
April 2016 61.3%
May 2016 103.9%
June 2016 83.3%
July 2016 122.75%
August 2016 98.75%
September 2016 117.25%
October 2016 92.5%
November 2016 194.13%
December 2016 102.25%


78% of my income came from performances

18% of my income came from teaching

4% of my income came from other services, such as ebook formatting, transcribing work, etc.

From a business point of view, I hit 94% of my business plan, which is amazing for a business that’s only been in the market for a year. The question is, do I raise my monthly income target for 2017 or keep it the same? Since I am new to this full-time musician gig, I will likely keep my 2016 targets the same for 2017 to see what trends I can observe. If I notice however that the first 6 months are all at 100% or higher of my business plan, I may choose to increase my targets for Q3 and Q4 of 2017. If I win the lottery however, I likely won’t bother with targets at all.

Trumpet progress

This year my focus was to push my chops ahead with regards to achieving endurance as well as increasing strength. While I still have a lot of work ahead of me, and what serious trumpet player doesn’t feel this way, I believe I have some measurable improvements in my playing. I can for sure more consistently hit notes in my higher register than a year ago. I have spent a lot of time paying attention to my body and finding ways to make playing the trumpet more efficient. I could write another blog on the specifics, however, the number 1 contributor to my development is smart-practice, which of course isn’t a surprise to anyone that does want to achieve a higher level of playing.

Life Balance

While I had the optimistic goal of practicing every day for 240 minutes on top of gigs/teaching, I quickly came to realize that I am no longer at Humber where I can take this time selfishly to focus on what I want. There is no way that I would repeat the unbalanced life style that I had while working a day job and replace it with music. It wouldn’t be fair to my family. While I am finding that there is a certain struggle to achieve work/life balance, I am getting more used to how to properly manage my time. If I don’t have a weekend with a gig, it’s important to appreciate this opportunity and spend it with my wife and son. Currently this is what we’re enjoying as my playing schedule has gone from extremely busy to not busy at all. Also, I am getting used to the need to be self-driven. For anyone that has had a day job, the fact that you are always on the go without having to think about where you’re going is obvious. The switch to a one-person operation makes it important to realize that self-motivation is a key to success in this industry. Just because there is no gig tonight doesn’t mean I cannot do something that will in the long term add to my growth in this industry.

2017 Goals

My goals in 2017 will be similar to 2016 with the addition on focusing on the creative aspect of who I am as a musician. I have always wondered how I can discover my creative voice. I read books, played through exercises, got a degree, but I always felt that I am trying to progress creatively without trying to find my own path to my creative side. It’s good to read books, go to school, and listen to others however, I believe there is a point where one needs to reflect on the information received and determine a means of digesting and perhaps even finding a different way to finding one’s creative voice and indeed learning the language of jazz. This is what I would like to focus on in 2017. I have a few coals in the fire and am hoping that in a few months I’ll be able to share my progress via a life performance.

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.