Chapter Four of Grow Your Band’s Audience, as published in January 2002.
This is the point in the story where we have to get clear about what “making a living” really means. I used to think that the whole point of getting into the music business was to make big piles of money, eat out every night, and live on a fantastic tour bus while seeing the world. That’s the vision I had when I started taking piano lessons at age fourteen.
Since then, I’ve learned much more about the needs and wants of creative people.
Most of us have a need – or at least a deep seeded craving – for acceptance, for approval, and for appreciation. What else would make us want to get up on stage and expose ourselves to a room full of strangers six nights a week?
It took me years to shake the idea that getting that kind of need met requires us to tolerate many fiscal and emotional sacrifices. The mainstream recording industry recycles the myth of “overnight success.” It’s both sexy and cinematic to believe that Janie Artist toiled at a convenience store / recording studio / landfill until the day she was “discovered.” But was it really necessary for her to have slaved away her youth? Couldn’t she have found a way to support herself within her true profession?
Few artists have managed to unlock that combination. I want to give you the code.
You can make a living at making music. You can quit that day job. You can eliminate everything in your world that’s holding you back from the life and the career you want. You just have to unlearn the behavior that the mainstream media have taught us. Trade a sexy “how I became famous” story that you might never actually tell, for a “how I’m successful and happy right now” story that you can start using today.
What’s a sustainable lifestyle?
While researching this book, a colleague recommended two books to me: Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosagi, and The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley. I’d also throw in Ordinary People, Extraordinary Wealth by Ric Edelman, for a more down-to-earth spin on the same ideas.
All three of these guys have figured out a really huge irony of life in these United States: the “millionaire” lifestyle is not that of champagne and Jaguars. It’s more like Wal-Mart pop and Chevy trucks.
You see, the folks in this country who work hard to make money work equally hard to hang on to it. The key to building true wealth is to have enough money in the bank to support your lifestyle if all other sources of income were to suddenly dry up.
How much money is in your savings account right now?
Do you even HAVE a savings account?
I’m sure part of you thinks it’s really crass to talk about becoming a millionaire. But I want you to understand the distinction between income and wealth.
When I worked for World Café, I watched great big tour buses pull up to our studio every few days. An entourage for one of those Number Two Bands I told you about would spill onto the sidewalk, littering our lawn with Styrofoam containers full of last night’s four-star-restaurant leftovers. They’d stumble inside, record some performances and haul off again. These artists were almost always “baby bands.”
In the afternoon, I usually saw the folkies. These men and women are the heart and soul of music in America. They drive themselves to and from gigs in their own vans and pickup trucks. The more successful of the bunch have helpers to do the driving, while they write songs or conduct interviews by cell phone from the passenger seat. This group always bemused me. Sometimes, I even found myself feeling SORRY for them! Up to this point in my career, I always believed that they had it tough – that the tour bus scene was really where it’s at.
One day, I mustered enough courage to ask one of these artists why he drove himself around in their own van – even though he’d had a few number one hits and had a major label behind him. Wasn’t it nicer to ride in that comfy coach? The artist told me flat out: “The money it costs to rent that bus for one day is the same amount I can live on for a month. When I drive myself to a gig, it means I can afford to play gigs for one more month – and it’s one more month I don’t have to go back to work at the shoe store.”
The baby bands hadn’t yet learned that distinction between income and wealth. They assumed that the money they spent today on tour buses and limos wouldn’t compare to the riches waiting for them tomorrow, when the album really takes off.
I’m convinced that there’s one guy somewhere on the east coast who rents the same giant pink bus to every band that hasn’t realized this yet.
It’s time for a little math.
Do this exercise in your journal now, because we’ll refer to it throughout the rest of the book.
Step 1: What are your regular monthly expenses?
Write down every monthly expense you have: rent, credit card bills, food, gifts, auto insurance, everything. If you have some annual expenses, like a tax payment or a subscription to a trade magazine, divide that by twelve and add the result to your list.
When you’re done, you should have something that looks like this:
Rent – $500.00
Credit Cards – $ 350.00
Rehearsal Space – $150.00
Utilities – $ 50.00
Phone – $ 40.00
Cell Phone – $ 40.00
Food – $ 60.00
Total – $1190.00
This is the amount you must have in the bank each month to stay ahead of the game without falling any further in debt.
Use this space to start mapping out your plan.
Credit Cards $____________
Rehearsal Space $____________
Auto Insurance $____________
TOTAL for Step 1 $____________
Add some for Uncle Sam.
Take that figure you just came up with and double it. When you’re working for “the man,” it’s easy to forget that your take-home pay is really only about 50% of your salary. When you’re independent, you’ll still have to pay taxes and health insurance (though a clever adviser or a quick read of Kiyosaki’s book will show you how you can reverse that burden).
Total from Step 1 $____________
Taxes & Insurance x 2
TOTAL for Step 2 $___________
Step 3: Give yourself a bonus.
Whenever I do this exercise with musicians, I rarely see someone put down a line item for retirement savings. Do you really expect to tour cross country when you’re 65? It may work for Johnny Cash, but we all can’t be him, now, can we?
Add another ten percent to your figure, and make that a line item for long term savings. Hold yourself to the promise that you’ll pay yourself first from your performing income, and that you’ll invest it in a long-term plan like the one that Doug Gerlach and Lewis Schiff talk about in The Armchair Millionaire. By saving just a little bit of money every week or every month, you’ll build a nest egg that will support you in those years when stage diving no longer sounds like such a fun idea.
Total from Step 2 $____________
Savings x 1.1
TOTAL for Step 3 $____________
The goal of this exercise is to get you thinking about the kind of lifestyle you’re living now. Are you spending too much of your monthly income on credit card interest? How about clothes?
Does the final figure scare you?
If it does, don’t worry. Putting these figures down on paper gets you closer to the kind of reality you want to create for yourself. Let’s talk about how you can start creating that kind of wealth, without struggling at a boring day job…