Looking for music finance tips? As an artist it’s no secret that you live and breathe creativity.
In many cases creating music might be your ultimate getaway from the real world.
A time of bliss and where nothing else seems to matter.
We are told to pursue the things that make us happy and the rest will follow.
While I do believe in this theory to an extent, the ultimate truth is that we still need to endure some of the things we don’t enjoy in order to reach our goals as musicians.
I think most would agree that the business side of an artists music career seems to bring about the most challenges.
Most notably, the financial side of things. While money isn’t everything, the ability to manage your finances as an artist will be very crucial to your success.
I was personally quite moved by a recent interview with famous hip-hop artists Russ who talked about his journey and being able to rely on his TuneCore earnings to help bail his family out of a tough situation.
Russ drops a lot of knowledge that touches on finances and the sacrifices he had to make in his personal life in order to further his music career.
A lot of the same financial rules that are applied to our normal lives or even other types of businesses are very translatable for our music careers. In fact reinventing the wheel because “oh music is different” is what usually gets musicians into trouble.
Financial literacy as an artist is very important and will help you to keep your career moving in the right direction without finding yourself in mountains of debt.
With that said, this post is here to help guide you down a path of strengthening the financial foundation of your music career. We hope to start a mindset shift that eliminates the starving artist syndrome through the use of this very practical financial guide for musicians.
Planning & Forecasting
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have some semblance of a plan in place. I know this just seems like a waste of time to many but you’d be surprised at how laser focused you become with a plan. Not to mention you’re able to set and understand your priorities with a heightened level of confidence.
With a plan you’re able to forecast and have an idea of all your upcoming projects and the associated expenses. This then encourages you to make the sacrifices necessary to ensure that you have all the resources required to execute.
It’s easy to just say “I want to release an album and a few music videos this year” or “I want to work with a PR company to help promote my music”. These are all great goals but they don’t inspire action because they are extremely vague.
You need to get specific and really flesh out all that’s required in order to accomplish these things and associate dates to each milestone and deliverable. When you do this you will typically arrive at an estimated cost and be able to include this in your budget.
The better you can understand what is required to execute your plan, the more likely you are to successfully reach your desired goals.
Without a plan, your priorities are out of whack. You have to have S.M.A.R.T. goals first and foremost. Then you draft out all the elements and factors required for execution. Essentially the who, what, when, where, and why.
Then you need to attach dollar amounts to these elements in order to fully forecast how things will play out. Your forecasting will go hand in hand with your budget which we will discuss next.
Create a budget
There are a number of fees associated with your music career that you’re going to incur every month. As dreadful as the word “budget” looks, sounds and feels, I’m here to tell you that you probably need one.
However that doesn’t mean your budget has to be a huge burden on your daily routine.
The fact is you have a lot of money going out the door and depending where you’re at with your career, the amount of money coming in may be dismal.
This means that every dollar counts. Knowing where your money is going and keeping constant track of everything is a must.
You really have to trim the fat and determine the things that you absolutely need and separate them from the things that are more of a luxury than a necessity.
Like anything, a budget takes time to get the hang of. No different than the more you keep going to the gym, the less resistance you have to going back.
Make budgeting apart of your regular routine and then you won’t have to spend so much time on it. Review things once a week, then set aside time to do a longer review once a month and quarterly as well.
With that said, here’s a list of tools that can help you with budgeting:
Google Sheets or Excel
These tools won’t cost you a thing but will be a bit more hands on. You’ll need to manually input all of your data and if creating spreadsheets is not something you’re familiar with you may go through a bit of a learning curve in the beginning.
With that said, a quick google search for budgeting templates will allow you to upload plug and play spreadsheets for you to use, saving you some time.
This is a great tool that allows you to link to all of your banking information and is completely secure.
Changes to your account are updated in real time to your Mint account and allow for easy tracking and budgeting through the platform itself.
YNAB (You Need A Budget)
This tool is a bit new but has been making major waves among the small business community. Where most budgeting and finance tools focus on money that you will be receiving in the future and how you will spend future dollars, YNAB gets you to switch your mindset to focus on what you have currently.
Their argument is that when we focus on future dollars we tend to get in the mode of spending money that we don’t have which puts us further into debt.
YNAB makes you really drill down to “what’s important now” and really helps to build discipline when it comes to your finances.
A popular tool among businesses but is a lot more comprehensive. If you’re doing a ton of transactions and working with a ton of different vendors or companies then this helps to keep things organized. However in most scenarios this tool and others like it may be a bit overkill for your requirements.
Earn More Money
One obvious way to combat your debt and expenses is to look for ways to earn more money. Depending on your situation this could mean a number of different things.
First and foremost, I recommend to at least know where all the money already owed to you is coming from. This may sound silly but artists are notorious for leaving money on the table and not even knowing about it.
Don’t let this be you. If you’re not already using a distributor like TuneCore to collect your digital download and streaming revenue, I highly advise you to sign up now.
Furthermore, you’ll want to ensure that you’re setup with a Performance Rights Organization (PRO), SoundScan, SoundExchange and any other company that helps to get money that is owed to you.
Educate yourself on how they distribute and release the earnings you’re entitled to. While these payouts may not be substantial at the moment, this is still an important habit that you need to develop.
Outside of those platforms, the next thing I urge you to do is to get creative and do an audit of your skills and abilities. Could you teach someone how to play an instrument or how to use Ableton? Could you mix and master a fellow artists project for them? Or are you talented with graphic design?
Whatever your talents are, in most cases you should be able to find someone willing to pay you for them which could be another source of income.
Another idea for making more money is related to the gigs you land. While some will say do as many shows as possible, I would argue that you should be a bit more selective with the shows and opportunities that you pursue.
Something I personally wish I knew sooner was to seek out corporate events as they have larger budgets and will pay you a lot more to perform.
If you can land these types of gigs, know that you may not get the kind of exposure you would from a gig in your local scene but getting paid double or triple what you normally would, may make it a bit easier to sleep at night.
When it comes to your other gigs, learning to negotiate better terms will also go a long way to landing you bigger payouts.
Another thing you could do is apply for grants in order to fund your projects. While this is never a sure thing it never hurts to try. For more grant writing tips check out this interview with Karina Moldovan of FACTOR.
With that said, there are a number of different things you can do to bring in some extra cash from music or simply from working some extra hours. Get creative and get on your hustle so you don’t have to worry about how things will get paid for.
Pay Cash when you can
This suggestion alone can save you a ton of money but is certainly one of the harder things to do. The fact is, when you only use cash instead of relying on credit or even debit cards you will without a doubt save more money.
This article by Psychology Today touches on the negative feelings you get when you use cold hard cash to pay for things as opposed to relying on plastic. The article mentions that when we hand over cash, we immediately feel a sense of pain over the transaction.
However, when we turn to plastic, the pain of the transaction is significantly less because we feel like were deferring the pain until a later date. Physically seeing our money change hands has a crippling effect on us.
Have you ever had cash in your wallet but still used one of your cards? It’s an element of convenience that we have grown attached to. I urge you to try and break this habit as it will greatly improve the amount of money you save.
Use Credit, Leasing and Financing Wisely
While the last topic was an attempt to get you away from the habit of using plastic, the undeniable truth is that there will always be some circumstance that won’t allow you to use cash.
By no means do I want you to sit here and think that anything other than cash is the devil. In fact, other payment options can provide you with some amazing opportunities if leveraged correctly.
I have relied on monthly financing and leasing options to purchase my wireless microphone which I certainly couldn’t pay cash for at the time. Not to mention a bunch of other equipment that I still use to this day.
If I had to wait until I saved up the cash before making a purchase, this would have delayed production and the quality of my shows.
Luckily for me, I had other group members all pitching which further reduced costs on what was an already reasonable financing rate.
What I am saying is that there are times when leveraging plastic and financing options is perfectly ok. I just don’t want you to fall into the trap of biting off more than you can chew and ending up in debt.
I’ve been in music stores and have experienced the euphoria that they create inside of us. Suddenly everything becomes something you absolutely require to be successful.
Or even worse is seeing another artist having success and associating that person’s success directly to the gear they’re using.
Perception is one hell of a drug and can get you into trouble. Whether that is the perception of others and the story they are telling or the perception we as artists are trying to give off to others.
A big part of where we go wrong and get ourselves into financial trouble as artists is trying to create an image that makes our lives seem more luxurious than it actually is. Usually this means reaching for plastic and accumulating things we can’t actually afford.
Before reaching for plastic, I urge you to do the following:
If you go through these questions honestly and still think that pulling the trigger is a necessity then more power to you.
If that isn’t the case, I hope you find the willpower to walk away and make the purchase when it makes more sense.
It scares me when I look back on all the money I spent on music for things I thought I absolutely could not live without at the time.
If I would’ve tucked that money away, I would have been able to pour that into areas that would’ve made a real impact on my music career.
Have an emergency fund
As Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong” and if you’ve put the hours in perfecting your craft as a musician and spent the time to plan the promotion of your music, then it’s almost a guarantee that you have come across some unforeseen obstacles.
In the majority of these scenarios, there is typically a dollar amount that can be associated with the set back. No different than in your everyday life, the fact remains that “Shit Happens”. However most people go through life expecting things to be perfect and run according to plan.
Ever been saving up for something important only to have your car break down on you? Or your laptop decides it’s time to test your patience and crashes on you?
All of these situations suck and to some degree are impossible for you to anticipate.
This is no different than your music career. Maybe one day your wireless mics get stolen or your siblings pour the tallest glass of apple juice all over your Ableton Push.
The best way to prepare for them is by setting aside an emergency fund to help you to cope with the unexpected.
Don't commingle your finances
How you resonate with this next suggestion will have a lot to do with how you feel about cleaning up big messes. When it comes to mixing your expenses…First of all just don’t.
Whether you’re a solo act and deal with your finances on your own or you’re in a band and everyone helps with the finances, do your best to keep your personal finances separate from your music/business finances.
I would strongly urge you to set yourself up as a business so you can go to the bank and open a business account. This will allow you to get a bank card and keep all of your transactions separate from your personal finances.
While I won’t get into all the advantages that being structured as a business warrants you at tax time, I’ll just say that you will make life a lot easier on yourself when it comes to budgeting and tracking your expenses.
If you’re not quite ready for this, I still recommend trying your best to keep things separated by opening a separate account at your current bank.
One other suggestion I have for those who are in a band and sharing expenses is to get an app like Splitwise which allows you to keep track of everything each person is spending on music related expenses.
Splitwise then does a calculation to show everyone who owes what and who has paid for what. An invaluable tool for those tours or road trips where you’re all splitting the cost of hotels, gas, food, etc.
Aside from this, make sure you always keep the receipt. Nothing worse than arguments over money so having proof of payment goes a long way to putting out fires.
Final Thoughts On Our Music Finance Tips
The last point I would like to repeat and drive home is that your finances cannot be considered an “every once in a while” activity. In order to get a handle on things you will need to work hard to create the habit.
Do not turn a blind eye to things and hope everything works itself out. Believe me they wont. In fact things will only get worse.
If you absolutely cannot get a handle on things then I encourage you to seek help at some capacity. Whether it’s a family friend who is great with numbers or a reasonably priced freelance bookkeeper, if you need the help I wouldn’t hesitate to get it.
Lastly, there as some great books that can help you to increase your knowledge on some of the areas we’ve discussed here today. I recommended you diving into books like:
I remember when I just got into music and how much I would hear the term starving artist. Even till this day, it’s a mindset that so many artists carry with them. The thought that they have to scrape by until someone comes along and offers them that life changing record deal.
The fact is, times have changed and while I’m not promising you that you will become a part of the ultra rich through your music endeavours, I strongly believe that you can build a solid foundation to support yourself financially through your music.
Educate yourself on how to get smarter with your money and the decision you make for your music career. Getting a handle on your finances will go a long way to helping navigate the music industry with less stress and clearer mind to help you reach your goals.