How can I stop living hand-to-mouth as a musician?

The ‘struggling artist’ is a well-known cliche´ and like most cliche´s and generalisations, there’s some truth in them. If you’re a musician or artist that is still waiting to be discovered or haven’t yet achieved your ambitions, this might resonate with you. It’s a worry that when choosing your career path, most people believe it’s one that you can’t earn any money at – unless you’re really lucky. (cue pathetic but supportive look from your Mum)

Is there a way to not struggle so much with making money and managing it? The first question is ‘how can I make money?’ and the second is ‘how can I manage my money better?’. Whatever way you earn money the principles are the same. Don’t forget, it’s the ‘music business‘ – you are not only entering the music business, but you’re also starting your own business in the process. You need to get as good as the business as you do at the music.

What are the money challenges for musicians?

  • Earning money: You’ll need various revenue streams (gigs, busking, session playing, teaching, PRS income… are just a few and you need to get organised for each one
  • You need to market yourself which includes branding, advertising, social media etc. These come with costs
  • Cash flow – the peaks and troughs of spending and outgoings, and getting paid on time
  • Overheads, expenses and hidden costs – making sure you account for everything and keep receipts
  • Unpredictable income stream – feast or famine, too much, too little, all at once
  • Seasonal work – again, a cash-flow issue
  • Negotiating fees. Do you ask for what you’re worth?
  • Over-supply of product. Over-supply equals price drop – unless you can negotiate well or differentiate in a way that people will pay extra for. How you market, sell and position your ‘product’ really makes a difference
  • Did I mention, getting paid and chasing payment? Awkward!

These are just some of the issues that need to be addressed and planned for. I’m sure you can add to this list!

How can I manage my money better?
The first thing to do is get your spending under control and figure out how bad, or good, things are. Generally, unless we had parents who taught you how to do this, we don’t learn this in school. So we have to figure it out on our own, by trial and error. Not very efficient. Make it your business to learn the basics at least – there are loads of books for ‘How to’s’.

The next thing to do is to go deeper into why you handle money the way you do. We’ll discuss this in another article. Suffice to say that our inner ‘operating system’ might need a reset and an upgrade.

Top tips to train your money muscles

  1. Do a budget. No really, you have to. It’s basic and it’s not difficult. There are loads of free resources online. There’s a simple budget planner on this site plus top tips here: https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/beginners-guide-to-managing-your-money  I’m no financial advisor so make sure you learn from the right people. (If you feel any resistance to doing this – that’s a big clue as to what the issue is. It’s often to do with your discomfort and limiting beliefs around money).
  2. Once you know the incoming and outgoing numbers – figure out how to maximise the first and minimise the latter.  You need to be in a position to have some spare cash – doing a budget and having some spare is how you start to feel in control. Great feeling – being on top of all this. 
  3. Put it all on a spreadsheet or in a table. You can even draw one if you’re not an Excel boffin (you really don’t have to be). Simple rows and columns for what’s what is enough. Then you can see it all together. Compare the total outgoings against your total income. 
  4. Don’t be too depressed when you see what you are left with. If you’ve got too much month at the end of your money – it sucks. Still, knowing this means you now are in a position to do something about it.
  5. Do something about it! What?  OK, so what can you do to get more income? More gigs? Some music teaching? Muggle work? – Yes, it’s got to be done – for now at least. Figure this out and then act on it.  Action is key.

Once you have set this up, make time every week, or at least every month to review it. Match what you budgeted against what you actually spent with your bank statements. What can you adjust in your budget, based on your spending patterns and habits? And, what patterns and habits can you improve on?  Run this process repeatedly until it becomes second nature. There’s a whole other level of budgeting that I’ll cover in another article but for now – start with the basics. What is for sure is once you’re on top of your budget and spending, you’ll feel in control, know exactly where you stand with your money and when it’s time to spend some on a well-earned reward, you’ll feel great about it and not guilty. Win-win!