How to Make a Living Playing Music - Part 2



**Guest Post written by Danny Barnes as featured on


"n. You may not want to hire sidemen that get too worked up about money.

It can be hard to make these folks happy. Also when it comes to hiring musicians, you may have to live with them at arm's length for a long time and be involved with them about emotional issues like money and life problems and stuff. You may want a person that's easy to get along with even if they are a little less sharp musically. Of course getting both is best, but if you have to take one or the other, take the one you get along with a little better. If you are in a place where you don't have a lot of choices, you may be forced into hiring someone that's tough to be around. Replace them when you can. Really the best players i know are also the nicest folks. except for one or two. Many times, in that world of musicians that are struggling to make a living, but haven't really gotten there yet with the music or with the people skills or what have you, they will be the most difficult to deal with. They over-compensate by talking too much, or acting like they know everything, or showing up drunk or being really critical or whatever. When folks have it together, they are at ease and play great, and know when to lay out and stuff. They are also more expensive. It's totally fine and many times necessary to use different players on the recordings than in the shows. If you are a leader, do this with no guilt. If you are a sideman, get ready for it and don't complain. It has to be this way. If you don't believe it, try putting out your own record. You'll soon see why when you go to record. Sidemen, you can always practice and take lessons and get your tuning and timing together. Leaders again, get their tax id and report every dollar that transacts. If someone is upset about this, you can't use them. Period. Never fudge on taxes.

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o. You really won't be able to work that much in the town where you live.

And there will probably be a morass of musicians in your hometown that aren't really committed to the lifestyle that haven't really developed their art that will be complaining loudly about how hard it is to make a living and what not and you can easily get sucked into their trip. You'll be better off traveling to various places and developing that. Use local shows to try out new stuff, play with different folks, have fun, play for the home town crowd, etc. but typically you won't be able to work that often at home. Maybe twice a year or something. Don't worry about that. Your market is the whole world, not your hometown. Negativity is a sign to alter the course.

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p. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't make money playing music.

Six of my pretty good musician friends are millionaires, three of them multi, three of them play music that most folks would surely comment, "you can't make any money playing that." Don't tell those guys. Five of them are the nicest people you would ever want to meet. one of them is as mean as a snake. There you go.

+How to Make Money in the Music Biz



q. I would suggest being able to do different things.

If you write songs, maybe you can sing on other folk's demos. Maybe play guitar in someone else's band. For years i taught music lessons in a music store. Many folks i work with have a little studio and also play in someone's band. Or they are a chef or tax person on the side. This is all very healthy. I know several folks that are sidemen, but have their own writing deal or what have you. This is a good course to take. That way you can take a hit and keep moving. The world doesn't grind to a halt because your label went under.



r. Be wary of someone that talks about gear a lot.

Also be wary of folks that tell you how great they are. Stay away from complainers and folks that don't have their lives somewhat together. Sometimes folks need some ministering, which is certainly what we are called to do, but if you take someone out on the road with a big jones, you are going to be sorry... or otherwise get involved financially, look out. Don't make your own problems or agree to be in a messed up deal. Drama is always bad. Never make a financial agreement with someone that has no problem getting paid for not working.

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s. All the trouble in the world is going to come for you in two ways.

The things you say, and the things you agree to do. Be very careful about these items.



t. Build alliances.

Let's say you play some weird kind of music, make contact with someone in another city that does something similar and offer to set up a concert for them in your town. Maybe they will later help you to play their city or something. Work it out with them. If you can't get into a particular festival, why not have your own festival? Get some like minded bands together, the venues would love to turn over the night to you to produce your own gig, and do it yourself. Sometimes you can do stuff like that yourself easier than you can talk someone else into doing it for you and then paying you, Think about that. Going to that big music conference is out of the question for some reason? Why not have your own conference? It might be cheaper to fly the guy in you are wanting to have see your band. That way you only have to put one guy up, rather than having the expense of flying a six piece band to los angeles and have one guy come out to the show that lives there. He may blow you off anyway. It would probably be cheaper to fly in six A & R guys to where you are and put them up and have them come to the show, than it would be to take the band out to them because of the gear and salary. You also could have their undivided attention, within reason.


Don't keep saying "well if i had a label or agent or manager, then i could be happy." Forget that. Forge ahead with your music. Keep working. Develop the music. Come up with different ways to do an end run around conventional wisdom. If you are really called to be in music, the right people will present themselves at the right time. Build those alliances of simpatico musicians, writers, studio guys, label guys, radio guys. Be nice and help others. I have been fortunate enough to be close friends with lots of folks that are way better at music than i am. I take constant inspiration and encouragement from these folks. I think this has been really good for my work.

+It Is About Who You Know



u. If for one second you think you aren't getting the recognition your talent deserves, banish this thought immediately.

If others tell you this, ignore it. Just keep working on the music. You are probably right where you are supposed to be, learning and doing what you are supposed to be learning and doing.



v. If there's no social context for the music you are making, don't be mad if no one comes to the shows or buys the music.

Or if only very few people do. In that case, the reward has to be the music. Hey that's a great deal. Also you have lots of freedom to do different stuff. There's no one to alienate. Let's face it, sometimes having no one at the show is a great indicator that you are onto something. I'm serious.

+How To Properly Promote Yourself At Gigs



w. Robert Keen told me he never regretted firing anybody, and i agree.

If someone is a problem, and they won't fix it, get rid of them. It's okay. You both will be happier.



x. Don't waste materials and time giving a cd to someone unless...

you are fairly sure they will actually listen.

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y. Avoid folks that make your job harder.

Sometimes people gum up the works, even when they have a smile on their face. You'll get more done the less of this type you deal with. When you ask someone a direct question and they go into a convoluted story about something else, get ready for the hassle.



z. We are all blessed with different talents.

This is as it should be. Don't be upset with someone that doesn't have your talent for something, and don't feel bad because someone else got some talent that you think you want. Move towards grace.



aa. I have a system, where if i sense that the gig is going to get weird before i even get there, I cancel the show and walk away.

In my experience, if something goes awry before you even get there, it won't magically get better if you commit a bunch of dollars and time towards it. Because of this, I can't remember the last bad gig i've had. Example, let's say i've booked a show next year with a person that i don't really know that well and as time goes by, he keeps wanting to chisel away at our arrangement, or add stuff for me to do, or whine or complain about the situation, I would cancel the show. Time and time again I learned that it only gets weirder and more difficult when you get there. This is better for the buyer too because then he or she doesn't have to worry about my show anymore. If the buyer isn't really into it, or at least somewhat into it, seriously consider passing on the show.

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bb. Have interests outside of your art.

Especially if you can do this on a non-performance basis, where you can just enjoy the activity and not analyze it to death and be real critical of your own work and stuff. It's so easy to burn out if you do one overwhelming thing for about twenty or thirty years. Sometimes, i just don't play at all and don't think about work and mess around with my sailboat, or work in the yard, or something. Ride the motorcycle. Giving myself a break from the pass/fail mentality. I like just being a regular person.



cc. Think of your art as a work in progress.

That takes the heat off of it having to be perfect all the time. Keep working on your art, your vision, your catalog. dedicate your work life to that, and things will work out.


Okay I'm running out of letters.


[These are all just ideas, and you may have your own way. Good. Also these are different components and you have to make a sort of stew of them. Maybe you have a little more of one, use a little less of the other or whatever it takes to make it come out right. I've made all these mistakes myself in the trial and error process, which is a fine way of doing things except for the error part.]"




Related Blog Posts:

+How to Make a Living Playing Music - Part 1

+What We're Learning About The Music Industry

+I Got a Major Label Meeting and Nothing Happened



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