How to turn your music hobby into a business

Music to our ears

Everyone’s definition of success is different, but for Don Day of 45Riots, success is making a living doing what he loves: playing and creating music. To achieve his dream, Don ultimately put all his effort, money and time into his business — which is what many business owners will tell you is the only way to success.

Members of 45Riots, a NYC-based jazz band, perform at the Indie 500.
Members of 45Riots, a NYC-based jazz band, perform at the Indie 500.

Here’s how you can do the same:

In the beginning, no gig is too small.

When you’re just starting out, say yes to everything. This will do two things for you:

  1. It will keep you from the starving artist’s curse of an empty bank account.
  2. It will get your name out there.

Every gig you say “yes” to is a chance to get to know other local bands and venue owners and the opportunity to land even more gigs. This is what Don did when he started out:

“Eventually the small things turn into big things and the yesses turn into ‘how much?’”

Put your money back into your organization.

When Don first left his day job as a children’s counselor in Harlem, NY, he was working from gig to gig and paycheck to paycheck. But he did something smart. He put all his money back into what would later become a successful music business. This is a key piece of advice for any musician wishing to follow in his footsteps.

Becoming a professional means having quality equipment, audio recordings, music videos, website, even business cards — and all of this costs money.

 

Though it won’t happen in a day, you can build your equipment and marketing collateral bit by bit from the gigs you play.

Put yourself online.

Being a musician, your most important presence is live — but there’s just no downplaying how important your online presence is. While you’re busy putting your hard-earned money back into your business, make sure to save some of those funds for high-quality videos that you can upload to your website, YouTube channel, Facebook page, Instagram account and Twitter feed.

This is like networking at gigs, except that you can reach much more people in a vastly shorter amount of time.

Find fellow musicians who you admire or would like to work with, and connect with them on social media. Send producers and fans videos of yourself performing, and let people know where you’ll be next so they’ll be sure to see your next show.

Incorporate.

Incorporating yourself or your musical organization has a number of benefits, including:

  • limited asset liability
  • deductible expenses
  • tax flexibility

… among other things.

However, one of the most important things for you, as a professional musician, is that you get that extra credibility of “LLC” or “Inc.” at the end of your name.

Potential clients are much more likely to trust an organization that has been legitimized.

 

Given the choice between an incorporated business and a garage band, clients will most likely choose the one with professional credentials. You will also have more leverage when setting pricing. We’re not downplaying garage bands. After all, that’s how most bands start out. But the difference between them and an incorporated entertainment service is a lot of zeros on your paycheck.

“We get good money because we’re structured,” Don says. “We have set rates and contracts that protect us. It’s a business and we have to make a living.”

Work like a CEO.

They say that starting your own business means working more hours than the average 9 to 5. Well, being a professional musician is no different.

On average, 45Riots does 25 or 35 shows per month. Between practicing, recording, learning songs for clients, and performing, they have a lot on their plate. This doesn’t even account for the administrative side of the business. This includes meeting with potential clients and following up, drawing up contracts, making travel arrangements, booking appointments, marketing themselves and more.

The bigger your company gets, the more you can hire other people to do these tasks for you. But remember, as the business owner, interfacing with your clients will always be a big part of your day-to-day.

Remember that you’re a commodity.

As a musician, it might be difficult to think of yourself as a commodity, but doing so will actually help your business. Whether it’s for weddings, corporate events or organization get-togethers — entertainment is a service that people need.

This nicely wraps up the idea of investing in your organization and incorporating yourself. Having the structure to back you and the equipment and marketing to emphasize your professionalism, you’ll be a commodity that is in high demand.

45Riots has had the opportunity to perform at big-name gigs such as the Indie 500, has traveled all over the world to perform at events like the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, and has toured with musicians like Lauren Hill and American Authors≠. Don, out of anyone, will tell you that it’s because they’ve established themselves as a premium service.

Have you build your music hobby into a business? We’d love to hear your tips in the comments below!

Image by: Matteo Pezzi via Compfight cc