Music Money Madness
Oh great, it’s time for “that” conversation. I don’t know a single person on this planet who enjoys thinking about money. Typically, if you’re thinking about it, it’s because you have to spend some of it; and if you’re thinking about it a lot, it’s because you have to spend more than you have. The idea for this post hit me because it’s been on my mind too. So, if you’re freaking out about it right now, at least you know you’re not alone.
Man, I’m not even sure where to start. It seems like the only thing we don’t get taxed for is breathing (knock on wood). We talk as thought we’re just spending money from our wallets, but we’re also spending beats from our hearts. The stress associated with money is so unreal I couldn’t even begin to talk about it in general, so for the sake of this post I’m going to try and address some of the most common money concerns in the music industry.
The list of music expenses goes on and on and on. I don’t think many people realize that, in most areas of music, particularly in this day and age, we are majorly self-employed. Even if we get to a point where we are “employed” by a publishing company or record label, we have to operate as self-employed musicians up until that point. Networking, hiring musicians, recording CDs, duplicating CDs, promotion, tour coordination, etc. all comes directly out of the pocket of these starving artists; and you can’t just walk into a bank and ask for a “music artist loan.” Well, I guess you could but don’t be surprised if they look at you funny.
So, other than just the general fear of failure, I feel confident saying that money is the biggest source of fear for young artists. The competitive nature of the industry requires you to look and sound top notch, but affording all it takes to do that is…basically impossible unless you already have pretty deep pockets.
Don’t freak out yet! Spending money isn’t always the only way to get a product, and I want to share some of the music money-saving things I’ve done over the years that I believe anyone is capable of.
1. Play an instrument
Maybe this seems like a “no duh” thing but…you would be surprised how many singer-songwriters in Nashville don’t play an instrument. Playing an instrument makes you more versatile and flexible in lots of ways, but from a fiscal perspective, you never have to hire a musician to play that instrument. A record label will also appreciate this for the same reason.
I cannot quantify the amount of money I have saved by playing guitar, bass and piano but I would not be surprised if it was $100,000 at this point. So, be your own band. And, if you can be your own band, maybe you can be someone else’s too.
2. Get basic audio recording software/gear
I’m a producer so…I kind of took this idea and ran with it a little more than you need to but having your own recording gear is right up there with playing an instrument. In this digital world it is not hard to get ahold of some affordable but good sounding recording gear that has the potential to alleviate a ton of recording costs. Now that I think about it, maybe this isn’t a tip I should be giving out……lol oh well.
You don’t have to make fancy full band recordings in order to get your ideas across in a way that’s a bit more palatable than a phone recording. Many engineers in town will charge upwards of $150 per acoustic recording. So, with that number in mind, let me give you a list of good starter audio equipment and what those things will cost:
AT2020 Condensor Mic (I still use this mic) – $100
Pro Tools (recording software) – $30/month
iLok (necessary to run pro tools) – $40
Interface (where you plug in your mic) – approx $150 for used mbox mini (don’t bother with buying new, just make sure there’s a good return policy in case it doesn’t work)
***I decided not to include the cost of a computer because most of you probably already have a computer and costs vary so much depending on what you’re looking to buy. I also didn’t include the little things like mic cables and stands because I wanted to stick to bigger ticket items and things that you might not realize you needed, like the iLok.***
All of the above cost adds up to $290 plus $30/month. That doesn’t even cost as much as two acoustic recording sessions. I have had my own recording gear for about seven years now and have written hundreds of songs…the amount of money I have saved by just having the things listed above is insane. It can seem like a big chunk of money at first but I promise it will save you thousands of dollars in the long run.
3. Design/update your own website
I did not have the skill or designing eye required to build my own website so I did hire someone to do that, but I have since learned how to update and make changes to my website. Imagine having to pay someone every time you had a new gig come up…jeez. Between wordpress and wix, building and/or updating a website is something almost anyone with a computer and some patience can do. There is no denying there are some things that just require the precise hand of an html expert, but by and large, it does not have to cost a huge amount of money to make a good looking website.
4. Band bank account
I cannot tell you how much easier my life has been since opening my business account. As a self-employed person, non-taxable business expenses are SO IMPORTANT and can be annoying to keep track of without a separate account to handle all those transactions. Setting up a business bank account is free and could save you lots of money in taxes because you no longer have to worry about hundreds of business expenses getting buried in a pile of personal expenses. Your income is easily added up from your business account and every penny spent from that account is immediately understood to be a non-taxable business expense. Just make sure you keep your cards straight!
5. Monetizing everywhere
Sometimes it’s not about saving money, but rather making sure you don’t lose money you could have made. If you plan on doing anything with your music – put it on youtube, pitch for sync licensing, etc. – make sure you have all your monetary ducks in a row:
– Register every song you write with a Performance Royalty Organization (PRO) like ASCAP or BMI. Your PRO will handle all songwriting and publishing royalties, so if you write a song and it gets played on the radio or cut by another artist, you will make nothing unless a PRO knows about your authorship of the song. It would also be a good idea to create a publishing company for your music. Fifty percent of writer royalties go to the publisher so, unless you’re signed to a publisher, you’ll need to make sure your publishing is protected and that you are getting those royalties. Song registration is free and I’m pretty sure creating a publishing company is as well.
– Become a youtube partner. If you upload anything on youtube, go ahead and set up your account to let google put ads on your video. The money will be very insignificant at first, but as you gain followers and views, the money accrues. If, by chance, you post a video and it blows up, you won’t have missed $10,000 in revenue because you didn’t think it would matter if you didn’t monetize your youtube account earlier.
Google AdSense: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/72866?hl=en
– Claim your mechanical royalties. In addition to the writer royalties, there are mechanical royalties. Mechanical royalties are usually owned by the artist(s), record label and possibly the producer(s). Your PRO will not handle this half of the royalty pie, instead you have to go to SoundExchange for mechanical royalties. Sound Exchange, like your PRO, is free. Just go to the website and follow the steps to get started.
Sound Exchange: http://www.soundexchange.com/
6. Make Your Own Album Art
The last thing I want to talk about it album art. Despite all of the ways I like to save money, I absolutely believe in investing money into really strong band pics. Pictures are one of the first pulls for potential fans. If the pics are not top notch, you could lose a lot of fans.
Once you have the pictures, you can totally overlay graphics and text yourself. If you haven’t heard of it, check out Gimp (www.gimp.org/downloads/). It’s a free photo editing software that worked very well for my most recent album design. There are also 100s of free fonts you can find online that help album text pop. Check out my most recent album cover:
Aside from the photography (by Tara Gulledge), the album art was free. Now, I recognize it isn’t anything fancy, but it definitely looks sleek and professional.
These few, fairly simple, things have alleviated a huge amount of financial stress for me and I hope they can do the same for you. If I think of any more money-saving tips I will make sure to update you.
As always, I hope you find peace, love and music!
Till next time…