Expert Advice: A Career by Design Not by Default

Career Defined
Create your future

The love of music and the desire to create is what drives people to make music the main priority in their lives. And, at a certain point, they find themselves spending so much of their time, energy and emotional resources in music that it becomes their calling. Often, the conscious decision to pursue specific career goals follows some time after a person’s actions have begun to define him. Most of the time the artist is having too much fun making music to think about “a music career” in the traditional sense of the word.

The lack of attentiveness to the “career” side of music is legendary for artists. Routinely, they have been cheated out of their fair share of earnings, not only in arm’s-length business dealings, but by the very managers, agents and companies whose own income depends on their talent.

In this article a career would be defined when revenues from music become more than 50% of your annual income.

If you’ve been a professional musician for over five years as defined and your income is not gradually increasing, it may be time to make some changes. Diversification may be the path to increased revenues and career longevity.

Diversify and Thrive

The overwhelming majority of musicians start on the creative side of the industry as players, singers and songwriters at the level of a garage band or coffeehouse solo artist. Eventually, the need for higher income and desire to quit their “day job” may send their talents down other avenues.

Most musicians have the ability to branch out into all kinds of musical endeavors, but only a few take the necessary steps to do so. They tend to stick with a single instrument or role that they chose early in their career, rather than pursue multiple goals. Sometimes by choice, but most often simply by lack of ambition coupled with lack of organization.

At some point, most people specialize. But now the tendency leans toward wearing more hats than even five years ago. A guitarist with a bent for mixing and mastering becomes an engineer, an engineer with some music abilities becomes a producer, a piano player becomes a songwriter etc. Once these choices become paths rather than blind alleys, it behooves the musician to understand everything possible about the everyday reality of a career—what skills are required, how to develop or enhance those skills, how the industry works, what the working conditions are, how a professional is compensated and obtains jobs or contracts, and so on.

Reality Check
Identify your strengths and weaknesses

Analyzing my personal story; I started as a band member, studio and live bass player in Paris, France, then in L.A. and San Diego. After five years of making union scale-type pay, and even though I was getting hired, I started enduring the stiff competition of the SoCal music scene, I felt I needed to grow and create additional income streams. I reoriented my bass playing toward a more long-term revenue stream by writing a collection of bass instruction books, all while pursuing other opportunities in the music business. A list of my strengths and weaknesses helped me separate business goals from artistic objectives, I curtailed what I did for fun rather than income, then developed a plan to deliver more profitable ventures to the industry and marketplace.

Eliminating some of the music activities I was either not so good at or that were not profitable enough allowed me to focus on and develop my many other skills in many more lucrative areas. Looking back, the trade-off was well worth it. I currently have seven to eight job titles in the music industry. From producer, songwriter, film/TV composer, songwriter, publisher, software and App designer, author and I still get hired as a bass player.

This would not happen without a reality check, a fair amount of organization and, most of all, time management. All of us can better manage our time and use every single one of our skills to create various income streams and think more like a music entrepreneur.

Time Management
Turn plans into action

Once you’ve identified your vision and objectives, an essential component to getting things done is proper time management. While musicians have long been stereotyped as late, disorganized and unreliable, it doesn't have to be that way. We all have the same amount of time in one day, and you can apply a few key principles to get the most out of this precious commodity. First with a weekly/monthly planner or electronic calendar of some kind where you can record important dates, set deadlines, and prioritize your entries.

Display a “vision board” in your workspace (i.e. studio, office) listing four to five projects you are currently working on. A vision board is a constant reminder of things that are most important things. Make a daily to-do list and cross out your tasks as you go through your workday.

Another key ingredient is a list of short, medium and long-term goals. Short term––where do you see yourself in six months? Medium term––what about in one year? Long term––where do you want to be three years from now?

Diversifying can bring longevity and prosperity to your career. Planning requires self-discipline, but it can make your everyday activities much easier. If you write down your goals and enter them in your schedule, you no longer have to rely on that most faulty tool, your memory. It is difficult to move forward in a disorganized environment––it becomes much easier if you apply the small amount of discipline necessary to manage your time properly.

JOSQUIN DES PRES is a producer, songwriter, TV composer, author, consultant and music entrepreneur. He is the founder of several music companies including TVReadySongs.com that specializes in music production for Film/TV and songwriters at any and all levels. Des Pres can be reached at [email protected]