How To Transition Out Of Your Day Job Using A Music Career Backup Plan
by Tom Hess
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Do you want to become a professional musician, but don’t know where and how to start in order to grow a music career?
Do you really want a music career, but your fear of failure is holding you back? Are you unsure about what to do if your plan doesn’t work?
Most aspiring musicians receive a lot of advice from friends and family about building a music career backup plan.
Let's discuss the idea of having a music career backup plan in-depth.
Many people give advice about “the need to have a music career backup plan in case it doesn’t work out”. Typically, musicians are encouraged to go to school and get a degree in something they can easily find a job in, and do a music career on the side, in their “free time”.
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When your music career begins to develop, you are probably advised to work less in your day job and focus more on the music until you can leave the day job and make a music career work for you. This advice sounds good in theory, but in reality fails to work as intended in almost every case. Why? Usually the job that most musicians get to support themselves until their music career kicks off, has nothing to do with music in general, or a music career specifically. As a result, most end up in a very frustrating situation that makes it virtually impossible to achieve lasting success as a professional musician.
4 reasons why this kind of “music career backup plan” is usually doomed to fail
Before I go into detail about some reasons why this kind of “music career backup plan” is usually not working as intended, I want you to test yourself and the effectiveness of your strategy to become a professional musician. It will really help you to take this test BEFORE reading the rest of the article, so that you are not biased in your answers.
Do you think that a music career backup plan will work and will lead you to a rewarding and stable long term music career? Take this survey to find out before reading further.
Why Building A Music Career Backup Plan Fails - Reason #1: Not having an effective exit strategy while purusing a music career.
The idea of slowly phasing out your day job while building a music career is good, but in order to work, it needs to be done in the right way. Most musicians have nothing planned or prepared that will allow them to gradually decrease the time spent at their day job and focus more on music. When choosing a “music career backup plan”, musicians typically find a job that is the most “safe and secure” and the one that pays the most money. However, most people fail to plan the “exit strategy” and think ahead to the time when their music career situation will allow you to focus less of your time on the day job. When they finally reach that point, they realize that they are trapped in their day job and are unable to “gradually” phase it out. They are faced with the choice of either quitting the job entirely, or sticking to it until retirement.
The best exit plan is to have a job that will allow you to gradually decrease the number of hours you spend on it: from 40 hours per week to 30, from 30 hours to 20, from 20 to 10, until eventually you can quit the job altogether! That means you need to be careful to select an occupation that allows a lot of flexibility in work schedule. This way, you can make a “gradual” transition into a music career. Unfortunately, most traditional occupations do not allow this flexibility. Remember, your boss at work will not all of a sudden allow you to “work 3-4 days per week instead of 5”, simply because you want to work on your new CD an extra few days per week. It is possible to begin by working in a non-music related job at first, BUT do not select “any” job offer without considering the exit strategy first.
An ideal job for building a music career is teaching guitar. Not only can you make very good money doing it, but you are in complete control over how many hours you choose to work. Not everyone may desire to teach full time for the rest of their life (and this is fine). But as long as you are going to be working anyway, why not do something that is already related to what you enjoy, help students reach their goals faster and make money in the process? In addition, teaching is already a music career related activity that is probably much more fun to do than sitting in an office!
Another possibility is to work as an independent contractor in sales or marketing or doing consulting work for hire. Always check about the flexibility of work schedule before accepting a job offer. Remember that in most industries, the 40-60 hour work week is the norm, with little or no possibility for part time employment. This makes it impossible to make a smooth transition to a full time music career.
Slowly phasing out your day job seems to be a very ‘safe and secure’ approach, but it can actually backfire and “trap” you by its sense of security. If you are making $60,000 per year at your day job, and have managed (through working nights and weekends) to build up a music career income to $25,000 per year, then, all together, you have a total income of $85,000 for the year. Here is where the reality catches up to you. Should you decide to go full time with a music career, you will invariably need to quit your day job completely at some point. Until you can recover and build a music career to higher and higher levels, you will be making $60,000 less per year than before! This kind of risk is uncomfortable to think about for most people (especially those who get married, have kids and/or have significant expenses), and keeps them trapped at their day jobs their whole lives.
Why Building A Music Career Backup Plan Fails - Reason #3: You are often not able to take advantage of music career opportunities.
What if you put extraordinary effort on nights and weekends into recording a great sounding CD with your band, spend a lot of time promoting it in hopes of getting signed by a record company and go on tour, and then you really get the opportunity to do a 10 week tour in another country in the world. It is VERY probable that you would NOT get paid a lot of money while on a first tour, but as a whole, this kind of tour is exactly the kind of breakthrough you have been searching for. What are you going to do? Are you going to turn down a huge opportunity to advance with a music career? Or are you going to agree to take a huge cut in pay by quitting your day job to do the tour? I think you can agree that neither of these options sounds entirely appealing. Wouldn’t it be great to do the tour and not worry about how you are going to feed yourself (and your family) while you are gone?
Why Building A Music Career Backup Plan Fails - Reason #4: There is not much quality time and energy to get anything done.
This may seem like a more subtle issue, but it is actually very important. If your most productive hours in the day are spent on the least productive activities, then reaching your goals will take MUCH longer than it needs to. Think about it: if you wake up at 6:00, get to work by 8:00 or 9:00 and spend 8-10 hours there, and another 1-2 hours commuting back home, by the time you are ready to begin working on your music career, you are already tired! This is also not taking into account the time taken up by other things in life that you have to tend to. It will take a truly extraordinary effort to get anything worthwhile accomplished during the time on nights and weekends, to build multiple streams of music related income that will enable you to quit any job not related to building a music career without putting yourself in financial struggle.
Now that you see why a music career backup plan like this isn’t as good as it seems to be, you may ask yourself what you should do instead.
What is the solution?
Well, having no music career backup plan is definitely NOT the solution. In order to build a music career, you need to be prepared and you cannot simply hope that “things will work out”. The underlying problem with the conventional music career backup plan I described is that it originates from thinking about how not “to lose”. This type of thinking lacks ambition and it forces you to stick to that which is “safe and secure”. As a result, you typically end up with what you wish for: a familiar, average, safe and secure life. However, this attitude rarely leads to significant achievements in your music career.
What the most successful musicians do is arrange a music career backup plan around their MUSIC CAREER GOALS (Plan A). This requires real ambition and courage, and it is based on thinking about how “to win”. This also requires you to think how you can integrate Plan B with your present and future life as a professional musician.
There are many possibilities for truly effective “back up” (which are more like “support”) plans for a music career. In many cases, they involve designing systems and multiple income streams coming from music career sources that will support them continuously.
It’s important to put a lot of thought into which kinds of “music career backup plans” and approaches are best suited to your specific goals. To find the right plan for you, there are two important things you need to do:
First, study how the music business works (this is key!). Understanding it will greatly help you with designing the most effective strategy for reaching your goals in the fastest period of time. Building a successful, long term music career takes a lot of focused effort and dedication. The more you understand about this business, the easier it will be to design the kind of music career backup plan that will help you reach your goals instead of trapping you.
Second, be careful about taking advice from people who may have great intentions, but lack knowledge and experience about how to build a music career or music career backup plan. If you pay attention, you will notice that advice from these people has a common theme, which is “here is what you must do in order not to lose”. Very rarely do you get advice about how “to win”!
To make matters worse, although your friends and family may have the best intentions in their heart, they aren’t qualified to give advice about growing a music career. It will be similar to you asking your brother who is a plumber (for example) about how to cure a disease, or asking your uncle who is a carpenter (for example) about how to solve a legal problem.
If you truly want advice that works and if you want to learn the strategies of how to reach all of your music career goals, you need to find a mentor who you can rely on for effective advice. This means learning from someone who has already done what you want to do in your music career and trained others to do the same.
The most effective, predictable and safe strategies to “phasing in” a music career
Now that you know about the problems with the conventional approaches to music career backup plans, I will show you the characteristics of a good music career backup plan.
Music Career Backup Plan Characteristic #1. Flexibility
Your music career backup plan must be flexible. This can mean many things. One of them is having the ability to “gradually” decrease the amount of time you spend working on Plan B and increase the time you invest into Plan A! This can also mean the ability to integrate (leverage) the skills acquired (or the results earned) from Plan B into Plan A.
Music Career Backup Plan Characteristic #2. Passivity
Your music career backup plan should be mostly passive: it will really help if your Plan B mostly consists of passive income streams that you have created by only investing the work once! It should be pretty obvious to see how this will free up a lot of time to dedicate to your Plan A! (a music career)
Music Career Backup Plan Characteristic #3. Diversity
The music career backup plan should be diversified: do not become so dependent on only one stream of income! Many people argue that a music career is not secure, when nothing could be further from the truth. Which do you think is more likely, that a company lays off an employee in the blink of an eye (cutting off his one and only source of income), or that a music teacher with 40 students (who essentially has at least 40 “diversified” income streams) will suddenly lose all of his clients overnight?
By making your Plan B options diversified, you also build your own financial security, without depending on anyone else. I don’t know about you, but I feel much safer knowing that I am in control of my own future, rather than putting my faith into someone else’s idea of security.
Music Career Backup Plan Characteristic #4. Congruency and Relevance
This means that Plan B needs to make your primary goal (music career) MORE likely to occur! This also means (ideally), that the time you invest into developing skills and experience in Plan B can be easily used to enhance Plan A. For example, if you are known as an excellent guitar teacher, you can easily integrate teaching clinics and workshops with performances of your music, selling your future music CDs, other merchandise etc...
I hope that you can see now how this strategy is different (and superior) to the conventional wisdom of getting a day job, and then doing your best on evenings and weekends to launch a music career from scratch.
As you design your own successful music career backup plan, compare the steps you are taking against the criteria above and modify your strategy if necessary. This will help save you from the frustration felt by most of the ‘wannabe’ musicians, who realize (much too late) that their strategy leaves them no way to manifest their music career dreams.
If you have missed the survey mentioned at the beginning of this article, check it out here.
About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He trains musicians how to leave their day jobs and build successful fulltime careers in the music industry.