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Because the FUTURE OF MUSIC is now! Sabrina Pena Young THE MACHINIMA COMPOSER



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Friday, October 2, 2015

How to Make Money as a Musician: Can I Make It as a Musician?

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Composer Sabrina Pena Young Mixes in her Home Studio

How to Make Money as a Musician: Can I Make It as a Musician?

In light of student debt crises, unemployment, and a push for more "practical" careers in the STEM industries in the US, many students and parents are wondering if pursuing the arts is a career worth going into debt over and some musicians today are wondering if they made a wrong turn in choosing to follow their passions. 

There have been several factors that have affected the music industry significantly in the last decade and affect how to make money as a musician:

  • The economic slump led to changes in buying/purchasing habits of consumers
  • Traditional havens for musicians like academic institutions crunched for cash have eliminated quality tenure positions and replaced them with low paying adjunct positions
  • Public schools, obsessed with testing, have cut out the arts, physical education, and more to grill testing into low income schools, eliminating quality music jobs and creating entire generations of kids who never personally participated in the arts
  • Traditional music institutions like orchestras, ballet companies, and opera companies have catered only to the uber-wealthy who can afford tickets and until recent years have neglected grooming a new generation of music lovers
  • Digital downloading replaced purchasing physical albums
  • Recently streaming has replaced digital downloads, meaning that most indie artists have to appeal to 1000 to 10000 listeners before earning a single penny

While some music industry giants like ASCAP and the like are pushing back against copyright infringement and streaming, the reality is that the technology is convenient and affordable (FREE!) for the consumer, forever changing the music industry landscape.

So you may ask: "Can I make it as a musicians?"

Despite the doom and gloom, you CAN make it as a musician. But...and here is the caveat, you need to redefine success for you specifically. 

Evaluate what is important to you:
Young's Creation Oratorio Won a New Genre Prize
  • Money
  • Financial Security
  • Freedom
  • Spontaneity
  • Fans
  • Steady Work
  • A House
  • Providing for your Family
  • Creativity
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Social Benefits
  • Fame
  • Prestige
For a few dozen successful major label stars, they may be able to manage the bulk of this list with their career. For many musicians, we need to specifically identify what is the most important end goal and then strive to achieve it.

Music Marketing 101

Do you value money and job security? Then you might want to opt for music gigs with established corporations or institutions (like a wealthy local high school that will not cut its arts program). Jobs on the production end for large companies (think PIXAR or SONY) are hard to come by but have established track records.

Do you value freedom, entrepreneurship, and spontaneity? Then you might want to pursue working as a freelancer. There are countless jobs out there for those who can link their musical abilities to a practical skill like music editing, writing on the music industry, developing music apps, voiceovers, and more. 

Do you value fame? The Internet gives you everything you need to achieve worldwide fame
In 2015 Young's Debut Novel Libertaria: Genesis
regardless of your budget. Just expect to be struggling the first few years as you develop your brand. Courses in business and marketing will be necessary to pursue this career path.

Do you like fans? Find time to tour. You don't have to tour year-round to enjoy the life of a musician. Once again, business courses will be invaluable as you turn touring into a full time gig. 

Do you value prestige? Academia may be the way to go. To be frank, good professorships are dwindling considerably, so plan on only supplementing your income with unversity gigs until you have earned a PhD, have considerable political clout at the university, and an impressive C.V. that will turn any head regardless of your gender/race/popularity. 

Do you need to support or raise a family? You will most likely need something that is both secure and flexible. Teaching jobs are very family friendly, whether at a high school, elementary school, or online. Ministry jobs, still largely open to men only, are not as secure, with a high turnover rate, but are very flexible in regards to family.

But How Can I Make it Big?
The traditional music industry, where indie musicians are "discovered" by large labels is of course still in play. However, expect to have to prove your worth either by earning more than six figures a year with music touring/album sales alone or by having literally millions of fans. In fact, there are rumors that many A&R guys just sit at their desks and watch Youtube all day, looking at the top performing entertainers only when searching out new acts. If this is the route that you opt for, then be sure that you have a steady paying gig while you climb to the top. 

As I told one indie rocker, Matt Meadows (aka Rango the Dog), sometimes you have reached the top of the mountain in your career, 
but it's just a different mountain 
than you expected.

Personal Example
As a musician I chose to pursue experimental music, electronica, and film/video. My personal goals originally centered on becoming a full time music professor and the job security that offered, but as life changed and I evolved as a person, I realized that I valued freedom, creativity, and family more than struggling to meet the qualifications for a rapidly diminishing academic job market. 

Young Speaks about LIBERTARIA at TEDxBuffalo

Instead I chose to move my entire career online with the birth of my daughter five years ago and to pursue creativity, freedom, and entrepreneurship. As a social person, it was a difficult decision, but since then I have given a TED Talk, created an animated opera, won a prize for my first oratorio, just completed my first novel, and have had my works performed on five continents. My career literally took off when I tore away from the local and strived for the international global marketplace online. 

Have I sacrificed other goals? Well, yes. We have an inexpensive apartment where my studio takes up half the dining room, and while I am respected in my niche market, I am by no means a household name and most likely will never be (unless there was a sudden interest in electronic musicians obsessed with futurism and sci-fi apocalypse). But I take care of my family, have incredible freedom, collaborate with people all over the globe, and have the time to engage in whatever creative pursuit I want while teaching and writing about music. I also do not have a limo or my own fashion line. TMZ is definitely not interested in my life.

You can achieve your musical dreams with some smart planning. Make a list of goals. Research how to reach those goals and then pursue them with 100% of your passion, drive, and resources. And let me know when you succeed! Would love to hear from you! 

Young is the foremost expert on virtual opera production and online collaboration with the debut of her machinima opera Libertaria: The Virtual Opera. Libertaria includes a live international cast and film crew, virtual choirs, sound synthesis, machinima, and contemporary choral writing, produced entirely online using crowdsourcing, social networking, and the Internet. Critics call Libertaria "Groundbreaking" and "Wagner 2.0". Works performed internationally at the Beijing Conservatory, the International Computer Music Conference, Miramax's Project Greenlight, the Athena Festival, the New York International Independent Film Festival, Art Basil Miami, Turkey's Cinema for Peace, Art Miami, and Pulsefield International Exhibition of Sound Art, the Holland Animation Film Festival, Australasian Computer Music Confetence, Buffalo's Women and Arts Festival, and countless venues worldwide. Young's recent projects include the social media opera The Village and a recent TED Talk on opera and the Internet at TEDxBuffalo.