Music Industry Myths: Making Money Makes You a Sellout

Mixed race musician recording in studio
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Aside from the people who are actually approaching their music this way, no one wants to be tarred with the accusation that they are playing music just to make some money. That's fair enough. But in order to avoid any impression that they're only motivated by the love of the music, many, many musicians shoot themselves in the foot and refuse to embrace any opportunity to make money from their music. Now, before we go any further, let's consider two different kinds of musicians:

  1. The Hobby Musician - The hobby musician is a big music fan and is in a band because they love to play. BUT, music isn't their job, and in reality, they really don't want it to be. They're not going to quit college or quit their jobs to go on tour, and they do not fuss about getting a deal or releasing a record. They like to play live locally, but they're not interested in making a commitment to making a career in music.
  2. The Career Musician - The career musician may be aspiring or may already be making money in music. Like the hobby musician, they love music and love to play, but they are very serious about making music their full-time job. They would (or have) quit school or their day jobs to tour or otherwise focus on their music careers. Their goal is to pay their bills with their music and have music be their full-time job.

    There's nothing in the world wrong with being either type of musician, but do you see the difference? The career musician HAS to make money from their music. The hobby musician sometimes has a tendency to hold that in contempt, but that's pretty easy to do when you don't intend to pay the cable company with the earnings from the sales of your new record. The career musician should remember the difference in the face of any "sellout" accusations.

    So, what does making money as a musician actually mean? You will need to keep an open mind about all opportunities that come your way. It sometimes may mean working with people in the industry who know the business and can help you get where you're trying to go, like PR people, managers, agents, and yes, sometimes even record labels. Making money doesn't mean you have to take every offer that comes your way - you don't have to see your song in a Gap commercial (unless of course you want to) - but it does mean you can't keep the door closed on all promotional opportunities or other deals simply on principle alone.

    A big part of making it in music is being smart enough to evaluate the opportunities that come your way and to take advantage of the ones that will help push you further towards your goal.

    I really can't emphasize enough the importance of drowning out the choruses of "sellout" charges that can sometimes follow you around as a musician and of coming up with your own understanding of the right choices for your career. Still struggling? Here's a promise. Your favorite musicians - your favorite CAREER musicians - even the ones with all of the indie cred in the world - have made decisions that have allowed them to support themselves financially through music. That's part of being a pro.

    Feel good about making money through your hard work and talent. Always.

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