I have a friend who’s been burning the candle on both ends chasing his dream.
I don’t think he sees it as a sacrifice. He loves what he does, he’s worked hard to get to where he’s at, and he’s achieved a degree of success in his endeavors as a teacher, producer, and artist.
In his own words, he’s achieved “mid-tier” status with Spotify. The reality is, if you’re making any money on Spotify, you’re doing well. So, he’s correct in his self-assessment.
But the only way he’s been able to get to that point is by reinvesting into his music. Heavily. His takeaway isn’t anything to write home about.
“Making money in music is hard,” he shared with me in one conversation.
I know well what he’s talking about. I don’t just have personal experience or anecdotal evidence to back it up. I’ve looked at the cold, hard numbers and have seen exactly how hard it is to make anything close to a living wage from Spotify.
But I must emphasize, from Spotify.
I know how heavily the industry is invested in Spotify. It trickles all the way down to the smallest of independent artists attending music industry conferences in hopes of finding their own path to success in streaming.
I still remember when Canadian blue-eyed soul artist Remy Shand came out of hiding after a long absence to begin releasing music under the pseudonym Canary, and eventually Remy Shand.
I was lit up by what I heard, and I think it’s one of the reasons I got so excited about releasing singles and EPs again in 2016 and beyond. Shand was releasing sketches and demos, and that gave me the courage and permission I needed to do the same. Showing up consistently became my new M.O., not trying to do it right.
“If I just released more prolifically, maybe I’d have a chance at making a decent income in streaming too,” I thought to myself. Of course, I had no idea whether Shand himself was earning anything either.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s human.
And even though releasing more prolifically will give you a better chance at growing your Spotify following, it’s a long road to the bank. Plus, it’s the furthest thing from strategy, especially if you don’t have other pieces of the artistic career puzzle already slotted together.
The recipe for artistic success is out there, and it is possible to reverse engineer it, but the couch to big screen dream tends to blind young artists from the realities of exploitation. As I shared yesterday, finding a good musician coach is not as straightforward as following the first face you see on Instagram, unless you’re especially lucky. Shills and charlatans, sadly, are often the most visible.
There’s a bridge we need to cross as artists. Unfortunately, it’s not easy because it requires a paradigm shift.
Having gotten to the other side of it, it feels to me like a quick jaunt across a suspension bridge at the park. But to artists who’ve come this far trusting the often-empty promises of the music industry, it will appear more like a long, lonely, treacherous journey across a tightrope over the Grand Canyon.
On Saturday night, I experienced the early warning signs of burnout.
I have been “gunning it” for the last nine months, so it’s only expected that, at some point, I would start to feel a little worn down. And yesterday, my body let me know as I was standing in an elevator.
It’s obviously better to catch this early because recovery can happen much faster. I can adjust my schedule, turn my attention to the few revenue-generating activities that matter, and get more rest.
And more than ever, what I’ve recognized is that more work does not mean better results.
As ambitious creatives and entrepreneurs, we often assume a godlike work ethic will propel us towards our dreams, not realizing the sheer stupidity that follows as we seek to put revenue above life.
Let me show you my work…
Do You Recognize the Hustle as Endless?
When life becomes about revenue, the hustle is near endless. There is always more that could be done if you just had more energy and the willpower to do it with.
In that state of mind, it’s easy to forget that working at a breakneck pace should only be done in spurts. Never in a marathon.
Which basically means this – hustling and grinding is pointless unless you have a specific goal in mind.
If there is no goal, and you’re nowhere within the ballpark of achieving it, you’re hustling and grinding indefinitely, until your body says “stop,” or worse…
You can always find something more to fill your schedule with. But to what end? Is it even worth it? Is it producing any revenue at all?
You’d better take a cold, hard look, because the extra work you do is usually the 80% that’s just taking up time and producing no results. 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort.
Are You Really Prioritizing Revenue?
When you’re in the constant fog of hustling and grinding, it gets harder to distinguish the activity that’s producing results from the activity that isn’t.
At some point, you start creating labels for your work – work that you find fulfilling and enjoyable, work you don’t, and shades of grey in between.
Before you know it, you’re prioritizing work that’s fulfilling and enjoyable, not realizing that this work doesn’t create revenue, at least not compared to the work you say you don’t enjoy.
The labels, then, become completely meaningless. Why hate the work that’s bringing an income and instead put all your time and energy into the work that’s producing hobby level results?
You think you’re putting revenue over life, but upon closer examination, you’ll realize that you’re just putting work above life, not revenue above life.
Are You Sure You Aren’t Comparing?
“I will not be a victim to comparison,” you may say. But you don’t realize just how much you are comparing yourself to those who have a bigger following, are making a greater income, or you feel are more accomplished than you are. It’s why you keep striving for more thinking you don’t have what they have.
“They did it, so I should be able to do it too. Why am I not as far along as they are?”
It’s important to realize that, if you have a vehicle that helps you make a living wage and covers your bills, while it might not appear sexy, it’s much better than a lot of people have it.
You have no idea how many entrepreneurs have a seven-figure revenue with a thin profit margin.
You have no idea how many so-called “influencers” with a massive following essentially live in a yurt.
Look, some people think the Lambo and mansion are what it’s all about. Some of your potential clients might even be fooled by it.
But if you do it right, you’ll be well-positioned to save their neck when they lose their shirt from the $12.95 book, $97 home study course, $997 conference, $1,997 coaching program, and so forth, they bought from the charlatan who was supposed to have a foolproof method for success.
Unless you’ve locked yourself out of the internet, you do compare yourself unfavorably to others. And it’s affecting your judgement severely.
When Will You Stop & Enjoy Life?
For most creatives and entrepreneurs, financial freedom is but a concept – some random, far-off date, with some random, astronomical figure of money.
But assuming it an inevitably, most will soldier on, day after day, thinking that they will one day wake up to be bombarded with sales orders.
The opposite is just as likely and plausible, though, that their business stagnates, gets on a downward curve, or collapses entirely despite their best efforts.
It’s one thing to find out your idea isn’t going to work six weeks or six months in, quite another to discover six years or 16 years later that your ladder was against the wrong wall.
Working harder assures nothing, as I’ve demonstrated before.
I have no doubt that you derive a certain amount of joy and even fulfillment from the work you do, just as I do. But life is happening now, and if you don’t head out your door to enjoy the weather, the beautiful mountains and beaches, the new restaurant that just opened in town, you may never get around to it.
Even if you don’t have your financial freedom yet, by your own estimation, you do have a certain amount of freedom available to you today. And today is the time to start enjoying it.
The Bottom Line
Revenue over life is stupid because when you put income ahead of your wellbeing, you begin making stupid decisions that aren’t in line with your goals. All you end up doing is wasting hours of your life you’re not going to get back.
Limit your working hours. There will always be more to do tomorrow, and it will be right there waiting for you. When you have a start and end time for everything, you will necessarily be more effective, because there will be no other alternative.
See what else I’m up to.
And there’s always more where this came from…
The Music Entrepreneur Code – 2022 Edition Kindle and paperback editions are now available. The hardcover edition is coming soon.
Thank you for your creativity and generosity. I’m rooting for you.
It’s my experience that most artists don’t even think about this. Because let’s face it, most people don’t think about this.
It’s the job of the boss to figure out how the money is made. So, most people are stifled by an employee mindset that doesn’t allow them to consider, create, and pursue perfectly viable income opportunities.
Sad but true – many artists are settling for less than they could be making, and it’s not even their fault!
If you consider yourself a musicpreneur, though, it’s time you started thinking about revenue streams as a business owner would.
Because most artists go…
- Live performance. Check.
- Merch sales. Check.
- Streaming royalties. Check.
- YouTube. Check.
And move onto other pressing matters.
If they’re a little savvier and worldly, then they know that music licensing and placements is something they want to pursue, but that’s about where the buck stops.
And if that doesn’t describe you, great, you’re more cognizant of what’s happening in the world and the growing creator economy, and maybe this section won’t apply to you. Otherwise, keep reading.
Besides my ever-growing article on 27 Ways I’ve Made Money in Music, which would certainly be worth your perusal, it would be prudent to practice – for lack of a better term – some “outside the box thinking.”
Could you write a book, take speaking engagements, start a mastermind, create your own music festival, get sponsored by a brewery, or create a presence on a blockchain-powered social network?
I’m not saying these would be good ideas for everyone, nor am I saying all these endeavors are lucrative. But anything that gets you in front of more people can only help, in terms of PR, new connections, and experiments that live on as vital life and career lessons.
Not to get too carried away with too many ideas, but start the process of brainstorming, and you will be surprised by the sheer volume and quality of ideas you generate.
At all times, I am abundantly clear on the various financial opportunities available to me:
- Display advertising
- Affiliate sales
- eBook sales
- Book royalties
- Course sales
- Membership fees
- Content creation
- Guest posts
- Speaking engagements
- PayPal donations
What are your revenue models? Are you sure you’re aware of every opportunity available? Is there a way to cobble together a viable income, even if it requires you to pursue multiple opportunities simultaneously? If so, do you have the guts and perseverance to do it?
Quick reminder – you can now get the Kindle edition of The Music Entrepreneur Code – 2022 Edition (just in time for the holidays). Don’t get left behind – be the first to get my latest work into your hands!
Developing money smarts as an artist begins with accurate thinking. And let me say, at the outset, that accurate thinking usually challenges convention.
To practice accurate thinking in this area, you can’t let the allure of big promises, get rich quick schemes, and surface level information (that’s been designed to entice and tap into your desire for easy money), get the best of you.
Accurate financial thinking takes work, because we tend to have a lot of emotions tied to matters concerning money. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. They will never be as interested as you are in your own financial well-being, except to extract from your wallet every penny they possibly can.
How do I Practice Accurate Thinking in Financial Matters?
Here’s a great place to start to do some looking for yourself:
There are countless content pieces and ads out there talking about how someone earned $4,000 per month from music, how so-and-so got $5,000 from a single Medium article, how what’s-her-face earns $10,000 per month from Amazon FBA…
Look, there are many upsides to all this content. Typically, there is something you can learn from it, and it can even build your faith in the idea that it’s possible to achieve success on your own terms (which it is).
There is a dark side to it though. Most of these income claims are unverifiable. It’s easy to falsify payment dashboard slides. Plus, these content pieces tend to focus more on selling you a home study program to duplicate these results versus showing you the how, which was the original promise.
It’s one of the reasons I find most webinars disappointing. I can appreciate that there is going to be a pitch at the end. But I would love for there to be more meat on the bones, real training that’s going to make a difference for me, before I commit my time or money to a big purchase.
Questions to Help Guide Your Thinking
So, where can we begin in the critical thinking process?
I’ve prepared a battery of questions one should ask when evaluating financial opportunities:
How much money did they spend to get to that revenue figure?
Typically, there are costs to earning an income – promotion, advertising, outreach, and something green entrepreneurs often completely overlook – their own time!
You can’t say the cost of creating something was $500, and because you sold it for $700, you made a $200 profit. If your time is worth $100 per hour, and you put five hours into the project, your true cost was $1,000, and you lost $300. Not even universities will teach you this.
How much of their own time are they putting into earning it?
See previous point. Your time is worth something. Showing a profit is sexy, but if you’re not accounting for your own time, you’re cooking the books. Stop focusing on how others perceive your P&L statement, and instead focus on making a profit. That’s the only thing that’s going to move the needle in your career or business.
Remember this simple formula:
Revenue – Expenses = Profit
How much money are they saving?
A six-, seven-, or even eight-figure income starts to lose its appeal when you realize the person creating it isn’t paying themselves first let alone saving a dime of their earnings.
And this is not uncommon in business, so I’m not making light of that.
But accurate thinking is realizing that someone earning $3,000 per month could be saving more than someone earning $8,000 per month simply because they’ve developed the discipline to do it.
More income does not equal more money saved.
How much money are they investing?
Are they setting aside any money after the fact?
And I’m not necessarily talking about mutual funds, stocks and bonds, things that banks generally call “good investments,” but people regularly lose money on (again, accurate thinking goes against the grain).
I’m asking whether the people earning these astronomical figures are setting aside anything for their emergency, entertainment, aggressive growth, and retirement fund. And just as critically, are they able to reinvest anything into growing their business?
If the answer is “no,” it might be a bad deal.
How much money are they reinvesting into their business / putting better structures in place?
My mentors in network marketing called spending your profits “killing your seed money,” especially when you’re in the early stages of growing your business.
Now, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t pay yourself. But recognize that you can reinvest a portion of your earnings into continually growing your career or business. That is, in essence, the magic of an offer that converts and amplifying it with advertising.
If you’re evaluating any kind of financial opportunity, you should look at whether there’s anything left over after expenses to keep up with demand and growth. If not, at some point, the model will prove hard to sustain.
Can they earn the same amount monthly or annually without burning themselves out?
I would venture to guess that most sharp people could find a way of cobbling together a six-figure income, especially in today’s creator economy.
The question is, can you do it without keeping an unsustainable schedule, completely burning yourself out in the process?
How good is the opportunity if it requires you to work at a breakneck pace for the foreseeable future?
My business coach, James Schramko, works about 20 hours per week to sustain an eight-figure business. That sounds like a great opportunity to me.
An opportunity that requires me to pull 60-hour+ weeks every single week? Not as attractive, especially if I’m not working at something I enjoy.
Look, simple math doesn’t apply to building assets, but you’ve got to ask yourself whether what’s being presented can ultimately be considered an asset (a source of income with ongoing, increasing returns).
Is their revenue recurring or do they start from scratch every month and work their ass off to earn the same amount?
Although they may be hard to find, the best opportunities are those that allow you to start each month with something rather than nothing.
This could mean having clients on retainer, taking advantage of affiliate opportunities where you earn on other people’s commissions, investing your money into vehicles that steadily grow each month, or otherwise.
This is the essence of future planning, and if you’re not doing that, you’re not setting yourself up for long-term success.
At the end of the day, you’re going to make your own decisions concerning your financial matters, and I can’t tell you what to do.
But it can’t hurt to add the above questions and mental framework to your toolkit in evaluating opportunity.
Again, no one is going to be as invested in your financial future as you are, and that means you’ve got to learn to take care of No. 1.
Quick reminder – you can now pre-order the Kindle edition of The Music Entrepreneur Code – 2022 Edition (just in time for the holidays). Don’t get left behind – be the first to get my latest work into your hands!