Saturday, January 24, 2009

Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too?

I have some friends who only feel comfortable driving high-performance cars with leather seats. They are the same folks who always order the steak when we go to a restaurant. I drive a 14 year old Toyota Corolla and bring a bag lunch when I have to eat out.

Now, there's nothing wrong with living well, as long as you're living within your means. If you really value an expensive lifestyle, then there are careers which can support that: law, business, medicine, etc. But if you want to play music for a living, I'm sorry, but you may be setting yourself up for a lot of frustration. Let's face it, the music biz is not generally known as a gravy train, and if you went into it for the money, you're in for some unpleasant surprises.

It is certainly possible to earn a lot of money in the music business, but to consistently earn a lot of money is very rare indeed. There is nothing sadder, and sadly nothing more common, than seeing a talented musician reluctantly take a day job or even go bankrupt due to an overindulgent lifestyle.

The good news is that, if you can be content with a modest lifestyle, you can really prosper on a low income. Remember that what counts over the long run is not your income, but your savings. It's not what you earn, it's what you save. If you earn $30,000 a year and only spend $20K, then you're socking away a very respectable 10 grand per year.

As a matter of fact, you would be better off financially in the above scenario than if you had spent $70,000 out of an $80,000 dollar income. Why? Because people who earn $80,000 are in a higher tax bracket. In the U.S., an $80,000 taxable income puts you in the 28% tax bracket, while a $30,000 income puts you in the 15% bracket. Even major touring artists and large corporations recognize that it's advantageous to save a higher percentage of a lower gross income, and therefore they work hard to cut costs.

If you spend all of your time hustling to earn more money, then when are you going to get around to recording that solo album you've been planning for years, or take that advanced arranging and orchestration class you've been wanting to take? Finding contentment at a lower living standard can actually be very liberating in many ways.

I think that most of us tend to aspire to at least match the lifestyle our parents enjoyed when we were growing up. If you happen to come from a privileged background, then a musician's lifestyle might feel like a step down to you. Lifestyle is a very personal thing, and you have to be honest with yourself about what is going to make you happy. But remember that everything in life is a tradeoff, and money can't buy musical bliss. Good luck in finding your own comfort zone.

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