Friday, July 10, 2009

A Few Lessons Learned

Well, I've been preaching here weekly for a year at this point, and by now, I think you probably have a pretty good idea about my basic philosophy on financial matters. This blog was intended to be just a simple primer on personal finance for musicians, and going into much greater depth would defeat that purpose. Besides, I think I'm beginning to repeat myself. Besides, I think I'm beginning to repeat myself. From here on out, I'll be posting only when inspiration strikes or I stumble upon some exciting new financial insight. But for now, let me leave you with a few thoughts to chew on.

1. Stability = Prosperity
Also known as "a bird in hand is better than two in the bush". Most of my musician friends who suffer from financial trouble also have unstable gig situations. As I've mentioned before, it's tempting to drop your steady local gigs whenever a short-term, high dollar gig comes along, but that quick windfall might be followed by an extended period of NO income. You can do well by sticking with the steady work you already have and building upon that.

2. Don't Excuse Yourself
I constantly have to remind myself that I am fully, solely responsible for my own career. I know that I can't be all things to all people. I can't be a master of all trades and skills. But I can and should try. If the project you're working on requires computer skills, teach yourself those programs. If you're going to be living and working in a foreign country for a while, really try to learn the language. If you accept a gig, practice the material thoroughly, regardless of what the gig pays. Never excuse yourself from understanding what's going on. And never excuse yourself from doing your fair share of the work, even if you know that someone else would take up the slack for you.

3. It's Always Better to Know than to Not Know
Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is just ignorance, and it always has negative consequences. This is obviously related to the previous point. We all have limits to the information that we can absorb, and there are some facts that simply can't be known or are hard to face up to, but I can't think of a single circumstance in which I'd be better off not knowing the truth than knowing it. Always seek to be thoroughly informed, and you will make better decisions.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Economics 101 and Musicians

My former Marketing professor used to say: "It's simple to be successful in business. Just find out what people want, and give it to them." He was right, but a lot of musicians (myself included) aren't generally inclined to follow that advice. We tend to look down on artists who pander to popular demand as being "sell-outs". Besides, popular music trends are notoriously unpredictable and most of us have a hard time molding ourselves to fit constantly changing music fads anyway.

Unfortunately for us, the free market doesn't care about artistic integrity. It's fine to be romantic and idealistic in your songwriting, but don't try to carry that mentality over into the business side of things or you will surely get burned. Capitalist free market economics always boils down to the very simple concept of supply vs. demand. If you want to know how any venture is going to work out, all you have to do is realistically figure how much supply there will be relative to demand for that product or service. It is really that simple. It's not about corporate conspiracies or lack of government support for the arts. As long as markets are truly free and competitive, it just comes down to supply and demand. That's why dealers of unpopular automobiles go bankrupt, while salesmen for the most popular models don't even bother to negotiate or return phone calls. They know that they have a hot product. All they have to do is sit back and the customers will come to them.

So what lessons should the independent musician draw from this? Well, for starters, I think we can all benefit from being realistic about supply and demand for our own services. If you're not already a superstar, then you're probably not in a position to sit back and wait for the customers to come to you. I'm a jazz musician, a service for which there is absurdly small demand! I try to do what I can to spread the word about gigs, but I have limited means to generate more demand. There continues to be an ample supply of good jazz musicians in my local market, though prospects are better for those who achieve the skill level necessary to ascend into the less crowded elite jazz musician market. Ultimately I realize that I have chosen a professional field in which the supply/demand equation is stacked against me, and I know that I am lucky to be working at all! If money were my main motivation, I'd probably be selling iPhones instead of jazz music.