Putting the Wolf at the Door: Setting Hard Goals for Your Music Business Career

At the start of every new year, plenty of us resolve to lose weight, to get our finances in order, and to generally get our asses in gear.

Ian Ayres, author of Carrots and Sticks: Unlock the Power of Incentives to Get Things Done, chronicled this kind of behavior in a blog post for the New York Times. He lost a significant amount of weight in the last year, and he's determined to keep it off.

Let's contrast Ian's experience with that of the typical independent musician.

If you're still at the point of building up your perfect audience, it often feels like you've got nothing to lose. You're probably shifting time and money from other parts of your life into your music business. Paying for rehearsal space just comes from the money you make at the day job, or maybe even the money your spouse or significant other makes at their day job. Woe upon you if you fail to pay that rehearsal space rent, by the way.

When you're not making money, It's easy to cop out with the excuse that you're all about the music right now. Thinking that way forces you to cut corners and to make sacrifices that hold you back.

What if your job--even your life--depended on your ability to make money from your music right now?

Imagine you're running your band as a real business, with cash flow, salaries, and bills that have to get processed every month. If you're paying yourself just $10 an hour to "be a musician" part-time, that's $1,000 a month you've got to cover. Otherwise, you're going to start feeling pressure to earn that kind of money in a different job. You may not feel it now, but it'll come--especially if you're in a serious relationship.

In Grow Your Band's Audience, I challenge readers to budget out the amount of money it would take from your music business to quit your day job. How much longer can you afford to shift that kind of cash from your other accounts before you admit you're just bankrolling an expensive hobby? To make a living making music, you've got to find some revenue sources, like:

  • Booking the twelve gigs a month it takes a typical independent act to generate a full-time salary.

  • Orchestrating some house concerts to help you raise cash.

  • Updating your merchandise regularly, so your fans have reasons to become repeat buyers.

  • Setting up a support campaign to pay for the production of your next EP or album.

  • Finding some patrons who are willing to foot the bill for your artistic awesomeness. (It worked for Beethoven.)

Just as Ian's putting some major cash on the line to maintain his weight, this could be the year that you let yourself get motivated by the fear of losing money.

Start holding yourself accountable to a weekly or monthly "cash out" cycle. Pay yourself a basic part-time salary and clock the hours you're working on your music. If your music business doesn't have enough cash to pay the bills, you'd better rustle some up. Want to really motivate yourself? Pick a month when you're going to pay your "salary" to a charity instead of yourself. That can really force you to focus on your revenue strategy.

Forcing yourself to post a profit every month helps you refocus your energy on what's working. It also "puts the wolf at the door," by floating the idea that you might not get to do this thing you love every month if you don't find a way to pay for it. Otherwise, you'll sink into financial debt (when you pay for gig expenses with credit cards) and emotional debt (when you tell your loved ones you can't spend time with them, but you have nothing to show for your efforts).

Making money from your music isn't selling out. It's seeking validation from other people that enjoy what you do so much that they're willing to sponsor you to make more. Embrace that idea, and you'll discover plenty of ways you can accept financial support from an audience you're ready to grow.

[ Image by Flickr user Zack McCarthy, used under Creative Commons license. ]