Doing music full-time may be a leap of faith, but like any kind of leap, timing's crucial to keep yourself from landing on your face. Rushing into a music career can leave you out of money and with no recourse when the limb you stepped on turns out to be unstable. There's no perfect time to make the transition, but certain moments are definitely better than others. Here are four boxes to check before you finally take that flying leap.
1. You know it's actually a music career you want
If you're happy going to a job you like and playing whatever you want in your free time, fine. Never quit your job just because you feel obligated to, or because you're under the impression that it's the only way to be a "real musician."
On the other hand, if you hate your job, make sure it's genuine desire for a music career that's driving you towards music, not just a desperate urge to flee your nine-to-five. If you just want some kind of change, an unplanned leap into a music career probably isn’t the right move; it might be wiser to just find a better job. And even worse, if your problem lies with commitment in general, the last thing you want to do is turn your music into just another burden.
2. You have enough savings to start recording and touring immediately
Don't quit your job without savings. Just don't. Recording and touring can both cost a lot of money, and you need to make sure you have it before attempting either. Think of it as the initial investment. Quitting your job without enough saved up to embark on your first tour or record your first EP is like opening a store without enough to buy inventory.
As a corollary to this, make sure you're good at money management. It's easy to let yourself think throwing more money at recording and touring problems is the only way to fix them. A good knowledge of DIY recording techniques and equipment repair might save your life later.
3. You know exactly what you're going to do with your time
It can be easy to overestimate how much time you have to do everything and end up playing Xbox instead of doing the things necessary to keep your lights on. One way to tell if you're on the right track is if you've already started to cut down on extraneous activities like watching TV, surfing the internet, and going out drinking. A large part of playing music full-time is getting yourself into the mentality that you're running a business, and that if you don't work on it like you would any other business, it'll fail.
4. You've established a successful business model
Really, this is the most important thing. You need to know where your money's going to come from, even if it's not showing up in desired quantities yet. Hopefully you'll have some gigs lined up in advance so you can get to work making up your lost income as quickly as possible.
Remember that networking and marketing are two of the most important parts of this business, and you should've done a lot of both before you even consider having a go at it full-time. And it should go without saying that you should also have a long contact list ready to go, and a plan for how you can work it to your advantage.
To be clear, nothing above is law. If you have no dependents and no lifestyle expectations that take a certain amount of money to fulfill, why not go for it? Often, the worst that will happen is that you have to go hungry for a bit, then find another job. (Just make sure you stay on good terms with your parents.) But for the rest of us, exercising prudence will take you a long way.
C.S. Jones is a freelance writer, photographer, and artist. He frequently covers music, visual art, scenes, and culture in general. He's not that great of a musician, but he knows a lot about the music industry and really wants to help.