So much of our focus as professional musicians comes down to making money, since it can be such a difficult thing to do at times. However, you might get just as close to financial security if you take some steps to focus on saving the money that you do make.
Of course, this is true for everybody, not just musicians. Some things are (hopefully) common sense, such as not going out to eat every day, avoiding expensive coffee beverages, and regularly depositing into your savings account. However, musicians can end up with extra expenses compared to the average person, such as gear maintenance, gas expenses for travel gigs, website maintenance, and hiring costs for other musicians. I've compiled a few musician-specific tricks for saving money that have helped me – hopefully they help you make rent easier as well!
1. Learn DIY maintenance
As musicians, we put a ton of use (and perhaps, abuse) on the tools we use on a daily basis. This includes our instruments, vehicles, equipment, and any technology that gets used regularly. Naturally, with heavy use, these tools begin to wear down and need repair. However, repair work can be very expensive, especially if you have a lot of gear that gets heavy enough use to warrant regular repairs and maintenance.
Thankfully, with a little research, the power of the internet, and perhaps a smart friend who knows what he or she is doing, you can learn to do your own maintenance and repair work on many of these tools yourself (at least on a basic level). If you can learn to work on your gear and vehicle, you'll save yourself tons of money down the road.
As far as gear maintenance goes, if you don’t have any friends who know enough to help you, you can find free clinics given at many music stores. You may also consider paying a professional tech for a repair lesson; it will pay for itself quite quickly.
2. Build music store relationships
If you're fortunate enough to live in an area inhabited by small, locally owned and operated music stores, make a point to pick a favorite location and become a regular.
If you're playing a lot, you probably go through tons of picks, strings, drumsticks, heads, cables, and lots of other small accessories. By doing business out of the same local music store regularly, you not only support the local economy, but you can begin to build a friendly relationship with those who run the shop. I've found that more often than not, locally run music stores are grateful to those who do business with them frequently, and they'll usually be willing to cut you good deals as a result (or at least, fair deals where you won't have to worry about being overcharged).
As an added bonus, getting involved with the community of shop regulars is a great way to network. Pro players probably go through more strings/picks/sticks/heads than anybody; if you spend enough time at a shop, you'll likely run into some pretty well-connected folks!
3. Network at local jams instead of pricey concerts
When asking some of my colleagues for advice, one of the most common threads is that they go to tons of performances and get to know the scene by going to shows. However, going to a concert every week can quickly begin to tax your income. Local jams are a great way to get out and enjoy live music, and are also a great way to network and try out new ideas you've been practicing.
Most decent-sized towns should have at least a jam or two that happen every week at a bar or venue. Many of these jam sessions have specific genre themes, such as blues, jazz, or country, where many local up-and-coming players in each genre like to hang out. The best thing about these jams? Most of them are totally free (unless you buy drinks)!
4. Barter services with other musicians
It's really important to get to know other musicians, as other musicians are the ones who are most likely to hire you for your musical services. Sometimes, you'll need to be the one who does the hiring. Whether it's getting some lessons from a local instructor, calling some players for your next gig or recording, getting somebody to write arrangements for your original music, or finding somebody to help mix your new album, you might find yourself stuck if you don't have the funds to compensate the people you need help from.
I've frequently utilized the barter system with my musician friends when I've been short on money. I've engineered demo sessions and cleaned houses on a number of occasions, as a trade for a few lessons from a great teacher. You might ask somebody to play on your next recording in exchange for playing on their next recording or gig for free. There are lots of ways to go about it; just make sure you're keeping track of what services you can offer, so that you have something useful to use as a trade.
Important to note: Generally, bartering services works best with musicians you're already friends with. Folks who don't know you might be a little reluctant to jump right into a trade offer when they don't know your skills yet and haven't worked around you before.
5. Trade up your gear
Not all musicians are crazy about gear, and some folks have no interest whatsoever when it comes to checking out the next awesome piece of equipment that just hit the market. However, many of us are always chasing after a better instrument, amp, pedal, or accessory. Growing up, I always wanted to have the best gear on the block but have never had the money to spend. However, I've been able to build up a killer rig by simply trading up. When I want a new piece of equipment, I just sell a few pieces of gear that I haven't been using regularly in order to fund the new toy.
If this is something that interests you, then start keeping tabs on the market value of all of your equipment. When it's time to pick up something new, just look around the area where your gear is. What aren't you using regularly? What's easily replaceable should you regret selling it? Then, take to Cragslist/eBay/Reverb/whatever used gear website you prefer.
Of course, an extra tip in itself is to always buy used. Even items that are in "like new" condition will be cheaper to buy used than it would be to buy in a music store. Additionally, since you're dealing face to face with an individual rather than a business, you can haggle to your heart's content. And in the best case scenario, you can arrange a straight-across trade: the pieces they're selling in exchange for whatever it is you're selling. This is a great way to get new equipment that you're going to use a lot without even spending a dime.
Do you have any other money-saving tips for musicians? Let us know in the comments below!
Dylan Welsh is a freelance musician and music journalist, based in Seattle, WA. He currently plays in multiple Seattle bands, interns at Mirror Sound Studio, and writes for the Sonicbids blog. Visit his website for more information.