Once upon a time, I was working in marketing for a major restaurant chain. It was a great experience, but like most jobs in the corporate world, it became monotonous (and slightly soul-sucking). One meeting in particular stood out the most. I had prepared a 10-plus page social media research document showcasing what our consumers disliked about our brand. It was one of many that I had done, and like the others, it was completely overlooked. "It's too targeted." "That's not what I've heard from my region." We even had a few, "Social media is a terrible research tool. Our issue is that we should call it famous chicken and waffles. We need that buzzword." Yikes.
Meanwhile, my phone was vibrating in my pocket. Emails were coming in from my freelance clients, my musicians and labels that I was writing for and consulting with – something I enjoyed doing! I knew I had to make a change. Sure, it was safe. I had an "important" title, but at the end of the day, I was miserable.
A few weeks later, I left my job and dove right into working full-time in the music industry. Drawing on my work background with major labels as well as my job in advertising – and yes, even experience from the aforementioned restaurant chain – I'm proud that I have been able to make it work.
But that's not to say it hasn't been tough! There are still some ways in which I'm adjusting. Looking back, there are definitely some things I would have done to make this transition a bit easier. So, before you contemplate telling your boss you're hitting the road for the big city (or your local venue), here are seven questions you may want to ask yourself.
1. Do I have multiple streams of income I can rely on in case something falls through?
I work in the business side of music, so for me, pursuing music industry work is a little more clear-cut than some of you reading this. I can fall back on freelance projects or teaching work if things get tough. But what can you rely on when things fall through? Sure, a six-month touring calendar is great! But some of that money is hypothetical, right? What if a venue cancels, or even worse, doesn't pay up? Even if your tour was a major success, what about when it's over and done? Do you have something that'll help you out when your primary income is slow?
Plenty of artists find comfort in teaching music lessons, or working in a studio full-time in an engineering or even general office role. But you could have another talent, too. One of my go-to graphic designers that I've partnered with dozens of times is actually the lead singer for a killer indie outfit that's achieved national success. She simply freelances when she isn't on the road.
2. Do I have enough in savings?
Savings are tough. If there's one thing I wish I had done before jumping into self-employment, it would have been to bulk that bank account up a tad more. I think we all have that thought, but it's doubly true for those of us who want to follow our passions. Save up living expenses far in advance, and plan things out! Work may not always be constant, especially in the music industry.
3. Do I have reliable industry connections?
Networking is an incredibly important tool in the music industry. And it doesn't have to be with huge producers or agents. While that would be helpful, even having a good rapport with your local bar's booking guy is a huge plus. It all boils down to having that go-to contact for when the bank account is low. Do you have someone who can help you book a gig when you need it? Make sure you're connected!
4. Are my bandmates as serious as I am?
The majority of bands I played with in college were for fun. They were with construction and business majors who went on to own or work for large companies. And while they still gig on weekends, I'm not sure if they'd be the ideal bandmates for someone pursuing music full-time (as talented as they may be!). You want to ensure you are surrounded by people with similar goals who will work with you to help you achieve success.
5. Am I really good enough to do this full-time?
This is the million-dollar question! Do you have those superfans you can count on to buy your music and show up to every gig? If not, you may need to spend some time building up those reliable fans and your branding before you embark on this journey. There's nothing wrong with not having a fanbase yet, but figure out why you don't. Need to step up your marketing? Is your music not mixed well? Tweak it!
6. Could I imagine myself being content doing anything else besides music full-time?
Let's face it, no one is crazy enough to do music full-time unless they're so passionate about it that they couldn't fathom doing anything else with their lives. The industry will weed you right out unless you have unshakable determination to succeed. There's absolutely nothing wrong with keeping a day job you like and doing music as a hobby – it's whatever works for you and makes you happy.
7. Do I have a "go-getter" personality?
This road is going to be tough! Can you handle failure? Are you the hustler type who will become even more motivated when obstacles and challenges inevitably come up, or do you typically find yourself freezing up and panicking during hard times?
Another important consideration: Do you have a family that depends on you? If so, you'd really have to weigh the consequences of giving up "regular" job benefits such as company-provided health insurance and a steady, predictable income. Consider whether your day job is really negatively impacting your musical goals, or if it's something you can balance. This is the reality of it for most people, so you need to be completely honest with yourself about whether you have what it takes to deal with the nitty-gritty hustle of the music industry – and how that decision might affect others who rely on you.
While these are the most common challenges that will arise, plenty more are bound to pop up unexpectedly. But at the end of the day, whether it's part-time or full-time, doing what you love is an incredibly rewarding experience. So write out those pros and cons, and start making some moves!
Until you're ready to quit, here's how to balance your day job with your music career.
As a music marketing strategist, Tyler Allen works with an extensive array of artists, labels, music tech, and music retail entities. Tyler began his music industry career with Sony Music Entertainment and RED Distribution, as well as the advertising industry. He is dedicated to giving veteran artists the tools to preserve their legacy, and new artists the tools to begin theirs (as well as everything in between). Learn more at wtylerconsulting.com.