8 Pitfalls of Being a Freelance Musician

pitfall of being a freelance musician

The atmosphere was electric, the bass was grooving!

It was 45 minutes of funky smooth grooving music that got everybody moving their hips. The band was killing it and the singer was leading the charge with electric vocals at the illustrious House of Blues Hollywood.

Overall what a great gig. After the show you get usual comments of appreciation and feel great afterwards.

I started packing up my gear and got everything ready to load up in my Toyota Yaris. Afterwards I socialized a bit, got some laughs and a few high fives than said my bye byes.

As I said my byes to the singer he mentioned that my check would be in the mail. I said, “No problem.”

Several days later I checked my mailbox and lo and behold “no check.” I text the singer, and he mentioned that he forgot and will send it ASAP.

Couple days passed taking my usually stroll to the mailbox I opened it up and thumbed through the junk mail. Again, “no check!”


I text the singer once again, and he forgot, “Again!”

Finally after a week and a half I got my check for a measly $100.

I know what your saying, ” Hey bro, $100 is not bad for a 45 minute set.”

Of course it is if you have a day job and you gig on the side, but when being a freelance musician is your day job it doesn’t cut the mustard.

First let me explain the:

8 pitfalls of being a freelance musician.

Pitfall 1: Inconsistent Work

Every summer is when touring season starts, festivals, weddings, etc. But this last summer of 2013 it was a little odd for me because gigs didn’t start coming in till the tail end of the summer.

What was I to do?

I had to text, call, email a few of my connects to see if there were any possible future gigs coming up. Nada!

In today’s age the music business has flipped.

Artists are no longer getting record deals.

Record labels are not really pushing or promoting artists like they use too.

Venues and clubs have started the “pay to play” tactic.

Where artists and bands have to sell a certain amount tickets in order to get a cut from tickets sales. Venues need heads to come in and spend money on food and drinks in order to make cash. If an artist or group doesn’t have a following than the venues have to push the artists to promote their own show to get paid.

Yes, it’s a never ending battle. So what do you do?

The answer is find a day job.

“What?! Are you kidding me? I’m an artist. I don’t wanna work for some jerk boss!”

Whoa, whoa hold your horses Mr. Artist. The perfect way to supplement my gig income is to teach music.

Pitfall 2: Inconsistent Pay

February of 2007, I got a great gig with an Asian artist named Francis Yip. I got in contact with her music director though a mutually friend of mine.

We gigged the Pala and Pechanga casinos. They were very pro and great guys to work with. The best part was the check of course. Each gig paid $700.

Yes, that’s $700 for just an hour and a half of music. I made it, or so I thought.

After the awesome gig I had with Francis Yip. I got another gig with an independent artist in LA.

Guess what the check was?

$100 bucks! For an hour show, almost the same amount of time with Francis Yip but for 86% less.

“Well, stop being a baby you gotta pay your dues.” Is what you’re probably saying. Well, I’ve been paying my dues for 10 years at the time and have worked for many known artists and it’s still the same nonsense, the business is In shambles.

Veteran bassist Ethan Farmer still gigs in smaller venues when he’s not touring with Christina Aguilera or Backstreet Boys. Why? Because he just loves playing?

Nope, because he has to pay his bills when he’s not on tour with major artists. That’s why! Is his check smaller? Yep!

How do I know this? I met him though some buddies of mine and asked these questions when I use to go to Cafe Cordiale in Sherman Oaks where he use to have his late night jams with his band.

Pitfall 3: Inconsistent Folks

I worked at Yamaha music for four great years. My friend Nikki who was a great teacher and concert pianist connected me with her friend Wolly, a great Latino pianist.

He needed a bassist for a Latino comedy show he was contracted with. He needed to put the band together. It was a steady gig that was going to last several months.

Finally, something steady.

Wolly, needed a drummer. I know tons of drummers. We got together and started rehearsing. The gig was going to pay about $300 a night, four days a week.

$1,200 a week was alright with me and it worked in my teaching schedule.

A few days before the show I got a call from Wolly. He said, ” Sorry amigo, they can’t afford the whole band and they are going to only use keyboard with backing tracks.”

Another one bites the dust.

This is the way show business thinks. It’s very inconsistent and indecisive, there business model is poor. That could also be why record labels and music publishers are nowhere near in the Fortune 500 list.

The Latino comedy gig is just one example of last minute cancelled gigs or record deals that I’ve had in the past. But that’s another tale to tell.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find that illustrious steady perfect gig. At this point and time in my life I’m not putting all my eggs in that basket. If you love the hunt then go search for that elusive bear.

Pitfall 4: Dealing with Divas

“Oh Lord, please forgive them for they know not how to treat people.”

I don’t care how famous and rich you are. Everybody has the same feelings as everyone else. Even poor folks treat each other like crap.

The ultimate gig that God blessed me with was when I toured for a couple weeks in Egypt.

Yes, Egypt! I got to ride a camel. Here some pics of me in Egypt with the band.


Anyways, back to the story.

Before, we left the country we had rehearsals of course. One rehearsal I decided to film it with my flipcam. Just for fun nobody seemed to mind. I’ve done it many times with other bands and they never had a problem with it just as long as I post it Facebook.

As I was filming suddenly the singer up and left. The guys were wondering what happened. “Maybe she had to do #2,” the drummer said. We chuckled a bit.

The singer later walked in the practice room walked towards with some disgust and asked me to not film the rehearsal. I asked why. Was it for copyright purposes?

Turns out she doesn’t like being filmed even if it was for fun. Turns out the singers an actor. Go figure right?

There was tension in the room and I didn’t want to get fired because I wanted to go to Egypt. I apologized and everything was hunky dory.

This was not my only taste of diva status. I’ve worked with nobody artists and musicians and even producers that portrayed this diva quality and think they are the shiznit.

Not in my book I’m not working for wannabes who demand only green M&M’s.

Pitfall 5: Tough Living

Making it as a steady freelance musicians is tough enough, but if you really want to make the cash you have to live in LA, New York, or. Nashville.

That’s where all the major artists and bands are gathered.

But, cost of living is insane in LA compared to the suburbs or even further out. I know musicians who have to live in low income neighborhoods to pay for rent. I could imagine New York.

I’m in small middle class town 15 minutes down the freeway from downtown and rent for a one bedroom apartment is between $900-$1000. My dad pays about the same for his mortgage but he lives in Oregon.

Don’t forget in LA you have to have a car to get around and gas is rising, car payments are getting out of hand, inflation is blowing up. I hear Nashville has a lower cost of living, maybe I might swing on down there in the future.

There is obviously more to cover maybe other folks can make it with steady jobs, but not as a freelance musician.

Teaching music is a good way to supplement your income, you can schedule your lessons to fit your busy gigging schedule, and most music lesson take place in the after noon so you can sleep in.

Pitfall 6: Work more than your worth

Let’s do the math for the time I spent prepping for the gig that I mentioned in the beginning of this lesson.

  1. Practice at home: 2.5 hours, 12 songs.
  2. Drive time to and from Band rehearsal: 1 hour.
  3. Band Rehearsal: 3 hours.
  4. Drive time to and from gig: 1 hour.
  5. Gig: 45 minutes.
  6. Total time spent: 8 hours, 15 minutes.
  7. $100/ 8hrs 15min = $12 per hour

I guess that’s okay but remember cost of living especially in LA.

I would have to hustle and find several of these gigs that pay more or less depending on the artist or recording gig.

Most musicians don’t even think and calculate the time and effort it takes to prep for a gig. They assume they are getting paid for just the gig itself. It is the employee mentality that gets stuck in our minds. The mentality of when we clock in at work is when we get paid, but musicians are self employed.

Every minute spent practicing, prepping, driving, gas, etc for a gig is work you’re getting paid for. So, start calculating the time you spend on a gig divided by your pay and you’ll see what you get paid hourly.

Recordings, I don’t do much of these especially nowadays with technology everyone is trying to wear many hats in the studio in order to cut costs and save money. Because record labels and studios aren’t making any.

Networking and connections is key in this business. It’s so tight knit. There’s famous business quote.

“It’s who you know, not what you know.”

That’s actually incorrect, here’s the correct quote.

“It’s not who you know, or what you know. It’s who likes you.”

Let’s use the same math example but this time using the Francis Yip gig.

  1. Practice at home: 5 hours, 20 songs.
  2. Drive time to and from Band rehearsal: 1 hour.
  3. Band Rehearsal: 8 hours. This was a whole day
  4. Drive time to and from gig: 2 hour. The casinos were way out in the boondocks.
  5. Gig: 1.5 hours
  6. Total time spent: 17.5 hours.
  7. $700/ 17.5 hrs = $40 per hour

I need more of these gigs even though I worked double time and I made almost 3 times more per hour. After the Francis Yip gig I got called for more gigs out of state which was pretty substantial for my career. But just like all good things they never last.

Pitfall 7: Wealth isn’t a choice

Freelancing will not make you wealthy period! Musicians make a living wage by working. Wealthy people work very little if nothing at all.

“Wages make you a living, profits make you a fortune.” Jim Rohn

In college all I took was music courses, there was no prerequisite for taking business courses. I wish there were. Even though what I know now about business, college courses in business is not going to take you far enough.

Musicians need to learn entrepreneurship. There are plenty of musicians out there that are incredibly wealthy including: Paul McCartney, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jay Z, even 50 cents. These guys are worth close if not more than half a billion dollars in net worth.

Is there wealth created by their music purely?

Absolutely not! They have invested their hard earned money in investing in profitable businesses and ventures. Record sales is a very small part of it. Song royalties is good part of it as well.

To be wealthy you have to have start off with the right vocabulary.

Do you know the difference between, earned income and passive income?

How about assets and liabilities?

Listen up class, if wanna become wealthy. These are lessons that were taught to me by wealthy individuals that are acquaintances of mine and also that have recommended books that made them wealthy.

  1. Earned Income: to earn a wage by physical work.
  2. Passive Income: to earn a wage by very minimal work if none at all by means of profitable investments.
  3. Assets: are objects or investments that bring a return of investment back to you. Or put money back in your pocket.
  4. Liabilities: are objects that depreciate in value and actually takes money out of your pocket.

Memorize these terms and read a book by Robert Kiyosaki called “Rich Dad, Poor Dad, it will save your financial life.

Once you understand these terms you will either quit being a musician because you thought it was going to lead you to riches or keep going going because you love the hustle and music. Or you’re just a stubborn musician in which most musicians are and you’ll keep doing what you always been doing.

Pitfall 8: Music Virus

I have the music virus.

Music to me is like crack to a crackhead. I will be 100 years old in my wheelchair and still thump on my bass.

I pursue music for the love not for the cash because I know there isn’t any. I also love teaching music and writing.

I am a published author and have written the “The only beginners guitar book you’ll ever need.” It brings in at the moment enough passive income to pay for my internet connection which is pretty cool.

I have a whole list of book titles and ideas for the future reference and business ideas to bring in more passive income. I have an entrepreneur spirit.

This spirit should be passed on to struggling musicians so they can still pursue their music, but at the same build passive income to build wealth.

Unfortunately, these are the pitfalls of freelance musicians. This virus makes us insane and all we think about is music, music, music. We don’t feel like doing anything else.

This is our downfall and makes musicians stay broke, crazy and irresponsible in our personal lives.

It may seem that I am complaining I’m just bringing out realities and options to the table, but I love the hustle and interesting people that I get to meet in my life and it’s something that I won’t trade for anything even though I won’t become wealthy in being a freelance musician.

Once again that’s it for now and if you enjoyed the lesson please share it and feel free to let me know what you think in comments sections below.

Thanks my peeps.


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