Getting Started: An Artist Guide to Becoming an Independent Artist

How to become a full time music artist

     An artist is a person engaged in one or more of any of a broad spectrum of activities related to creating art, practicing the arts, and/or demonstrating an art. Are you truly an artist by definition or are you someone who creates art? I will clarify this question a little later. I promise, kind of.

     I posted a question on social media where I asked artists what was stopping them from being a full time artist. I was full of mixed emotions as I read the responses. I hope that this will provide some direction for those who responded and maybe also help a few others who may not have seen the post.

     Social media has been a great resource and a thorn in my side. You can connect with virtually anybody; see into their virtual lives and they into yours. You can find information on pretty much anything you would like. There are entertainment updates, local, national and world news updates that seem to overshadow us. We can keep up with the latest sports stats or political humor all from the tip of your fingertips and at a moment’s notice. Those examples all seem positive however; they are also what are negative about social media.

     The irony about the social network is that it is weakening social skills and human interaction. It takes more effort to manage the art of eye contact, acknowledgement and sentence structure within a face-to-face conversation. The social network also has an effect on our imagination. Through it, pictures are painted for you with images and video content. In-person group conversations are turning into blogs and blogs into vlogs. At the core of all of these wonderful platforms ,blogs, videos, etc is imagination. Imagination is what artists live through. You use your imagination to create reality. As an artist, who is looking to live by and through your craft in our current environment, you need more than imagination.

     As I read the thread on my social media post, I immediately noticed a commonality in the comments. After living as a full time artist since 2005, I’ve learned that the “apex of principle” for a full time music artist is planning. That’s right, you have to plan in order to become. In my experience, you have to consistently maintain a short-term and long-term strategy. Short-term strategies should be all inclusive of goal achieving. You should be able to actively and successfully reach your short-term goals. Short-term goals would include things like finding a list of venues you’d like to contact, researching what social media outlets best suit your personality or even finding information such as what I am sharing with you now. Here is a clear, real life short-term goal that you can apply immediately. Take a serious look at your monthly budget. Write down or use a spreadsheet to analyze your income and expenses. This step should be done in acute detail for the minimum of two business quarters. This short-term strategy positions you to achieve the long-term goal of becoming a full time artist in terms of recognizing and being intimately familiar with your financial needs and wants. In this example, you dissolve the wonder about where you are financially as it compares to where you’d like to be. This step can be combined with step two if you are diligent. Let’s move forward!

     As you begin to take notice to what your financial needs are, start thinking about how you would meet those needs. A good reality check would be to assess your self as an artist. This is the moment that you should be sure that what you are doing is marketable and expandable. This means that you should know that people will want to buy something from you and that you have an idea of why they should or would purchase from you multiple times thereafter. Sometimes, as artists, we create things that aren’t necessarily for public consumption. They are private creations that may be too intimate to us to share. So as you consider your marketing, you would need to make sure that you have enough product and/or services to offer your market. You will also want to consider if that product and/or service is expandable. Though it did take creativity to market peanuts, it was another thing for George Washington Carver to expand and create 300 products from peanuts. Once you have mastered how to market your original product (you) then you create derivatives and take those products to market. Most of us will naturally begin to consider the physical products to expand on. Keep in mind that your expansion could be in the form of you offering something like a unique collaboration or a limited pay-to-view video. Let your imagination flow. By now, you should start to be able to visualize how you could maintain a lifestyle from your product. Take a moment and make a list of how you could expand your product and then start planning. Expansion is a critical life sustaining practice for an artist.

     “Well, Maurice, this all sounds great and makes sense but how do I put it into practice? I’m scared and still unsure if it will actually work.” I’m so glad that you set the Segway to my next point! What do you do when you know your budget, you have a plan and it all looks great on paper? It’s time to stand up. It’s now time to apply what you have on paper.

     Remember your budget? Let’s take a look at it again. Do you have your list in front of you? What is your lowest monthly bill? For me, when I did my overall assessment, it was my mobile phone. It was right around the $75 mark. Keep in mind the time period this was. At this time, roaming charges were a common thing in the mobile world, but I digress. When I looked at my mobile bill, I rounded up to $80/month. I typically round up and pay that round up amount on all of my bills in an effort to create a bit of a financial break or cushion. Now that you have identified that bill, take it and you use your art to consistently pay that bill. Here is the trick that I used. It is called extreme self-discipline. Even IF you are working a full time job and can easily pay your mobile phone bill, IF your art doesn’t, you are still NOT to pay that bill until your art can. This type of self-discipline forces you to #1, take a serious look at if you are mentally ready to commit to having your art pay for bills; #2, gives you a glimpse of how much attention it will take to use art to consistently pay bills; #3, starts to wean you off of the mental safety net of non-accountability. You are held responsible for what you earn through your art. Also and however, if you haven’t built up enough steam and stamina to be successful in this step, I suggest that you pay the bill before you allow too much time to pass by or before accruing late fees, etc.

     Now let’s presume that you were successful with that step and that what worked for my clients, and me has now worked for you. After, you have consistently paid a bill or two through your art for 3 or 4 months, you should now add a bill to the list of things that your art should be paying for. So if you began with a cell phone bill and gas and electric, then add in the car note or insurance. Build this process until you are covering all of your expenses. If you can cover those expenses and meet your budget consistently for at least a year, congratulations, you are ready to consider being a full time artist.

     Now, even though I have provided you with a quick overview on how to become a full time artist, please understand that there are glitches and unexpected obstacles that come with these steps. There will also be unexpected obstacles when you become a full time music artist just as they would show up if you weren’t. Plan ahead. Be prepared. Enjoy living off of your craft.

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