Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Making Money at Music
February 3, 2005 4:06 PM   Subscribe

MusicianFilter: The other day, a buddy of mine and I were having a bizarre conversation about musicians and perceived success. We started joking around, supposing that, say, En Esch from KMFDM/Slick Idiot really works at Kinko's in Joliet, using the assumed name "Benny." But that got us thinking - at what point are (established/presumably successful) recording artists able to move from their day jobs into full-time musician mode? Or what happens when they move back? And, additionally, if they are still pulling down day jobs, what are some good examples (apart from session musician, studio tech, etc)?
posted by kuperman to Work & Money (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
The guy who made your burrito is huge in Germany: A Guide to the Athens Music Scene

Seriously, the Athens, GA service industry is full of people who have made it big in the music business, but prefer to hold down a quiet day-job in between world tours.
posted by ewagoner at 4:19 PM on February 3, 2005


I was at the cabaret performance of an up and coming actor- has been on Broadway, works regularly off Broadway, has a fan base, is currently in what will be a hit off-Broadway- and he was talking about how he was, at the time, working as a nanny. And I thought, huh, how about that, you can have success and still have to do stuff like that.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:25 PM on February 3, 2005 [1 favorite]


Definitely a second on the resturaunt proposal. It was something of an running joke at the place I worked at that all the servers had an accoustic side project. "What are you doing when you get off work tonite, Jim?" "Well, I got band practice, then I'm gonna spend some time on my accoustic side project." Well, maybe only funny for us.
posted by ChasFile at 4:25 PM on February 3, 2005


Most of the musicians I know who don't hold full-time jobs aren't simply musicians -- they're also sleeve art designers, remix artists, audio engineers, label owners, session musicians, etc.

It's a lot easier to be a full-time musician when you're not relying only on record sales, but have a variety of income sources.
posted by Jairus at 4:40 PM on February 3, 2005


For some reason, most of the musicians I know work at care facilities for disabled/mentally delayed adults. Maybe because it's a job that you can quit easily to go on tour?
posted by xo at 4:48 PM on February 3, 2005


Maybe because it's a job that you can quit easily to go on tour?

Boy I hope not, if only for the sake of the patients.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:51 PM on February 3, 2005 [1 favorite]


This kind of reminds me of the scene in Airplane when Karim Abdul Jabbar (a basketball player moonlighting as an airline pilot) grabs the little boy by the collars and says: "LISTEN KID. I've been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA. I'm out there busting my buns every night. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes."

When I first started getting to know musicians here in the UK, I was surprised to discover how broke most of them were. Even the ones in signed bands. Unless you're the songwriter and your songs are getting radio play or CD sales, you're probably not earning a lot of money.

Signed bands will eventually run out of money and that's when the musicians turn to other things. I know someone who does translating work; another who works as a graphic designer. Even big acts sometimes have side jobs. For example, I was once told (but cannot confirm) that one of Madness is a carpenter, one a graphic designer and another one runs an indie record label.

A lot of the time I've seen people move into jobs which allow them to keep some level of self-respect without having to bump into members of the public who might recognise them. As an example it's not uncommon for musicians to do journalist work - the bass player of the Sundays, for example, has become quite an expert in the music technology field.

It's quite common for people to move from bands to jobs in the music industry. Craig Logan from boyband Bros moved to work at a label and now is one of the managers of Pink. Fergal Sharkey of the Undertones worked at labels, then in radio, and now for the UK government heading up a music taskforce. Muff Winwood is a legendary A&R man, brother of Steve, and was a member of the Spencer Davis Group.
posted by skylar at 4:52 PM on February 3, 2005


I would see John Darnielle (aka The Mountain Goats) shopping for groceries and whatnot a few years ago while I was in college. I know he's worked as an RN and a counselor so that jives with your observation, xo. He may have made the transition to "full time" since then as I've been seeing and hearing a lot more of him in mainstreamish media of late.
posted by jaysus chris at 5:06 PM on February 3, 2005


Jibes, not jives. It must have been the Airplane reference.
posted by jaysus chris at 5:08 PM on February 3, 2005


Lots of the people in bands that I've come across rely on day jobs to make ends meet - even ones with records out, minor hits, and spent major label advances. They often go for disposable jobs if they tour regularly - so you get lots of bar security, wait staff, warehouse work, entry level construction, temp secretarial, and record store gigs.

On the other hand, the Chicago punk scene has spawned at least two lawyers that I can think of. I also know of a few late 80's/early 90's successful hair metal band veterans that invested their money in real estate and/or stocks and are now respectable members of those fields. They don't all end up on Behind the Music.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 5:32 PM on February 3, 2005


Of the 'famous musicians' I know, one is an architect, one is a plasterer, one is a care worker, one is a philosophy lecturer and one is still living off the royalties of the one huge hit he had about 10 years ago.
posted by nylon at 5:59 PM on February 3, 2005


Jazz and blues history is full of stories of players who give up playing and enter another career to pay the bills. Sometimes they're lucky enough to get "rediscovered" while they're still alive.

My guitar teacher has five CDs out, plays regularly as a solo act and with a band, yet still has to teach basically full time to make ends meet. All of the people he plays with have full time jobs. But they all enjoy what they're doing, so even if it's not a career, it's still rewarding for them. I hope to do the same, some day.
posted by tommasz at 6:12 PM on February 3, 2005


Doesn't Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson fly a 737 for a commercial airline when he's not touring?

*googles*

Yes, yes he does.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:25 PM on February 3, 2005


>For some reason, most of the musicians I know work at care facilities for disabled/mentally delayed adults. Maybe because it's a job that you can quit easily to go on tour?
posted by xo at 4:48 PM PST on February 3

Maybe because it's a job that you can quit easily to go on tour?

Boy I hope not, if only for the sake of the patients.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:51 PM PST on February 3


I hope not, too.

A lot of afternoon shifts. You can write or practice or record in the mornings and you get off work at the right time to catch live music. And after a performance you can sleep until noon and still make it to work. Certain workplaces would be happy enough for you to bring your instrument for therapeutic entertainment. The work's conducive to introspection/questioning. It's great when your clients come to your shows.

(IANAM.)
posted by philfromhavelock at 7:14 PM on February 3, 2005


aces high, indeed.
posted by glenwood at 7:16 PM on February 3, 2005


There was an article in Money magazine in the 90s about the band the Jayhawks, more precisely about their financial life. I remember it was pretty eye-opening to realize that guys I idolized from the 15th row made less money than me.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:24 PM on February 3, 2005


read this a couple of months ago....very interesting read.
posted by ShawnString at 7:25 PM on February 3, 2005


at what point are ... recording artists able to move from their day jobs into full-time musician mode?
I've made this transition myself, and the point comes when your various musical forays begin to make you enough cash to pay rent, eat, and buy cd's, mostly in that order.

That will almost always involve being a multi-hatted artist; every working musician I know has at least 2 or 3 sidelines (music copyist, recording engineer, gear technician, software guy, sound guy, etc.) which supplement the gig income.

The internet has been really great at helping indie musicians make that extra beer $$ with online sales, too.

But fundamentally, it's the critical mass of gigs that enables that jump from employee to self-employed. If you're not playing enough to support all the sidelines, it doesn't matter how many hats you're wearing.
posted by Aquaman at 10:15 PM on February 3, 2005


My friends father was a guitarist in a fairly huge 70's rock band. While he is no longer in the band, he still writes songs for people such as Meatloaf and various pop artists, while driving a truck during the day. I'm sure he could live on royalties but I think he likes the normality of having a "day job." For him it was knowing when to make the transition from stardom to mundanity, and not the other way around.
posted by fire&wings at 3:33 AM on February 4, 2005


Father of a friend of a friend of mine is a session guitarist and brain surgeon.
posted by kenko at 9:25 AM on February 4, 2005


Father of a friend of a friend of mine is a session guitarist and brain surgeon.

Buckaroo! I'm a big fan.
posted by jdroth at 10:37 AM on February 4, 2005


I'm not putting forth his position, as many people have argued with the specific numbers he uses, and I think he doesn't calculate the intangibles (to his credit how could you?) and the essay is quite dated at this point, BUT, I'm also not entirely disagreeing with him either, check out Steve Albini's screed on the Big Record Industry and see what you think.

Every musician I know, me included, has some other form of income whether it's related to the industry or not. Granted, I don't hang out with people who sell in the millions, so you know, keep the big grain of salt handy.
posted by safetyfork at 2:09 PM on February 4, 2005


You get ten points for the En Esch and associated projects reference.
posted by baphomet at 2:13 PM on February 4, 2005


Rock stars who went back to work.
posted by too many notes at 3:42 PM on February 4, 2005


Everyone, thanks for your input. This has been very informative and entertaining.

I've also heard recently of a lead singer in a relatively successful L.A. band doing something so bizarre as being the guy who drives around and fills up the tape/CD display at gas stations (you always wondered who filled those?).

(Baphomet: By associated projects, do you mean the display by the self-service copiers?)
posted by kuperman at 4:51 PM on February 4, 2005


I was talking about KMFDM/Slick Idiot. I know nothing of these Self Service Copiers or their music, are they any good?

[Just kidding, but I really don't know what you're alluding to]
posted by baphomet at 6:29 PM on February 4, 2005


« Older The snot question got me wonde...   |  I'm asking this on my wife's b... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.