By Rorie Kelly | Photo: Laura Foord
I doubled my musical income last year, and I'm pretty confident I can do it again next year, too.
Want me to share my secrets? OK.
When I first started tracking the income from gigs and sales it felt laughable. But I soon found I had an easy record of what worked and what didn't. I rebooked the high-quality gigs and politely declined those that were not bringing me money or new fans. I learned that session singing was bringing in a bigger percentage of income than I'd thought, and I started going after new clients. You'd be surprised how much you can grow just by optimizing what you're already doing.
Make it a numbers game
I declared May "Monetizing May" and made a simple commitment to do ONE small task per day to bring in new musical income. (Some examples: Calling a new venue, posting an ad on Craigslist, joining a site like Thumbtack or Gigmasters...) This took from five to 30 minutes per day. That June I proceeded to have my highest grossing month ever. Small efforts add up if you do them every day.
Turn off the computer and turn on your brain
After reading all the "right" music business blogs for years and not feeling any more "in charge" of my music career, I turned to basic brainstorming. When I ran out of ideas for "Monetizing May" I took out a pen and paper and wrote down as many answers as I could do the question "How could I make a living with music?" I wrote down anything that came into my head, including and especially outlandish ideas. I filled up as many pages as I could and counted that as my task for one day. For every day after, I just looked at my list and picked whatever looked most interesting to work on.
If you can't figure out how to make something work, bail!
I believed for several years in a row that I was failing as a musician because I couldn't make the typical NYC "door deal" gig work for me. (You know what I'm talking about—$10 cover at the door, and for every person you bring in after the first 10 or 20, you get a cut.) Even if I brought in enough people to make money, I couldn't expect every friend, fan and family member to come to every single gig—and I was never making any new fans because these places do not have a built in crowd. I stopped booking those gigs because they were just making me feel bad about myself.
Now that I could take a break from frantically inviting everyone I knew to yet another Facebook event, I used the free time to find some better gigs. I looked at musicians I knew to be doing well and called the venues they were playing. I discovered house concerts. I got involved in the folk circuit. To my surprise, there were gigs out there where I could make money and make new fans—I just had to look a little harder to find them. To this day I have no idea if I will ever be able to make a NYC door deal gig work—and I don't care.
Be your own boss
To be clear, I'm not talking about gleefully quitting your day job. I'm talking about acting like your own manager and holding yourself accountable. Check in daily, or weekly, or monthly—whatever works for you. Schedule actual time to do this. Review your recent income (because you're tracking it, right?) as well as the money you reasonably expect to receive from what you have booked. Look at what you're doing well and try to find ways to do more of it. This is the time to schedule strategic tasks and to cross out the ones that are proving unhelpful.
Work your ass off, but don't burn yourself out
Finding this balance has been the hardest part for me. I could not have made as much money as I did this summer if I was not willing to work 40 hours during the week and then go out and play five gigs over the weekend. I learned, though, that you can only do that for so many weeks before your body declares war and you find yourself sick in bed. All your hard work is wasted if you can't enjoy it because you're sick and exhausted.
There's no magic formula. You have to listen to your body, know your limits and find tricks to work smarter, not harder. You'll get better at it over time. I have. Honesty time: I did not make a resolution to double my musical income last year. My resolution was actually to "figure out how to make a full time living as a musician and do it!" I had no idea how to do that and didn't really believe I could do it in a year, but I wanted it SO BADLY that I made it my goal anyway. What I learned along the way was that I was right—I couldn't do it inside of a year. But I also learned that I can double my income inside of a year. It was tough, but not so challenging that I can't do it again.
Last year, "make a full time living as a musician" felt like a desperate pipe dream. A year later, I can actually do the math and know exactly when I'll hit my goal income. And I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll keep upping my game and hit it even sooner.
People hearing rorie kelly for the first time often say, “I can’t believe that voice came out of that body.” The singer/songwriter has been compared to Alanis Morissette and Janis Joplin for her catchy, melodic songwriting style and raw vocal power. Music, videos, and tour dates are available at roriekelly.com.