What to Do When Money Gets in the Way of Music

My teen years were pretty typical. Like most of the guys I hung out with, I dreamed of being a rock star. I played in multiple bands during high school. Then, as I transitioned to adulthood, I continued to play – just with different types of bands. Over the years, it seemed like every attempt to make music professionally was thwarted by the same thing: a lack of money.

Making music for a living is as much of a business as a dream. The number of acts that get picked up by major record labels without any real effort on their part is extremely small. The vast majority of truly fantastic musicians playing in garage bands or schlepping it up at local bars and nightclubs will never get the shot they crave. Why? Because they do not have the money to pay for that shot.

Show Me the Money

There is a scene in the 2014 film Jersey Boys in which the members of the Four Seasons question their producer, Bob Crewe, about his seeming disinterest in recording an album of their original work. Crewe’s response is priceless: “Show me the money.”

Frankie and his fellow band members were taken aback by Crewe’s statement. They just assumed Crewe would produce them because they were under contract with his studio. They were wrong.

The Four Seasons was not one of the ‘chosen few’ to get an all-expenses paid trip into musical stardom. They had to come up with the money to record their first commercial album. Guess what? They are not alone. Artists having to pay their own way is the normal operating procedure.

What Budding Artists Can Do

So, what can budding artists do to solve the money problem? A lot of them are recording and producing at home. They invest a few thousand dollars in top-of-the-line equipment and set up their own home studios. Then they sell their music directly to fans. In so doing, they completely bypass the traditional system.

There are other options:

1. Online Recording Studios

Modern technology has made it possible to offer full music production services through an online recording studio. New York-based Supreme Tracks is one such studio. While they operate four physical locations, they offer musicians the opportunity to collaborate online.

This model saves money by not requiring everyone involved in a given project to fly to New York. Everyone from musicians to arrangers can do their work from wherever they are. Files are shared online.

2. Crowdfunding

Another option is to take advantage of crowdfunding. Budding musicians can create a demo track or two, then publish them online with links directing fans to a crowdfunding page where they can contribute. Raise enough money and a musician can pay for professional recording, production, etc.

3. Beat the Pavement

Of course, there is always the old-fashioned method of beating the pavement. This is where musicians hook up with agents willing to find their work where it is available. They travel from one local venue to the next, playing as many dates as they can.

The idea is that constant touring and playing local events gradually builds a band’s fan base and sells records. Over time, a band wills itself to go big simply by building a large enough base.

Making it big in music has been the dream of teenage boys and girls since the early days of Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley. Unfortunately, most musicians do not get a free ride. They either pay for it themselves or spend their lives dreaming of what could have been having they just gotten that big break.