March 14, 2020

By Frank Matheis, Editor/Publisher of 

I hope this will help you just a little. Right now, there is no easy way! I have lots of musician friends who are creative geniuses, but not all are savvy business people. That becomes a real liability in difficult economic times, and it does not get much harder than now, during a pandemic and national emergency. Most everyone is hard-hit now by a sudden string of cancellations and postponements and there is enough economic fear among the musicos to match the societal panic over the pandemic. Musicians are facing the potential of an income drought, and there is no simple solution in sight. For a while, musicians need to hunker down and ride this out. No article can make up for that loss of income, but perhaps some of the ideas here will help bridge the gap and allow musicians to make the best out of hard times.

The cliché “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” is easier said than done. What can you do if you have no money coming in and you are forced to sit it out for perhaps a few months? Whatever you do, don’t waste this time by sitting around depressed and blue. The silver lining is that you now have a precious commodity – time. Make the best of it. From a strict business approach, the answer comes down to two strategies: 1. Optimize your time and 2. Find alternative revenue streams.

How do you “optimize time”?
Everyday set a goal to achieve something, to do something constructive for your career. Use the time effectively to facilitate your future. Approach every day with structured discipline and “go to work” on your future viability. Here are some things you now have time to do:
• Spend as many hours as possible in a day working the phone, emailing and generally reaching out to your network.
• Update your website, your press kit and media information.
• Set up future gigs. If you have a booking agent, use the time to strategize and plan. Be active in assuring your future bookings.
• If you don’t have a booking agent, work the phone to contact old and new venues. Send out media kits and solicitations to get new bookings in places where you have not played.
• If you have some saved money or a means to do so for free, use the time to record.
• Write new songs and work out new materials. Make demos at home and send them out to record labels, publishers and others who need songs for films, TV and commercials.
• Practice, practice, practice.
• Use the time to take care of legal business. Copyright the songs and lyrics that you have not protected yet. Review your contracts. Do you collect 50% in advance? Are you protected in case of cancellations? The pandemic showed that many musicians have no legal protection and lose all revenue when cancelled.
• For long term success, take this time to pitch any original songs you have to anyone who can use them. Send out your copyrighted materials to every feasible place, from Nashville to Austin. Approach big named artists and let them hear what you can do.
• Publish an article in a print or online magazine. Trust me, I know that the pay is low, but if you are a known entity on the music scene, publications will be interested if you are a qualified writer.
• Review your YouTube videos and assure that nobody is hurting your image. You have the right to determine what is good for you and what is not. If you find badly recorded, unprofessional videos made by fans and posted, but don’t reflect positively on you if a promoter, concert organizer or venue owner checks you out on YouTube, tell those folks to remove the video. You have the rights over the use of your name and likeness. Use the time to create some new, high quality videos that properly represent you.
…whatever you do to advance yourself is good, the worse thing is to do nothing.

How do you “Find alternative revenue streams?”
This is the hardest, and it is situational and dependent upon your own circumstances. One size does not fit all. If you have money in the bank to tie you over, or a spouse who pulls in money, all good. If you live gig to gig, it can be a hard and rocky road. Lots of musicians are not financial geniuses, so here are some ideas for those who might face real money shortages:
• As hard as it is, cull the herd. This is often the fastest and best way to get quick cash. In the old days musicians used to pawn their instruments. Now you just offer them on Craigslist or on Facebook, and voila, easy money. If you are one of the many obsessive people who has an oversized arsenal of guitars, (you know who you are) take a good hard look at your collection. Which one do you play the least? Convince yourself that one or two must be sacrificed to allow the rest to survive. Kind of like a dog musher caught in a snowstorm in the arctic. You need to devour one. Yeah, it will be painful, but you can always buy another when good times return.
• The time proven motto of sales is “Sell what you got.” Many musicians are sitting on boxes of their own CDs, books, instructional material and other merchandize. If you don’t have gigs where you can market that material, use this time to hit all the available sales channels and hustle these items into the hands of fans. Reach out to your mailing list and offer a discount. Use e-bay, Amazon, CD Baby and every other feasible sales channel to sell your own music and books. That takes time and effort, and you now have time to move that material. Do the work and post as many for sale as possible.
• Offer guitar lesson or other courses online by Skype. Hold online meet-and-greets with fans. For example, do a one-hour presentation with questions and answers. Charge a reasonable entrance fee, offer each a signed CD and a press photo.

Whatever you do, find a way to make it through this rough time. At least write a few songs about it. Good luck.

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