Editor’s note: This article was written by guest contributor Cheryl B. Engelhardt. With all the uncertainties around running your own business, it’s easy to get discouraged as a full-time musician. Cheryl’s article is a good reminder that this same uncertainty, like those expanding-foam animal capsules we loved as kids, can turn into something magical (passion, freedom, etc.) if you just add water, … or, … umm, I mean… talent and discipline and hard work. — Chris R. at CD Baby


The Silver Lining for Starving Artists

There have been many times when I’ve caught myself in what I call P.P.P. (the Predictable Paycheck Predicament): being jealous of my roommate as she left the apartment at her regular time to go to her regular job to get her regular paycheck. (Definition of “regular,” by the way: arranged in or constituting a constant or definite pattern.)

But then I went back to sleep. And when I woke up, I probably went for a run, got some groceries, replied to emails, worked on a song, set up a pitch meeting or two on the subject of composing for a new film or licensing my last record, then I might have grabbed coffee with a friend in town, came home, called some venues for my summer tour, had a glass of wine while watching the latest episode of NCIS online, then researched publishing companies for my new indie artist E-course. Or something like that.

P.P.P. is really just another grass-is-greener complex, and once I get myself present to my reality, PPP becomes a thing of the past.  I pretend my roommate is there and I sing, “My job is better than yours!” Then I calmly think of my reasons why having a musician’s life rocks:

1. Freedom! We musicians get to create our own days. I have freedom to go to the gym or write a song or book a tour. I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck and I can take off at any time, eat any time, and work when I am inspired to work. (Side note- inspiration isn’t something that happens to you; you have to create it, which usually just means sitting your butt down in a chair and writing.)

Don’t get me wrong- my calendar is not blank and I still have obligations and requirements to bring home the bacon, but these are usually on my terms and are situations I have chosen, like finishing up creating a song for a CollegeHumor.com video, getting on a sponsorship conference call, or arriving at a gig on time. But these “obligations” are what I spend my days working on achieving. And the key is I can use my day for whatever it is I truly want in my life. That day. This freedom is wonderful and I never take it for granted.

2. Responsibility! I know people shy away from taking on responsibility, like it’s a scary grown-up thing. But really, creating your own day, generating your own sources of income, and being the master of your own schedule is a massive lesson in responsibility. For example, after getting through customs in Hamburg, Germany with 3 bandmates, oversized luggages and work visas in hand, picking up a friend at the airport, still making your hair cut, and paying your phone bill on time is cake. Out of necessity, being a freelance musician taught me to be responsible, and I’m now able to handle anything with ease.

3. Passion! We are doing what we LOVE! You will never, ever, ever, ever hear me say “I wish I was ____” (fill in the blank with a verb). I’m usually already doing it. I know so many folks who are in their 9-5 job because they haven’t found their passion yet. While taking the leap to being a full-time musician seems daunting, difficult, and perhaps delusional, knowing what you are passionate about is a blessing!

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4. Beating the crowds! We get to run errands when supermarkets, dry cleaning, hair cutting salons, post offices, and retail stores are least crowded. Oh, and can we say off-peak gym hours?

5. Infinite possibilities for income… not just one check every two weeks. As a music creator, we can make money in so many ways, it’s exciting, if you think about it. Live show ticket and merch sales, royalties from TV and film placements, recording demos for other artists in my home studio, co-writing and producing with other artists, creating music for websites, scoring indie films, playing house concerts, ski resorts, colleges and a whole bunch of other shows (I have a list of 19 “other gig options” in my E-course you should check out) is just the start of the list.

I also have the freedom (see #1) to take on other sources of income like teaching piano lessons, personal training, bar tending, and writing and selling an E-course. Anytime I need a “break” I can still create income by turning to many other options, like guiding a kayak trip or working with the network marketing company Referdia (yes, that’s my affiliate link), where I help sign up customers and businesses, making money any time they buy or sell something.

In the end, although my money comes in less consistently than my roommate’s check, my possibilities for income are interestingly varied and truly limitless.

6.  Not having to worry if you forgot your towel after showering since none of your neighbors or roommates are home anyway.

7. Weekday deals! Did you know ski lift-tickets are sooooo much cheaper on weekdays? Welp, they are.

8. Having a half glass of wine in the middle of the day, just because.

9. I am NEVER bored. If you didn’t get that from #5, it’s true. I’m never bored. There’s really not that much to say about this. Not being bored, however, does require a certain amount of discipline and responsibility (see #2). I wouldn’t make money if I just got up and wrote songs all day long. I need to wear many hats to make an income, and that is what keeps me from being bored.

From booking tours to writing music to pitching my composer skills to getting out on the road, my life as a musician is something I create. I take breaks, for sure. Heck, I’m Netflix’s #1 streaming customer. But seriously, each of my days is never the same as the one before it, by design.

10. Staying in your pj’s all day (not advised, just possible).

11. Community! Being a full time artist automatically makes you part of a community, one that has a mutual lifestyle understanding and one that is supportive of the pursuit of passions of others. You other freelance musicians get that, right? What are your favorite reasons for living the life of a musician? (Comment below or tweet @CBE using hashtag #myjobisbetterthanyours)


Are you looking to be a full time musician? Would like support in your transition? Three suggestions for you: the first is to download my Ecourse, “In The Key Of Success: The Five Week Jump-Start Strategy” for a start-to-finish guide of figuring out your purpose, learning about how to get paid as a musician, creating your own money-making opportunities, and putting a structure in place so you keep seeing results, long term. It will make a difference for you, plus there’s a 100% money-back guarantee! Http://www.cbemusic.com/ecourse. My second suggestion is to work with me one-on-one in pursuing your passion. My email is on the Ecourse page. Third suggestion: make like Nike and just do it.

Cheryl B. Engelhardt is a composer for films, ads and CollegeHumor.com, and a singer/songwriter who’s booked a bunch of tours around the USA and Europe and gotten her recorded music placed on lots of TV shows. Her website is www.CBEmusic.com and she writes a music industry blog called Living On Gigging.

You can follow her on Twitter @CBE. She recently released “In The Key Of Success: The 5 Week Jump- Start Strategy,” an incredibly valuable and effective E-Course for independent musicians on how to jump-start their careers to radically change the results they’ve been getting.

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