7 things I wish I knew when I became a full-time musician

[This article by Dave Ruch originally appeared on his blog.]

I quit my suit-and-tie marketing job at age 27 to pursue the only thing I’d ever really cared about, which was playing music.

That was 26 years ago.

Looking back on it, there are lots of things I wish I’d known then – things that would have saved me lots of headaches.

I hope one or more of these might be helpful to you…

1. I’ll burn myself out playing 4-5 nights a week

For 3-4 hours a night…

You probably have more stamina than I do.

For me, it only took about two and half years of full-time musicianship before I’d developed a pretty debilitating case of tendonitis owing to long bar gigs with loud bands.

advice for musicians - dave ruchIn 1995, seemingly out of nowhere, I was faced with the need to scale back my playing considerably while still making a living as a musician!

(If you’re curious about how I accomplished that, you can see more here.)

2. Health insurance is expensive!

Holy cow.

Separate from all of the current debate surrounding the pros and cons of the Affordable Care Act here in America, health insurance is just expensive, and becomes more so every year. Plan for that.

3. I can write off all my clothes

And my new computer!

For the first few years of self employment, I did my own taxes and had no idea how many deductions I could be taking.

advice for artists - dave ruchOnce I wised up and hired an accountant, I was able to save lots of money (far more than the accountant’s fee) by taking advantage of write-offs and deductions I knew nothing about.

Highly recommended.

4. Teaching people to play music is only fun if they practice

(Which they don’t. At least, not usually.)

A big part of my plan back in 1992 was to generate some income giving instrumental lessons out of my house.

I busted my butt to get students, and it worked. Over a six-month period, I had built up my teaching business to a steady roster of 30-35 students a week.

advice for musicians - dave ruchIt was great daytime work, and it did keep me in good practice, having so many hours each day with an instrument in my hand.

The more I did it, though, the less I enjoyed it.

While my students seemed perfectly happy coming back and shooting the breeze every week, going over the same stuff we’d done the week before (and the week before that), and then getting sucked back into their busy lives, it just didn’t feel satisfying to me.

I enjoyed the social aspect, but just didn’t feel fulfilled by the teaching. So, I moved on from teaching.

5. Nobody in the audience is scrutinizing every note I play and sing

They’re there to have a good time, period. Help them do that, and everyone wins.

Or, said another way – get over yourself.

6. Some days there will be LESS time for music than before


It’s funny to think back on all the utopian visions I had about what my life would be like after breaking free from my corporate job to pursue music full-time.

dave ruch advice for performing artistsI pictured long thoughtful conversations with fellow artists, tons of time to play and create music, lots of leisurely work on personal recording projects, and so on.

So it’s not like that?

Well, not if you need to make a decent living. It’s a lot more like this, and this.

I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but it’s not exactly the way I’d envisioned it.

7. I can make a sustainable living as an independent musician!


how to be a full time musicianI really had no idea how this experiment would turn out when I decided to leave my secure job (with benefits) all those years ago.

In retrospect, I feel very fortunate that I made the break at a time when I was young and adaptable, single, and without many large expenses. I could afford to take the chance, and had a college degree to fall back on if it all went to hell.

But it didn’t!

The big lesson?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the route of the independent artist, it’s that there are hundreds of well-worn paths you can take, and many more that can be created out of thin air.

I make my entire living as a musician without intersecting one bit with the music “industry.”

Go figure.

It’s the ability to work really hard at building your business – yes, your business – that might determine how it goes for you.

For those who do this full time – what else would you add to my list here?