How to make a living as a composer (part II)
Last week we wrote about some steps you can take to improve your composing skills out musical output. Those are a solid base to start from and to get people noticing your music.
Here are a few important things, this time, more management related, that you should consider if you’re making a living as a composer.
4. Financial Planning This is a big one. Just because you’re a freelancer that doesn’t mean that you can’t plan your finances and achieve financial success. However you’ll need to do it differently from a person that has a regular (perhaps boring) full time job.
Experts like Dave Ramsey give really good advice that applies to everyone. Stay out of debt, live on less than you make, invest. If you’re a freelancer you have already noticed that the you always worry about something called “burning rate”. Everybody has one. It’s simply the amount of money that, no matter what, you have to spend every month to keep living. That includes rent, car payments, food, entertainment, traveling etc... for a full time employee all they have to do is to make sure that their expenses are lower than their salary. If you are a freelancer, however, you need to add an extra layer of protection to make sure you can sleep at night and relax. An emergency fund.
That emergency fund should be at least 6 months of expenses that is sitting on a bank account. If you spend more than you earn in average and then you know you have a buffer of six months in savings you’ll be able to take risks in your career, move to a different city if necessary, accept interesting jobs or projects that don’t pay at the beginning etc...
And you’ll be able to do all of that while enjoying your freedom and not worrying about next month’s bills.
5. Positive cash flow Do you get paid before or after you deliver your work? There’s a big difference there. If you can negotiate to receive your payment or part of it at the beginning of your work you’ll be able to control with a higher degree of certainty when your money comes in. Relieving yourself of uncertainly makes being a freelancer easier and more similar to a financially predictable full time job.
6. Be realistic about your price Being realistic doesn’t mean making the lowest price possible. It means understanding what’s your value proposition as a composer. Are you unique? Are you replaceable by stock music? Be careful to always try to remain a scarce commodity by offering services that nobody else can. Those can be live recorded instruments (apologies for the Musiversal Plug here), but it can also be a relationship that you build with your clients that become a strong bond of trust and alignment of visions that is irreplaceable.
When you figure out where you stand in terms of value then you can start adopting a strategy. Do you want to work a lot and have a lot of clients and make a lot of connections with small producers? Maybe go for. A cheap price and quick turnaround. You might see that flourish into a vast portfolio of clients.
Or maybe you prefer keeping your work super high quality and scarce and you only want to work with a few people that are doing amazing projects. That’s cool too, if you can pull it off you should definitely charge the highest price you can without rendering your collaboration impossible.
Whatever you do, you need to remember that this and other advice ultimately is just that. Everyone is unique and you have to use your own judgment to steer your career into the success you deserve.