The best way I can equate this to is when you were in high school or just out of high school and thought that $7.25 p/hr job could get you out of your parents place and into a life of self-sustenance, but you soon found out that $7.25 p/hr doesn't go as far as you thought, and even Ramen noodles can end up out of your budget. The same thing happens to musicians.
Once you decide that playing music is what you want to do, then you have to figure out your budget and you need to be realistic. Analyze where you are in life because if you are still living with mom and dad your budget can be as little as 20K a year and things are allot easier, but if you are like many a little older with a family, mortgage, and everything else you will need a little more. Now you have to figure out how you are going to get there.
To analyze properly, you need to remember as the saying goes, time is money, so you need a detailed calculation of how much to charge for a gig. So calculate everything including your rehearsal time, music learning, gig finding, and how many performances you can get in a week. Then you divide by the total number of gigs you can get in a week, and divided by your weekly budget, plus 15% (this is to take into account low seasons and downtime that inevitably happen) to give you a number you need to charge per gig on average.
Now that you have a number you need to estimate, how are you going to make those digits. This is where reality hits many people. First they didn't realize how much they really needed (or in a few occasions how little, THANKS TO MOM'S & DAD'S!). But, the other part is, can any of these things be subsidized but other things like teaching, studio work etc... Now the gigs!!
If you are a fairly good musician, you surely have local bands to play, but here is where you have to be careful; local bands depending on their popularity can have pretty extensive gig schedule, but might not make as much per gig and but possibly make-up on volume but you will only know when you calculate all the time you will put into it. The difficulty comes, that you have to remember that budgetary number. The other issue, it is not uncommon lately that the locals want to have the same people on stage all the time, but unless the band can meet all your financial needs, you will need to play with other bands and gigs, which will mean that you would need to have fill-ins, just ensure that this is OK with the band. Just remember not to get swept into the bar trap, which is fine for part-time work and open dates but not be the main source of income.
Now you need to look at the other projects which will be better paying; these will include your solo shows, corporate events, weddings etc... These should be the bulk of your income. Remember these gigs are based on quality not quantity so you will get less of them, but may require additional preparation, and special attire so ensure to take these into account, at least in the beginning.
Getting the corporate, and wedding gigs will require some leg work and networking with booking agents, wedding planners, banquet halls and anyone else that may can get you in. This is where you will spend most of your time. This means allot of cold calling, possible casting calls and auditions, but in the end if you got the skills it will pay off.
Something specific to those trying to be solo artists that are using these other gigs as stepping stones to attain your goal of either touring or signing with a label, there are many pitfalls that you need to be aware of; if your goal is to be truly an artist you will need to market yourself shamelessly. Through social media, websites and emails. BUT, you will inevitably work with other projects and you will need to balance marketing yourself while you work with the other projects or bands. But even your best efforts are sooner or later going to ruffle feathers, especially if you are developing a following, so tread lightly, but don't unwaiver.
Minimize ruffling feathers and keep in good standings with your gig projects;
- Always promote the shows on all media it is fine to say you are performing with (name of project), it gives mutual plugs;
- If you are approached by an audience member about your portion of the performance be polite acknowledge the band first and then; if the bands have recordings, promote them and then your material and where they can find it. If the band doesn't, promote your music and any other projects members of the band may be a part of.
- I recommend working a deal with a band leaders to possibly cross promote and maybe share relevant fans or possibly share email lists. If they say no, or do not want to share, then discuss that you have your own fans and want to let them know about it, but this has to be a two way street.
This is a difficult business the main issue is that putting a price on art is very subjective. But, only you need to know where you need to be and also what you are worth. The only thing that will stop you from achieving your goal is you. If you work your butt off, you will reach your goal.
Pt. 2 Shows, Marketing, Swag!