Here are some thoughts I posted in reply to a Coursera Songwriting course forum post that asked whether it is possible to write songs for a living. Any comments?
If you want to be a full-time musician (lyricist, singer, recording engineer, ...), consider these:
- You need to be not just a good musician, but also a very good self-marketer and business developer
- A major part of your job will be to reliably solve other people's problems. E.g. most of my gigs were as bassist, and I got hired on being reliable, showing up on time, being dependable, providing a solid foundation to the band - thus solving the organiser's problem of needing a solid band, thus solving the keyboardist's problem to have a stable rhythm section to depend on, etc.
- You need to have a set of skills in your portfolio. E.g. a drummer who doesn't particularly love teaching probably earns most of his money travelling up and down the country for gigs, plus the odd recording gig - a very stressful life. Keyboardists typically have more options: play gigs, arrange music for productions, write scores for publishing companies, accompany rehearsals, ...
- Teaching is an essential skill, and a very good way to earn money as a musician - if you like it and are a good teacher. If not, better think of some good other options.
- You typically earn more money playing music the general public likes ("Top 40"), than the music you are in love with.
- It is generally more difficult to earn money with your own music than with covers - moving from a "working musician" position to successfully promoting your own music (successful meaning it earns you a living) is a huge step that requires lots of time and effort.