How To Make A Living as a Musician, with Mark Powers

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Transcript

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host, and publisher of Mac’s List. I’m joined by my co-host, Ben Forstag, Managing Director of Mac’s List, and Jenna Forstrom, our Community Manager. This week, we’re talking about how to make a living as a musician. Now, you don’t need to live in Los Angeles or have a hit song to have a successful career in music. Across the country, tens of thousands of people make good livings as musicians and singers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the federal government predicts the number of such jobs will go up in the years ahead. The pay can be good, too. The average wage for musicians was almost $50,000 a year in 2015. Our guest expert this week, Mark Powers, shares with us what successful musicians do.

My conversation with Mark focuses on the world of music, but many of the lessons and principles he discusses apply to anyone interested in interested in self-employment, no matter what the field. You might be surprised by the opportunities the music business offers. Speaking of the unexpected, the resource Ben offers this week is a list of surprising jobs futurists predict will be in most demand in the next 10 years, and Jenna has a question from you, our listeners. Our show is brought to you by the Weekend Resume Makeover, a new online course from renowned career expert Jenny Foss. If you’re not happy with your resume, Jenny can help. Learn how Jenny can teach you how to write a killer resume in just 2 days. Visit macslist.org/jobjenny. Now let’s check in with the Mac’s List team. Jenna, Ben, I have to ask, given our topic this week, have either one of you earned money as a musician or a singer?

Ben Forstag:

Well, the short answer to that is no, Mac. Anyone who’s heard me sing knows that there’d be very little opportunity there for me to make money. I was in the marching band when I was in high school, and so I got all dressed up in the dorky outfit, and that did afford me a couple of cool opportunities, like we went to Europe as a marching band, which is really fun when you’re 14 or 15 years old, so …

Mac Prichard:

Great. What instrument did you play, Ben?

Ben Forstag:

I played the euphonium, which is, it looks like a small tuba, but it sounds like a trombone, and in marching band, the marching euphonium is called the [flugophone 00:02:30], so …

Mac Prichard:

I love the way that word just rolls off the tongue.

Ben Forstag:

Yes, it’s a nice, lyrical sound to it, isn’t it?

Mac Prichard:

Great. Well, how about you, Jenna?

Jenna Forstrom:

I definitely haven’t earned any money as a musician or a singer. I came from a sports background, and my mom jokes that the reason I know sign language is because I’m such a bad singer, like makes things easier on everyone if I’m just quiet.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, well, I haven’t even earned tips at karaoke, so don’t worry, I did take music lessons when I was in grade school. I had violin lessons for about 3 years, but they didn’t stick, so here I am. Now, let’s turn to you, Ben. Every week you’re out there looking around the internet for resources that our listeners can use. What have you discovered for us this week?

Ben Forstag:

This week I’m sharing an interesting article I found on fastcompany.com called, “The Top Jobs In 10 Years Might Not Be What You Expect,” so everyone is looking to stay competitive and marketable in the job sector, and people take training classes or perhaps they even pick a major in college based on skills that they think are most employable, and the trick is to stay ahead of the curve by predicting the future job trends so that you’re always in a position to get a job within that growth industry.

Mac Prichard:

For boomers like me, when we think about the future, and often we flash back to The Graduate, that movie with Dustin Hoffman from back in ’69 with a fellow who said, “The future lies in plastics.”

Ben Forstag:

Yeah. Just one word.

Mac Prichard:

Just one word.

Ben Forstag:

“Plastics.” Yes. In this article I’m sharing this week, Fast Company asked a group of futurists … By the way, I guess you can be a professional futurist nowadays, which is kind of cool. They asked a group of futurists to predict the jobs and skills that will be most in demand in 10 years, and here are some of the careers that these experts predict will be really big in 2025. Professional triber. This is someone who can get groups together to work on projects, either within an organization or across organizations. Freelance professors, urban farmers, remote health care specialists. This one I liked, because I used to work in the American Telemedicine Association, and that’s all about remote healthcare. The smart-home handyperson, so instead of having a plumber come to your house, it’s someone who comes to your house to fix your smart thermostat or the other smart devices in your home. A virtual reality experience designer, and a 3D print design specialist, so these are just a few of the interesting and kind of esoteric jobs listed.

There are some others that I won’t share on the air, but I suggest our listeners go check out this article, because they do a really nice job of explaining why they think these are the careers of the future, and the opportunities that will be open to people who have the right skills, so the flip side of this is that the futurists also predict some careers will disappear in the near future, and we talk a lot about, or you hear a lot about manufacturing is no longer a thing in America, but there are certain white-collar jobs that people think, “This will always be safe.” I thought this article was really interesting, because they pointed out that some of those white-collar jobs might end up disappearing, so they point out, like bankers and private wealth managers, as algorithms for investment get better and better, those professions might start to disappear.

Well, we’re not trusting people anymore to make decisions, it’s just we’re trusting the computer or the algorithm, so if you’re looking for some ideas of future professions to prepare for and perhaps a couple you might want to avoid, check out “The Top Jobs In 10 Years Might Not Be What You Expect” on fastcompany.com, and as always, we’ll have the link in the show notes.

Mac Prichard:

Thanks, Ben, and I’m expecting some of our listeners might be surprised to hear that doctors were on that list, or bankers as well. Could you give us some more information? I’m sure the authors didn’t think that doctors were going to disappear entirely.

Ben Forstag:

Well, yeah, so I think not that they’ll disappear entirely, but their role will change, and so I know, in my background in the healthcare space, doctors were often like the be-all-end-all source of information, so if you had any ailment, the doctor was the only source you went to, and now that people are getting information from the internet or they’ve got smart sensors in their bodies that are giving them a lot of information, the doctor becomes a navigator for healthcare rather than the definitive one source you talk to, and so I think the traditional role of doctor is going to change. It probably won’t go away completely because people need that, at the end of the day, that personal touch, but roles will change.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, and I imagine with bankers, too, banks aren’t going to be filled with robots, but they’ll probably be, more routine functions will be automated and won’t be done by people.

Ben Forstag:

Certainly, and you already see that, like a lot of banks function completely online, where there is no brick-and-mortar bank anymore, and all the transactions are just ones and zeroes passing back and forth.

Mac Prichard:

Good. All right, well, lots of food for thought there. If you have a suggestion for Ben, please write him, and we may share your idea on the show. Ben’s email address is an easy one. It’s ben@macslist.org. Now let’s turn to you, our listeners. Jenna is here in the studio with us, and every week she’s standing by her keyboard, waiting for those questions to come in, and what do you have for us this week? What do you hear from our listeners, Jenna?

Jenna Forstrom:

Today’s question is, “I love music, but I’m not musically talented. What sort of jobs are out there in the music field for me?” I thought this was a great question. If you’re passionate about an industry that you might not be specifically talented for, there’s finding other roles around that, so you’re still hanging out with your friends or working in a community space that you get energy from, so I pulled a couple of options of interesting job postings in the music field that don’t require you know how to play a musical instrument or sing, and [they 00:08:23], such as A&R rep, or talent scout, music venue manager or owner, even, a concert promoter, a music journalist or critic, so if you’re a writer and you’re good with words, you can start like a blog or a website or write for a local newspaper, a music librarian, which I thought was really exciting because, yeah, you could …

I feel like music is the one place you can be loud in the library, and just being able to get out there and experience more things, so there’s other open opportunities, such as like an usher at a really cool music venue, or a community center manager, volunteer even, so at like the local Portland Music Company, or a music venue, just helping out and volunteering and managing projects there. Mac, Ben, do you guys have any other ideas?

Ben Forstag:

Well, I think the music industry is just like any other industry where it requires all kinds of skill-sets for that industry to work, whether it’s IT or marketing or anything else, and so if music is really your passion, but you don’t have much musical talent, I’m sure you can find some inroad using the skills you have, so as a marketer for a band or a company, as the IT folks who do that. I’ve got a friend who, he was really passionate about public radio, and he does not have a radio voice, but he is a computer programmer, and he ended up getting a job at NPR doing … To be honest, I don’t even know what he’s doing there, but he’s involved in the scene, and he’s playing a valuable role there, even though he’s not the traditional radio talent you would think of.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I agree, and I see this in a lot of different fields. I think you 2 know, and many listeners have picked up on this as well, that I have a passion for politics, and while I never ran for public office, there were a lot of different roles that were available to me as a campaign manager, communications director, canvasser, fundraiser, in that world, and I think you can find similar roles in any field, so great advice, Jenna.

Jenna Forstrom:

Thanks.

Mac Prichard:

All right, well, if you have a question for Jenna, please email her. Her address is jenna, and that’s J-E-N-N-A, @macslist.org. These segments from Ben and Jenna are sponsored by the Weekend Resume Makeover. It’s a new online course from renowned resume coach Jenny Foss. Now, when you find that perfect job, you need to craft a killer application. You need something that gets noticed and lands you an interview, and you need to do it quickly before someone else snags your dream job. You could pay for a custom resume, or you can save time and you can save money by learning the tips and tricks for resume writing yourself. Job Jenny’s Weekend Resume Makeover course teaches you how to think like a hiring manager. Then it takes you through a step-by-step proven process to make sure your resume stands out and you get the attention your application deserves. The Weekend Resume Makeover captures everything Jenny Foss does best. It makes things simple, it gets results, and you’ll have some fun along the way. To see the Weekend Resume Makeover course for yourself, visit macslist.org/jobjenny. Now, let’s turn to this week’s guest expert, Mark Powers.

Percussion artist and educator Mark Powers has shared the stage with everyone from Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen, to Devon Evans of Bob Marley and the Wailers, to the Rolling Stones’ saxophonist, Tim Ries. Mark now offers video drum lessons on his educational website, drumitinaminute.com. He’s also the author of several percussion textbooks and a past contributor to Modern Drummer Magazine and other publications. Here’s a fun fact about Mark: He’s the former coholder of the Guinness World Record for longest drum roll by a group. Mark, thanks for coming to the studio.

Mark Powers:

Thank you very much for having me.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. It’s a pleasure to have you here. Now, we’re talking this week about making a living as a musician, and when you say “working musician,” I think for many people 2 images come to mind. First is a superstar with hit songs, and the other is someone living in a van on an endless tour of dive bars. Tell us, what does the reality look like, Mark?

Mark Powers:

The reality, for me, is somewhere in the middle there, thank goodness. I think that both of the extremes have their minuses, actually, but for myself, I’m a performer, first and foremost, so I do a lot of gigging locally and regionally, occasionally nationally, with different bands, I guess ever so occasionally internationally as well, and then I’m an educator teaching a few private lessons, but often doing school programs, as guest artist and artist-in-residence, in elementary, middle, and high schools, and then in addition to that stuff, just a lot of related pursuits, so some publishing, writing, and some online things as well.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, and when you and colleagues in your field are, that you see do this well, what’s the key to success? Is it doing a lot of different things, or concentrating on one thing? What stands out, Mark?

Mark Powers:

Personally, I definitely think diversification, on some level, is extremely important. If you’re fortunate enough to have one gig that can cover things and have you do exactly what you want to do all the time, that’s fantastic, but especially as you’re trying to make a living at it and avoid going back to a plan B and doing something else, I think that diversification is really important, and actually I’ve talked some before about 4 keys that I think are kind of the keys to success, and I use the word “ROCK,” which is an awesome style of music, but I use that word, in this case, as an acronym: R being for repetition, or ritual, and just constantly being doing the things that you want to be doing, whether that’s on both the artistic side, constantly getting better at your craft, and then also the business side, every day doing something to better things.

The O in ROCK is for opportunity. I think it’s extremely important to say yes to almost all of them that come up, especially for a while, so that you can take advantage of those, and they turn into other opportunities, but also get out there and create them yourself. The C of ROCK is for commitment or confidence, because things are always going to go wrong, and you’re always going to lose a gig, or not get that audition, or whatever, and you still just have to have the confidence to plug ahead and keep going with it anyway, and the K of ROCK is for kindness or karma, because there’s a lot of people out here doing what we’re trying to … What I’m trying to do, and many times it comes down to not only your playing skills, but being the person that a group wants to spend time with on the road.

There’s a saying in the music world that you don’t lose a gig on stage, you lose a gig on the 23 hours that you’re on the bus not on stage, so I think those things, having some regular ritual, and taking opportunities, just committed to plugging forward, and being kind. Those are the keys to success.

Mac Prichard:

Those are great rules to live by. I know some other advice I’ve heard is, sometimes you have to say no. You can’t say yes to every opportunity. When you do say no, Mark, when does that happen?

Mark Powers:

For me, there’s a little bit of an ebb and flow along those lines. I have found that I tend to say yes to things until I get to the point where I’m too busy, which is a great problem to have, and then I can kind of sort through the things I’m doing and find which ones, either financially are making sense, or are making sense in ways career-wise, what is actually getting me towards some of the goals, or what are the things I actually enjoy doing most. There’s also a kind of a gig triangle to consider, I think, where once someone calls about doing some work, it’s about the music, the money, and the people. As far as I’m concerned, 2 of those 3 things have to have big check marks by them for me to say yes, and if there’s only 1, and 2 of those things are not so hot, then that’s probably something that even if you do say yes to, you’re not going to enjoy it for very long.

Mac Prichard:

I love your point, too, about karma and the 23 hours that you spend on the bus with people, and how important that can be. I came to this work after a career in politics, and there was an old friend and colleague who worked in the State Capitol building here in Oregon, who said, and he was in the building for decades, “You meet the same people on the way down as you do on the way up, so treat everybody the way you want to be treated.”

Mark Powers:

Absolutely.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Now, when you talked about how you make a living, and others as well, in music, I didn’t hear royalties or iTunes or fees from recorded music. How important is that as a source of income for people making a living as musicians?

Mark Powers:

I think that they are pieces of the puzzle, and I didn’t mention those, there’s certainly a number of different avenues that I pursue simultaneously, and some of those are royalties or licensing-based for me. I think it’s very important for musicians early on to register themselves with one of the organizations like ASCAP or BMI that handles all of the payouts of royalties and such, I think for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s a great way to protect your intellectual property rights. You kind of get your dues for contributing to different products, and I’ve learned, as a recording artist, it’s often very useful kind of as a negotiation tool in the studio as well. If someone comes to me and doesn’t have much of a budget, so they’re not paying what I would like to be making in a studio, sometimes I can be a little flexible and take that lesser pay in exchange for also getting some points or percentages from the licensing later on, so I think that’s really important.

For me, some of the royalties that are most beneficial to me are book-related, and I do some self-publishing, but also some traditional publishing with both music publishing companies and recently children’s book publishers, and that sort of thing is fantastic, because the self-publishing thing, especially things done through Amazon, Kindle, CreateSpace, things like that, can be a little extra paycheck every single month, and most traditional publishing companies, it’s a paycheck once a year, or once every 6 months, which can be, for a musician, a nice extra little lump sum every once in a while.

Mac Prichard:

I can imagine our listeners out there saying, “Well, that sounds great, publishing or teaching, but what I am is a musician.” How do you advise people to get started in learning those skills, whether it’s teaching through videos courses, or giving lessons in their home, or publishing by themselves, or working with a traditional publisher. What are some good first steps, Mark?

Mark Powers:

I think with just about anything that somebody wants to pursue, if they don’t know how to go about it but they know what they want to do, one of the best ideas is to, first of all, start just by listing out some people who are doing those things that they want to do, and then listing out a bunch of things that those people had to do to get to that point, and if you don’t know, which some of us don’t, reach out and ask them. I mean, it’s amazing how approachable most people are out there, and then, honestly, if I’m chatting with students or other friends who ask those kinds of questions and they’ve figured out what sort of things need to be done, the next question is whether you’re doing those things or not, and if the answer is yes, then that’s awesome, you can most likely keep plugging ahead doing it. If not, the further question would be, are you willing to be doing those things?

Because sometimes the answer to that is no, and then, honestly, maybe you need to stop talking about the fact that you want to do that thing and give up on it because you’re not really willing to do it. If the answer is yes, you’re willing to do it, then you kind of have your plan laid out for you. With publishing and things like that, that’s exactly what I did. I mean, I definitely had some authors who I had seen do some co-writing with other artists, and I was inspired at a young age to do that, and just kind of always sat in the back of my head trying to figure out how did they do that, how would they approach somebody, and as I started having little ideas bubble up, I just kind of tried to, as terrified as I was, tried to [have 00:21:05] the confidence to just put them out there and send pitch emails and make phone calls and go for it.

Mac Prichard:

You were approaching people cold sometimes.

Mark Powers:

Definitely have, yeah. Most of the time, I would say that one thing always leads to another, especially in this business, you end up somehow meeting somebody and realizing, “Wow, that guy is doing this thing that I would like to be doing, so maybe I can chat with him about it, and maybe he can open up a door, or at least give me, if nothing else, some inspiration to keep at it for a little bit longer,” but yeah, sometimes it comes down to writing out almost a complete book idea, and cold calling, pitching it, and just seeing where it goes.

Mac Prichard:

Great. Well, what other skills do you think musicians, people who want to make a living in this field, need to master besides music? You talked about different kinds of ways to make money, and make a living, but what are the skills they need besides musical ones?

Mark Powers:

I think, first and foremost, we need to be able to slow down and focus on one thing at a time, because no matter what it is we want to do, whether it’s performing or being a private lesson instructor, anything like that, I think it’s extremely important to not think that saying no to certain pursuits is actually saying no forever. It’s just saying, “Not now,” and choosing one to really focus on for a while, so that is a biggie for me. Another is to put yourself in situations where you’re the weak link and surround yourself with people who are forcing you to grow, because you are kind of struggling to keep up with them.

Right along the same lines, I feel that you’re kind of an average of the 5 people you spend most of your time with, whether that’s actual physical time, or just the people you’re investing in online and such, and if those 5 people are doing things you want to be doing, and you feel they’re greater than you, and you’re trying to associate with them as much as possible, you’re that weak link, I really think that most of us tend to step up in those moments, and that happens on a professional level, happens on a personal level, and as a musician, it happens on stage, when you’re surrounded by a bunch of better players, you step up your game, and you play a lot better than you do if you’re not surrounded by that caliber of player.

Mac Prichard:

Well, excellent advice, Mark. We need to start wrapping up. What else would you like to share with our listeners?

Mark Powers:

I just think that if pursuing music is something that you want to do, it’s really important to sooner rather than later be trying to build a presence. Jazz legend Art Blakey said that you’re either appearing or you’re disappearing, and today, with the noise online and such, I think that’s the case more than ever, so I think that having a website that is really your online portfolio that has not only your bio, but contact information, links to YouTube videos so that people can demo your abilities, whether that’s via audio or video. I think having a presence like that is extremely important these days.

Mac Prichard:

Well, tell us what’s coming up next for you, Mark.

Mark Powers:

There’s a group called Mbrascatu that I perform with, an Italian indie rock band, and we just recently performed at TEDxMtHood, and we are heading off very soon to go to Italy for a couple weeks to perform, which will be great, and in September, my first children’s book, called “I Want To Be a Drummer,” is going to be published by Blue Manatee Press, and just kind of continuing a lot of those same sort of writing pursuits while performing all I can possibly can, and teaching along the way.

Mac Prichard:

Great. Well, thank you, Mark, and you can learn more about Mark and his work at his website, it’s powerspercussion.com. We’ll be sure to include links to the website and other material that Mark provides online, and Mark, thanks for coming into the Mac’s List studio this week.

Mark Powers:

Thank you much for having me.

Mac Prichard:

Now tell me, what did you 2 think of the points Mark had to make?

Jenna Forstrom:

I really liked his point on ROCK, and that idea of having a ritual, saying yes to opportunities, being committed and confident, and then also being just kind. I think that’s applicable to any industry, but I just like how it’s got like the rock theme, and rock and roll, and very applicable to artists.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, and I think those lessons would work for anybody in any profession. Lot of wisdom there, both about rituals and connecting with others through opportunities, and above all, I think about karma, just treating people the way you want to be treated, and how much good can come out of that. Ben, what are your thoughts?

Ben Forstag:

Yeah, I think Mark offered up some lessons that are applicable to anyone, whether you want a career in music or not. We talked about branding, which we’ve talked about plenty, he’s talked about networking, which we all know is the key to getting good jobs. I also liked his point about the triangle, where he said when he picked out projects, it was based on 3 points, money, people, and music, and I think if you swapped out the word “music” and wrote “work” or “projects” there, that’s a good basis for anyone, like a contractor, picking out what clients they want to work with, or, frankly, for a job seeker, picking out what kind of companies they want to work with as well.

Mac Prichard:

One point that I think ran through all of his comments was, he never waits to be picked, whether it’s theater or music or creative professions. Sometimes, there’s this popular notion that you have to be chosen by a producer or a director or someone has to give you permission to pursue your passion, and Mark’s story illustrates that you can, whatever your interest may be, create your own opportunities and create your own business, or create your own career in the field that you’re excited about. Good, well, any other thoughts? Jenna, Ben?

Jenna Forstrom:

I also enjoyed his point about being the weak link, and how I think that’s so applicable to anything. Like I love skiing with people that are better skiers than me, because it forces me to think about the moves I’m doing and how fast I’m going, and what’s the obstacle, ahead of time, than just doing the same, skiing with the same people over and over again and kind of just get this flow going, but just being pushed to try a little bit harder is so good.

Mac Prichard:

Agreed, and I think when we put ourselves in situations where we’re challenged, we get better, and that’s how we learn. Well, thank you both, and thank you, Mark, for joining us in the studio, and thank you all for joining us on the show. If you like what you hear, please help us by leaving a review and a rating at iTunes. This helps others discover our show, and helps us serve you all better. Now, one of the reviews we received recently is from a listener who uses the iTunes handle maryhn, and she writes, quote, “This podcast is an ideal combination. Great content, wonderful pacing, multiple perspectives, and mixed together with Mac’s passion for strengthening the community.” Well, thank you, maryhn, and thanks to the more than 100 listeners who have left a rating for the show. Please take a moment to leave your own comments and ratings. Just go to www.macslist.org/itunes. Thank you for listening. We’ll be back next Wednesday with more tips and tools you can use to find your dream job.

You don’t need to live in Los Angeles or have a hit song to make a living as a musician

Across the country, tens of thousands of people make good livings as musicians and singers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  And the federal government predicts the number of such jobs will go up in the years ahead.

The pay can be good, too. The average wage for musicians was almost $50,000 a year in 2015.

This week on Find Your Dream Job, we explore how you can build a great career in the music industry. Our guest, Mark Powers, is a professional drummer who knows all about how to make a living in music. Mark shares his experience building a career as a performer, writer, and music educator. His advice to aspiring artists: create your own opportunities through diversification and building good relationships.

This Week’s Guest

Percussion artist and educator Mark Powers has shared the stage with everyone from Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen, Devon Evans (of Bob Marley and the Wailers), and the Rolling Stones saxophonist Tim Ries. Mark now offers video drum lessons on his educational website, DrumItInAMinute.com. He is the author of several percussion textbooks and a past contributor to Modern Drummer Magazine.

Fun fact: Mark is a former co-holder of the Guinness World Record for “Longest Drum Roll by a Group.”

Resources from this Episode