I’ve been completely self-employed for the last eight years, working as an entrepreneur and musician. Before that I was a guitar instructor and performing musician for the previous seven years and worked as an independent contractor, so was more or less self-employed during this period as well. I’ve basically been self-employed, in one way or another, for the last 15 years.
I’ve been working for myself for so long that it’s hard to imagine working for anyone else. Although I love the freedom and flexibility being self-employed brings, working for yourself isn’t always a bed of roses. There are some definite disadvantages to going the self-employed route. It’s not for everyone. Of course, there’s a big upside as well and in today’s post I’m going to explore both sides of the self-employed coin.
Here’s a list of downsides to working for yourself along with their corresponding upsides. The yin and the yang if you will, of being self-employed.
Downside #1 - Uncertainty
Let’s start with probably the biggest downside to being self-employed; uncertainty. When you work for yourself, the income you make will fluctuate. This is especially true in the first couple years of starting a business. I have really great months where I crush it and do very well and I also have months where things don’t go as well, sales dip and I have to scramble to figure out how to stay above water. Of course, this gets easier the longer you’re in business. Or at least it should if things are moving in the right direction.
I’m much better at dealing with the ups and downs now than I used to be. My business is also a lot more stable and predictable than it used to be. I rarely have horrible months anymore, but I definitely have months where things don’t go as well as others.
I have a fairly good idea of how much to expect in revenue from month to month. But, the uncertainty is something that you never completely get used to. Even after all these years, I sometimes find myself plagued by doubts like, what if the market changes drastically and people stop buying my products. Or what if I say something stupid in one of my podcasts and people don’t perceive me as the expert I claim to be. Or what if I spend months creating a new program and no one buys it.
What if, what if, what if… I’m human and sometimes doubts creep in.
The Upside To Uncertainty – Growth
Here’s the thing though, most of the horrible what ifs never happen. Sure, there are stressful moments and sure sometimes things don’t go as well as I’d like. More than a few times I’ve entertained thoughts about returning to the workforce and getting a “real Job”. But I’ve never had to, because things have never gotten that bad. My worst case scenario fears have never come true. I always have managed to find my way through the slow periods and my business has grown every single year, except one, since I started it in 2008.
Through all the ups and downs I’ve grown more resilient. I’ve learned way more skills than I would have had I continued the employee route. I’ve learned, in no particular order, how to make websites, create information products, interview people, host and run a podcast, make youtube videos, market myself online, do affiliate marketing, do accounting, write blogs, successfully network with music industry professionals, find and hire employees, host webinars and the list goes on. I’ve become way more versatile buy working for myself than I would have become continuing the route of working for someone else. .
I’ve also learned to simply have faith in myself and life. There’s a lot that’s outside of your direct control when you work for yourself. I can’t control who decides to buy my products and who doesn’t. I can’t control the overall direction of the economy. That feels scary sometimes. But over the years I’ve learned that if I simply focus on doing my job to the best of my ability, everything else will work out. It reminds me of the serenity prayer: “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. To change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”. I focus on what I can change and have faith that the rest will work itself out. So far it has.
In short, I’ve grown, both as a musician and entrepreneur, as a direct result of running my own business and working for myself.
Downside # 2 – It’s A Lot Of Work
Another downside to starting and running your own business is that if you plan for it to be successful, it’s most likely going to require an enormous amount of work. There’s a joke about being self-employed that goes like this, “The great thing about being self-employed is that you get to choose the 16 hours a day you work”. Although I rarely work 16 hours a day, I work a lot and have put in my share of 12 hour days over the last eight years. When I look back and think about the amount of time and effort I’ve put into running my business over the last eight years my head spins just thinking about it.
To be honest, the first couple years of running my own business I didn’t work that hard. I was just looking to make enough income to get by and loved the idea of having more free time and working when I felt like it. This sort of worked for a while, but pretty quickly I realized that if I really wanted to reach my goals and have a truly successful business and life, it was going to require a lot more effort than I had been putting in. So, I stepped up and started working harder and harder. Each year I started to do a little better. The last couple years I’ve worked harder than ever and have had record years as a result.
The Upside To Working Hard – Success!
The upside to working hard is pretty obvious, which is that you reap the fruits of your labor. Thanks to all the hard work I’ve put in over the years I have a business that sustains me comfortably. I’ve also learned the value of having a strong work ethic, which helps me in every area of my life. I apply the same sort of work ethic to things like songwriting and performing and have reaped similar rewards.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about hard work it’s that it works. I feel like as a society, we’ve sort of lost the work ethic and discipline we used to have. We live in a sort of instant gratification society where we all expect to get things very quickly. There’s nothing sexy or glamorous about working hard. It sort of sucks to be honest. But, at least for me, being broke all the time sucks even worse. It also gets easier. I’m actually pretty excited about getting up and working most days, because I know I’m building something real and sustainable. I overlook the aspects of working that I don’t like and focus on the fact that I’m building something very real and tangible.
Eight years, which is how long I’ve been running my own business, is a long time, but to get really good at anything takes considerable time. There’s something known as the “ten thousand hour rule” which is the idea that it takes, on average, about ten thousand hours of effort to truly master something. Malcolm Gladwell studied this in his book, Outliers. He found that when you examine the lives of most really successful people, it took them on average, about ten thousand hours of concentrated effort in their respective fields, which on average takes about ten years.
For most of us, substantial success, is going to require considerable time and effort, aka, hard work.
Downside #3 – Work Life Balance, What’s That?
One of the other downsides of working for yourself is that it can be really hard to strike a healthy balance between working and other aspects of your life, like relationships and finding time to just be and enjoy life. This isn’t to say that you can’t have the same issue as employee, you obviously can, and I know plenty of people who work for other people that still work too much and neglect other areas of their life. But I think it’s even more of a concern when you work for yourself. It can be much harder to find a healthy balance.
It’s ironic, because most people that are self-employed are probably drawn to the idea of working for themselves because they imagine having a greater degree of freedom and flexibility over their lives. Working for yourself does, potentially at least, offer much more flexibility in terms of when and where you work. But, if you’re not careful, it’s much too easy to slip into a pattern of working too much, to the point where other areas of your life suffer the consequences.
From time to time I catch myself simply working too much, neglecting friends and family. I don’t do it intentionally. But sometimes I’m so determined to get a project done or move certain aspects of my business forward that I find myself putting in way more hours than I would have as an employee. Of course, I reap the benefits of the work that I do, so I’m not spending my time in vain. But I find that getting this issue right is an ongoing balancing act.
The Upside To The Work/Life Balance Issue – Finding Balance
The upside to the issue of work/life balance is that if you set your business up correctly, you can achieve an amazing work/life balance and create a really cool lifestyle. I’ve gotten better at striking this balance over time. The thing is you have to do this very deliberately. You have to be very organized and create systems and processes that will allow your business to run smoothly.
Whenever I catchy myself feeling burned out from working, I take a close look at how I’m spending my time and look for ways I can do things more efficiently and effectively. This has been a gradual process of testing and trying a lot of different things over the years, but it’s reached a point where I feel like I have a really healthy balance. I schedule in plenty of time during my week to do other things like play and write music, relax, spend time with friends and so on.
I work much more effectively when I’m in a good mood and not overly stressed. It’s a bit like working out, if you work out too much you can actually over work your muscles and causes damage and injury. Work is a lot like that. We need to put in considerable effort to accomplish anything worthwhile, but there’s a point where it’s simply too much and not sustainable.
The bottom line is that working for yourself, isn’t for everyone, but if you have the right temperament it can lead to an amazing lifestyle with a greater degree of freedom and flexibility compared to being an employee. Being a musician in 2017 involves a degree of self-employment. Even if you have a day job and pursue music on the side, you’ll need entrepreneurial skills to navigate your way through the music business. The more you can develop a self-employed, entrepreneurial mindset the more you’ll be able to recognize and seize opportunities as a musician.
Some people just don’t have the stomach for working for themselves and I totally get that. The truth is, had I known just how hard it was going to be when I started my business back in 2008, I probably wouldn’t have done it. I would have most likely continued the path of least resistance, working in a job I didn’t really like that much, but that was relatively easy and stable. I’m so glad I didn’t know how much work was required though, because at this point, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
I often get asked to share more of my music with readers of my site and blog.
I just got my newest song, "Venus And The Moon At Night" back from my producer, Gary Gray.
I haven't pitched it anywhere or sent it to anyone yet. My assistant and I will start getting it out to the major blogs, promoting it on Facebook, Youtube and so on next week. Of course I'll also be pitching it to licensing opportunities via several different sync agencies I work with.
I'm sharing this with you before I share it with anyone else. I wanted you to hear it first.
I'm really excited about this track. So are my producer and vocal partner.
Check it out below and let us know what you think.
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A few years ago I spent the winter in the Caribbean playing music in the resort town of Cabarete, in the Dominican Republic. The winter that I arrived there was an influx of new musicians to the area. A lot of them were willing to play music for less money than a group of musicians who had been there for years. In some cases, they were willing to play for much less, as much 75% less, than those who had been on the island for years.
The local musicians were understandably upset. They were being undercut in price by a younger, newer group of musicians, and it was affecting their business. In some cases they were forced to lower their prices and a few musicians either lost their jobs or saw their slots cut back to make room for the newer/cheaper crop of musicians.
One day I was out for lunch with another singer/songwriter, also named Aaron, who was playing gigs on the island and one of the older musicians who had been playing in Cabarete for close to ten years approached the other Aaron and said, in a fairly aggressive way, "Dude, you have to raise your prices. You're killing the market for not only me, but yourself too! You're setting a bad precedent for all of the other musicians playing on the island."
At the time, I thought this guy was over reacting a bit. But, he had a valid point. In any industry, prices are set based not only on supply and demand, but also what suppliers are willing and able to sell their product for. If a large percentage of musicians lower their prices, play for free, play for exposure and so on, it has an undeniable effect on all of us and it makes it harder for more established musicians to demand higher prices.
In my last podcast, with Jason Moss from Super Sonic Noise, one of the things he stressed was treating your music with respect and not just giving it away for little or nothing. He made the great analogy that you should make a choice of either "treating music like your bitch and pimping it out for a few bucks here and there. Or, treating your music like your wife, respecting it, nurturing it and demanding that people give it the respect (and money) it's worth.
We all have to pay our bills and meet our immediate needs. I understand the temptation to sign bad deals and chase a few bucks here and there. But, be careful about not selling yourself too short. Don't sign deals you're not comfortable with. The market is already flooded with cheap, mediocre music. Strive to be better than that. It hurts all of us when musicians settle for so little.
In my upcoming course, The Ultimate Music Licensing Guide, I break down all the different types of publishing, library and licensing deals out there. I also talk about one type of deal you should avoid at all costs and in my opinion you should never do.
Watch the video below to see what I'm talking about.
What are your thoughts on musicians giving away their music, charging too little money and so on? How can we as musicians work together to raise the value of music? Please share your thoughts below:
Today I have a really short post. I’m slammed this week. Between working on my new course, scheduling and making calls for my latest 180 Day Music Licensing Challenge, interviewing people for my podcast, editing my podcasts, rehearsing for shows, making youtube videos, pitching artists and working on my own recording project, I barely have time to come up for air.
But there’s a topic that’s been on my mind and I want to give you something to think about…
Something I’ve been hearing a lot of lately, in one form or another, is that the music business is over saturated. I’ve heard this same idea expressed to me by a few different musicians I’ve worked with this week alone. It got me thinking... Shit, is there simply too much music out there? It sure seems like that sometimes. Could it be that the reason so many musicians don’t go further is because there’s just too many of us reaching for the same goals?
It’s kind of a depressing thought. The idea that there’s just too much music and that even though we’re all writing amazing, earth shattering, ground breaking music, some of it will inevitably get lost in the shuffle.
But. Is it true? We can all agree that the market is flooded with a lot of music. There's definitely a lot of music being made. But what I want you to consider is how much of it is really good. How much of it is great? How much of it is amazing?
There’s no shortage of music. That’s for sure. But really. Let’s be honest. Most of it isn’t AMAZING. Most of it isn’t even great. Some of it is, but it’s a small percentage. A lot of the music that’s out there is pretty mediocre and average. Most of it probably falls in this category in my opinion.
What’s my point? The point is that although there's a lot of music, there’s no surplus of great music. Great art, whether it’s music, film, visual art or poetry (ok maybe not poetry), but great art will find an audience. It might take a few years, but if it’s truly great, people will take notice.
Yes, we have new challenges in this era, compared to previous eras, but was it ever really easy? Before perhaps there was less competition but it was hard and more expensive to record and distribute music. Now it’s easier than ever to record and distribute music, but perhaps harder than ever to monetize. It’s always been hard! There has always been challenges.
In a weird way, the challenge and struggle is half the fun. It forces you to pursue it for the right reasons. How much do you really love music? Are you really in this for pure reasons? Pursue music for a few years and you’ll figure it out.
As we enter 2017, I’m incredidbly optimistic and excited about this year. I'm more excited about my own music and music in general than I have been in a really long time. I plan to push things further this year, both with my own music and the work I’m doing with my website and podcast. I’m creating a lot of new content this year and I’m excited to bring it to you.
One of the new things I’m doing this year is adding a new segment to my podcast where I’ll be featuring other great artists and promoting their music. If you’d like to be considered to be featured on my podcast, send me a link to your music below.
I’m looking for great, innovative, original music filled with passion and soul. I know it’s out there.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.