Accepting that making a living from music isn’t possible for me

I’ve been struggling a lot with what to do next with my life for the last 15 months or so.  Ever since I went on tour, played 9 shows in March, 2013, and drove 3,000 lonely miles in that same month.  It was during that tour that I fully realized and accepted that no matter how much I put into music, I wasn’t going to be able to make a living from it.

Having followed my dreams for over 20 years only to get to that point was not easy.  I knew it meant the end of any major touring.  I knew I wasn’t going to be sleeping in my car while playing every open mic I could, and booking as many shows as I could on the weekends.  I knew that creating over a dozen music videos, recording and releasing 11 albums, selling them at shows, as well as on iTunes, my website, and every other major digital distributor, wasn’t enough to generate enough income to support my life.

Sure, some of the problem is that few people pay for music anymore.  In the last few years, I’ve sold more t-shirts than CDs, but most of the time I had to sell them so inexpensively that I wasn’t generating a profit from them.  I think it ultimately just comes down to the fact that the music industry is still one of feast or famine.  Dr. Dre, for example, just became hip-hop’s first billionaire.  Macklemore went from the Thrift Shop to being worth $16 million.  My best show ever, financially, made me about $250.  I’ve made $200 or more 5 times at a show (and that’s not including the money I spent making fliers and running ads for those shows) and that’s better than most performing musicians.   My lifetime digital distribution income is $412, with iTunes leading the way at $218.67.  As much as I believe in Spotify as a business model, my lifetime earnings from them is $8.05.

Obviously, with that kind of income from music, money was never the primary motivator in making music or touring, but the hope of eventually turning all of my hard work into something that would allow me to make a living doing something I love was a major motivating force.  Combined with not being able to record for the past 8 months (my recording equipment stopped working and I haven’t had the money to replace it), and no longer having a desire to be on the road much, music has taken a different role in my life.

I still love music.  I still enjoy performing.  I will record again when I can afford to fix/replace my equipment.  I will release a few of my back albums on iTunes and Spotify so almost my entire catalog will be easily accessible.  I will release my live album (RnR Playdate) within the next 6 months.  I will eventually finish my 12th studio album, Zachariah Sebastian, and I expect to record a 13th album, called The Music Arcade.  I will make more music videos and put them on YouTube.  I will do so because music is still a major part of who I am, and because I know there are fans out there who really want to hear new music from me.  I will just do so without the expectation or hope of making a living from my music.

Which brings me to what I’ve been struggling with for over the last year.  My decision making has been based on wanting to make a living from music for so long that finding something else I can be truly passionate about is difficult.  I’m truly blessed that I’ve known what I’ve wanted since I was 13, but now that I’ve accepted that I can’t have it, I’m faced with figuring out what I truly want.

I know I don’t want to deliver pizzas, and after doing IT for a living for the last 5 months, I know that’s not what I want either.  I’m currently doing both, for a total of 40-60 hours per week, in order to save money to open The Music Arcade because it’s the only thing I’ve been truly passionate about since.  I’m willing to make the sacrifice for something I’d love to do, just as I’ve willingly made the same kind of sacrifice for music for the past 20+ years.  If I can open the place, I’ll still be able to perform, this time at my own venue, in my hometown.  I’ll also be able to bring fun and enjoyment to people through arcade games, and I’ll be able to connect musicians and audiences.

I currently have no backup plan.  I’m going to work as many hours as I can to save money to open the Music Arcade, even if it takes a few years to ultimately open.  I will get loans if I can.  If I can’t, I’ll start small and buy one machine to put in somewhere else, and continue to buy machines until I have enough to open my own place.  I will work hard, and be patient, and I will do everything I can to open it.

There’s more to this than just what I want to do for a living, though.  I’ve sacrificed a tremendous amount to pursue my dreams, and it’s always been worth it.  I have no regrets, but I do now have to look at what my life is, and who I am now.  Without being able to record, and rarely performing, I lost some of my identity.  My day to day life has been about working in order to pay the bills, and trying to figure out a better way to live.  Following my dream of music meant not really being able to date.  I never hooked up with groupies, and I never thought of female fans as potential date material.  Partially, it was because I wasn’t sure if they had already established preconceived notions about who I was, and another part is that I didn’t want to risk offending them by approaching them romantically.  Combined with the fact that I live in a college town and am 35, it has left me very single.  That even led me to join Match, but online dating has yielded no success for me whatsoever.  It’s impossible for a woman to really understand who I am by looking at a few pictures and reading a profile.  I think that’s true for the vast majority of people, and I know it’s very true for me.  There’s something to be said for human intuition, chemistry, eye contact, body language, and all of those other things that can only be experienced face to face with someone.

It has taken me until now, really, to accept that even without the hope of being able to make a living from music, and without performing often or recording, and everything else I’ve mentioned, that I’m still me.  I’m still a nice guy.  I still inspire people (which even typing that seems surreal, and is an incredible thing).  I’m still a hard worker.  I’m still passionate.  I’m still honest.  I’m still a dreamer, and doing something I love is still far more important to me than how much money I make.  I’m still a musician, and a performer.  I’m still hopeful, and optimistic, about life.  I know I’ll still be a great husband if I find the right woman, and I’m confident I’ll be an incredible father if I’m lucky enough to become one.  My values haven’t changed, but my life has.  I’ll still have moments where dealing with that change will be difficult, but the toughest times of that change are behind me.

 

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Published by: Mission Man

I am a conscientious hip-hop musician, and have been rapping since 1992. I started playing drums, bass, guitar, and keyboard, in addition to producing my own music, starting in 1998. For full details, see the official website at MissionMan.net.

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