How to Make a Living Playing Music


I have a pretty good feeling this blog post brought much traffic to banjo player Danny Barnes’ site when he first posted it. A friend came across it and passed it on to me a few days back AND it is the most practical post I’ve read all year. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be picking out certain part of  his post and going in depth on a few things. But, for now, take the time to read and digest what Danny has to say. I’ve only included an excerpt.  Be sure to read the whole thing. But be prepared…its long!

i hear so much complaining about this subject, i just wanted to lay my practical experience on you. free. first, three pre-conditions:

  • 1. if you are a very materialistic person, skip this article, i don’t think you are going to like what it says.
  • 2. if you don’t have the music where you want it art-wise, you might want to go work on that, this article isn’t going to help you much either. you will be better off by practicing and studying and working on your music instead. you will need to get the art pretty close to where you want it, before you should worry about making much of a living out of it.
  • 3. determine if you are actually called to be a musician. if you aren’t called, all the gyrations in the world, won’t make it work. if you are called, no matter what you do, it’s going to work. this determination will solve most of the problems you are going to encounter.

assuming these three conditions are met, you are financially workable and you have the music where you want it and you are surely called into the art, here goes, in no particular order as i am want:

  • a. keep your expenses very low. read that one again. move someplace cheap. drive a good used car. do all the things it takes to be a secure un-monied person. you have to have health insurance. you have to have a reliable car [unless you live in nyc or something]. you have to have some money in savings. you have to pay your taxes. don’t have a big expense of alcohol or drugs or any drag on your system like that. i wouldn’t even smoke. use your head. spend very little, save as much as you can and don’t get into any big expenditure until you can afford it, maybe never. buy your gear used. research as much as you can. think about it really hard before you part with a dollar. learn how to honestly add and subtract without emotion. if you spend more than you take in, you lost money. i can’t tell you how many folks that i run into that have trouble with this. if you bring in more that went out guess what? you just made money.
  • stick to this low-overhead model, if you end up making a bunch of dough, you already know how to deal with it. if not, you still get to keep working because you don’t have a bunch of stuff that you have to dust and pay for. the more overhead you tack on, the harder it’s going to be. and the easier it is to get knocked off course.
  • b. however, don’t be a cheapskate. tithe or donate faithfully whatever your heart tells you to do. pay your band as much as you can. never…

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One Comment on “How to Make a Living Playing Music”

  1. J Colbert Says:

    Danny Barnes is not only a fantastic musician, but an equally fantastic person. I had the pleasure of seeing him front row at Mr. Smalls on my birthday opening for Yonder Mountain String Band, where he did, in fact, get the entire audience to sing Happy Birthday to me!! I was lucky enough to exchange a few words with him before and after his set. He has such a positive energy that is somewhat contagious. The man knows what he is doing and has a great passion for his music, and for life. If you consider yourself an artist in any sense, I suggest reading and re-reading this blog and taking it to heart.

    Also, check out his new album “Pizza Box” if you haven’t already. It is an eclectic blend of bluegrass and rock that is all is own and very enjoyable. (His unison vocal/banjo chromatic soloing is unbelievable!) AND the entire album was recorded in under 2 weeks, with the bulk of the instruments recorded by Danny himself. Worth checking out.


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