musician trying to build a music career while working a desk job

How to build a music career (and hold down a day job)

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Here’s a seven-step plan to help you manage the practical reality of building a music career while living your “regular” life.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

If you’re an independent musician, there’s a good chance you’re holding down a day job in addition to pursuing your musical dreams. How do you do it? How do you move your music career forward while holding down a day job?

There was an article about this in a recent Digital Music News issue and it had some good points. Today, I’d like to give you my suggestions on how to build a music career while balancing a day job and the other responsibilities you have — like taking care of your family and yourself.

1. Set measurable goals

For starters, if you want this music thing to work, it helps to have goals. Setting measurable goals is an important part of success in anything you do. It helps you visualize where you want to end up. But don’t just visualize — write them down.

2. Plan to achieve your goals

Once you have your goals written down, spend time planning — chart a course for how you can accomplish them. Ask yourself questions like, What kind of music career do I want to have? How much time can I realistically spend on my music? What do I need to do to keep moving toward my goal?

3. Schedule critical tasks

Once you’ve created a plan, give some thought to how much time it’s realistically going to take to do all the necessary tasks and figure out how they’ll fit into your schedule. I’m talking about basic but extremely important agenda items like songwriting, rehearsing, recording, engaging with fans in person and on social media, working on marketing activities like your website and getting playlist placement, and writing and sending emails.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, there are plenty of other things for you to do to build a music career. As you think of them, jot them down. Then ask yourself, How many hours a week will each of these tasks take to accomplish? When will I actually do them? Ideally, you’ll want to find time to do something to move your music career forward each and every day — in addition to your day job.

This will be work, but if you have ambitious music goals, if doing music full-time is on your list, you have to treat it like a second job. If your goal with music is more modest, like just enjoying the creativity and having fun, then scheduling your music activities will be much easier and less impactful on the rest of your life.

4. Establish your priorities

It is very important — and actually something you need to think about as you schedule your critical tasks — to establish your priorities. Where does music fit into your life? How important is it, really? And to what extent will your music activities interfere with other needs and obligations?

For example, if you need to choose between music and your social life, or between music and your professional career, which should take priority? There’s no right or wrong answer. You need to do what’s right for you, for your life, for your goals.

5. Track your progress

How you will track your progress? How will you measure whether you’re reaching your goals? Are you trying to increase monthly streams? Active listeners on Spotify? Subscribers to your mailing list? Social followers?

It can be really helpful to decide what some of your KPIs are — key performance indicators, as we say in business. To put it simply, which are the key stats that will allow you to measure whether you are making progress toward your goals? This is why it is important to set measurable goals. Set reminders, schedule planning sessions, and keep track of how you are measuring up to your stated, written goals.

6. Be realistic

Here’s a really important point to think about when trying to balance a day job with a music career: be realistic. You’re human, things happen — you may not be able to do it all. So, by all means, set your goals but be realistic in the scheduling of your tasks. Give music the appropriate priority in your life. As much as you love your music, I would not recommend ignoring your spouse and kids so you can pursue stardom.

7. Be forgiving

Finally, be forgiving. Not of others — though being forgiving of others is a worthy trait to practice — I’m talking about being forgiving of yourself. If you didn’t get to accomplish your task of the day, if you are off track with your goals, if you’re in a slump, forgive yourself. Like I said, you’re only human. We all get off-track. With our diet, with exercise, with cutting down on one vice or another. And, occasionally, with doing the hard work of building a music career.

Once you recognize you’ve gone off-track, don’t beat yourself up over it. Acknowledge it and get back on the program. What’s past is past — you can’t change that. You can only change the future. So get back on your schedule and start working on your music again.

Does this sound like a lot of work? Well, yeah, it is. But if you’re serious about your music, nobody has more at stake than you. You are the only person responsible for driving your music career forward. The more committed you are, the more dedicated to the effort, the more results you’ll see.

So, how do you do it? How do you balance music, day job, family, etc.? Please leave a comment below. I’m sure it’ll help your fellow artists who are also trying to juggle all their priorities.

Watch more great videos on the Disc Makers YouTube channel.

Tony van Veen is the CEO of DIY Media Group, the parent company of Disc Makers and BookBaby. As a college student, he played in indie bands, created his own LPs, cassettes, and t-shirts, and sold them at shows. Today, he collects CDs, vinyl LPs, and concert t-shirts to support the artists he loves.

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About Tony van Veen

Tony van Veen is the CEO of DIY Media Group, the parent company of Disc Makers and BookBaby. As a college student, he played in indie bands, created his own LPs, cassettes, and t-shirts, and sold them at shows. Today, he collects CDs, vinyl LPs, and concert t-shirts to support the artists he loves.

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