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Composer & Small Business Owner | Advice on pursuing a creative career | Part 4 | Khan Academy


You get a lot of advice when you’re studying a given field and specifically with music. There wasn’t a really great conversation going on as to how one makes a living in music. People end up making a mistake, I think, when they leave school that by not having, by virtue of not having those conversations spend so much time trying to figure things out that they get themselves in trouble by the time they’re 30. And if people had just had open discussions about what a commission is, what advertising is, what is performing for AFM or doing something with SAG-AFTRA, or all the variety of different things that we end up doing once we figure out what it is to have a career in music. If they had that conversation earlier on, you probably wouldn’t be doggy-paddling in the ocean of the world, so to speak, that most of us do for those first years out of school. For me, living in New York just in general you know, people figure it out. You figure out where to get an apartment or sharing an apartment. As a musician though, it’s tricky because typically you’re forced to write at home. It was only until right before I left New York that I actually could afford– I had an $1800 a month studio recording studio that I was working out of. But you know, $1800 studio, if that was your main apartment that would be too expensive. So it’s tricky on that front, just figuring out where you’re gonna be able to work is tricky as a musician. I think the reason why some of the most talented people aren’t successful is because you need to balance that creative ambition with the practicalities of running a business, even if that business is just you. So for example, I’m working on a personal record right now, and part of my gut wants to have there be no limits. I’m going to hire anybody I want. I’m going to buy all the plug-ins I need. I’m going to expand my computer power. And that list goes on and on. And if I were to do that, obviously, I’d go broke, and this would be the most expensive project I’ve ever done. So you have to really kind of fine-tune what things you actually need, how much money you’re capable of spending, and get creative not only with your music but on the business end of things to make sure you stay afloat. There is certainly some pitfalls composers should be wary of. One of them has to do with the business of music, for sure, which is that you have to be careful, obviously, not to overspend yourself because money is what allows you to be able to feel comfortable doing creative projects, I mean, unless you don’t have that part of your mind that gets nervous. If you are concerned with having a stable financial life and maybe even having a family at one point, then you want to be careful not to dig yourself into a hole pursuing one music project that may or may not be a hail-Mary. My teacher, many teachers have said that music is something that you should do if it’s the only thing you think you should do or the only thing you can do. And I think you can apply that to different projects. If you feel really compelled to do a record or to make a piece of classical music, you should do it. But at the same time you have to run the calculus in your mind to figure out what’s the best way to go about doing that project. And sometimes there are huge projects that you have to wait to do, you know? For example, in my own life when I had gotten off the road, I was really inspired to do something theatrical like that when I got back to New York, and I had some savings at that moment in time. And I blew– I don’t want to say blew it, but I spent $20,000 putting up a ballet in New York City. And I was really really proud of that ballet, and it was really important for me as a person. But I was too young to understand at that time how the business of music worked in terms of putting up live shows and complicated shows like that. For example, a very simple example being when you put up a show like that, make sure you have somebody to review it. Make sure you have the press there because if you put up a show and you sell the whole show out and no press shows up, then it’s almost like it didn’t exist. It never happened. So anyway, I had done this show, really proud of it, was completely attended. Everyone loved it. Had no press. And the week after, I saw $20,000 disappear after paying all the musicians and paying artists to do to do all these video installations and for costumes designed for the dancers. And that $20,000 I honestly believe set me back probably five years financially. I was always thinking about where I would be with those $20,000. And of course, that’s a huge exchange not only because it sets you back financially but let’s say you really need a guitar for the next project or a piano for the next project. All of a sudden, this money that you used someplace you can’t use in the next place, and maybe that’s the money that you actually need to get the next job. One thing that I wish I knew about making money in the beginning before I started embarking upon this business career, music career, is that people had always told me and teachers had always talked to me about how difficult it is to make a living as a musician. And while that is true, the truth of the matter is if you work hard, you’ll make a living as a musician. I mean, it’s shocking. People say that there’s no money in classical music. I know many composers who make a living in classical music. They teach, they write music, they get commissions. And all this is to say is that if you live in that kind of fear where you think it’s so difficult to make a living doing what you want to do and then all of a sudden start hedging your bets from a career standpoint, then you end up with a career that you never wanted. You should be doing what you want. If you want to be a classical musician you should be writing classical music, and you should be doing it all the time. Obviously, you can do something else as you’re growing in that profession to make money. But you will eventually create a career by putting yourself out there and by doing the work that you want to be doing. The same thing can be said regarding film. The same can be said regarding being a songwriter as well. So yeah, I guess I wish I knew that 10 years ago.

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