Why do musicians need to think about finance?

by Minjin Chung

“Are we the generation who waits for the phone to ring? No. Do we wait for someone to say here’s your amazing opportunity to do this project you’ve been dreaming of that’s totally risky, that no one else would produce? No. We do it for ourselves and we do it for one another.”

This is the attitude that I want to embrace in my own career, as stirringly expressed by flautist, Claire Chase, founder of the International Contemporary Ensemble. Not only was she creative and visionary in the way she formed the ICE ensemble, but she clearly was resourceful enough to carry it through in the real world. This combination of creativity and resourcefulness is what it takes to survive in today’s music industry.

The classical music industry has been evolving seemingly faster than ever; everything from the way music is consumed to the types of jobs that are available. Gone are the days where signing a deal with a record label or joining an orchestra could provide a stable career. These days more and more people are consuming their music through streaming services and the once reliable institution of the symphony orchestra seems to be struggling under financial hardship and lack of public interest.

As a cellist finishing up my last year of graduate school, this is both terrifying and thrilling; Terrifying because I feel like I’m walking into uncharted territory, yet thrilling because it opens up the possibility to shape my own career. If anything I think what draws me to the life of a musician is not only the music itself but the possibility of creating something new. The industry is changing, but I also think that in a way it has become easier for individuals to start their own projects and businesses.

The internet has revolutionized the way we connect with our audiences. We no longer need a middle man to promote and market our projects. However, with this newfound independence and freedom, musicians must also learn to wear many different hats at once. You have to be your own personal manager, business manager, financial manager, etc. I’m realizing more than ever that in order to create the types of projects that inspire me artistically, I need to have the ability to handle my own finances in a smart way. Society at large seems hesitant to invest in artists, and therefore it’s important to learn the skills to invest in oneself financially and prove to others that there is value in what we do.

Furthermore, on a more practical note, the life of a musician may not always have as long of a trajectory as other salaried careers. It’s because of the more flexible nature of our career that we have to be especially smart about budgeting and allocating our funds in the most efficient way. Any musician that has been gigging understands the stress of going through a rough patch; when the gigs aren’t coming through as often as usual. During these times, it’s crucial to have enough money saved from previous, more abundant seasons, to pull through. By being smart about the financial aspect of our musical careers we can expect to have more longevity as well as more freedom to really invest in the projects we care about artistically.

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