Today’s installment of our Afraid To Ask: TFD’s new expert interview series, is all about how to navigate questions you have for a career musician and financial implications of working in an unstable industry. The Afraid To Ask series is meant to provide a deeper insight into a variety of subjects, and shed light on topics people are sometimes ignorant about (myself included in every topic I cover!).
This week I sat down (via the internet of course) with a friend, Matt “Broke” Boland, who has been a professional musician for nearly all his life. He’s had to hustle, hard, in order to live the life he always imagined for himself and has had to make tradeoffs along the way. He’s sharing great insight into what it means to strike the balance between living your life and saving while working a job that varies greatly day-to-day.
Matt was kind enough to answer the questions that follow and got really candid with us about the best and worst parts of his job. While this interview is not exhaustive, it’s a great way to get a peek inside the life of someone who manages their finances and pays their bills in a non-traditional way. Check it out!
Let me say upfront that I have no idea what supporting yourself financially as a musician looks like, so I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today. How long have you been doing what you’re doing, and is being a musician your full-time job?
I started playing like any teenager does in a garage band. At 17 years old I started playing bars and making some decent money. Then, I would say I have been seriously playing for about 12 years, and it has been my full-time job for about two years now. I still have to fill in the cracks by doing odd jobs, which is typical for someone in this line of work.
I’d imagine the financial life of a professional musician varies greatly and includes a lot of ups and downs (as is common with most creative professions). How do you deal with that instability?
You absolutely hit the nail on the head! There are a lot of ups and downs being a full-time musician. It can be extremely stressful because, unlike living paycheck to paycheck and still knowing you have a job, you are living gig to gig with the constant fear of not finding a place to play for a week. But as you said, I have a “creative profession,” so I try to be as creative as possible to make money when I’m not playing music. I make money on the side by filming bands, recording artists, making music videos for artists, promoting, being a stagehand, running sound, and more recently, being a handyman. I just try to get as creative as possible with the knowledge I have of the entertainment industry.
How do you plan for savings? Do you put away a set percentage of each paycheck, or is it more sporadic?
Sporadic to say the least! This is definitely where things get hard. Most artists that share my personality type are not exactly forward planners, however, we are quick-on-the-spot type of thinkers. For example, I’m not very good at saving money, but I am very good at coming up with an idea or plan to utilize my talents and make a quick buck when I need to. I also feel very fortunate to have a wonderful woman keeping me in check!
We are big advocates of the side-hustle here at TFD. What was the highest number of gigs you worked simultaneously, and what was that like?
Side hustling is the name of the game. As I said above, I truly care about the entertainment industry and every aspect of it. Therefore, I try to keep most of my hustles within the industry so I’m constantly learning. If I’m not playing music, I am usually helping run sound for somebody, acting, running lights, helping organize and stage manage — evening MCing. However, there are those times when I’m doing all of those things at once. It can be STRESSFUL. I help out with a local music festival every year called Gallabaloo, and this past year I helped book most of the bands. The day of the festival I played three sets in three different bands, stage-managed two stages, helped with sound and lights, and filmed and photographed the whole festival! Phew.
Do you prefer your money to come from diverse places instead of relying on one single job for your earnings?
Absolutely! Traveling is one of my favorite things to do. I love the road and I believe that is one of the main reasons I decided to take a career in music. I love seeing as much as possible, and I never want to let my life get stale. I don’t think I’ve held an actual job for more than two years (by choice of course), but it keeps me moving and learning new things. I also like the fact that when you do this type of work you have to earn your keep with venues, bar owners, and fans. When you first start out, you’re working for peanuts, but as you prove yourself more and more, your experience means you earn more money. Your status grows throughout your career which feels hard-earned and meaningful.
What do you love most about what you do?
Traveling! To me, it doesn’t get any better than seeing new places, new people, and having new experiences. I don’t mind the hard times on the road — I’ve learned a lot of very important lessons from them. One of them being how to always make the best of a difficult situation when it comes to paying bills or getting through a tough time. You have to remain positive and work hard to make things better.
How has the nature of working in a field where tips can (potentially) be a huge part of your income changed the way you feel about people donating/giving to the things they care about (like supporting the arts).
It’s kind of tough to say. I have always been a big tipper and donate to the things I love and believe in. I guess as I get older, and the more I see how hard people work for their money, the more it humbles me. I know how hard I work for my money, and it’s very humbling to know that you are worth their money as well.
What are some financial tips you would advise someone younger than you to follow if they were interested in pursuing this line of work?
Learn the business! Learn every aspect of it and listen to all the advice you can. Learn what a sound man has to go through before he runs your sound. Learn what a promoter has to go through before he puts on your show. The best advice I’ve ever gotten for my career was, “If you want to be a Rockstar, don’t act like a Rockstar.” I feel that younger people who want to take on a career as a musician need to understand it can’t be done with anything but the love of doing it. Understand that you don’t have to be famous to have an amazing, fun, and successful career as an original musician. First and foremost, you have to understand and grasp the fact that it is a job…. a fun job, yes….but still a job!
What kind of stressors affect your ability to work, and how do you overcome them to stay positive and continue doing what you do?
In this business you have to learn not to sweat the small stuff. While that does go for any business, this business in particular involves a lot of small stuff! Anything from a van breaking down, the sound being bad, an argument with a band member, a gig that gets canceled, equipment breaking, and even a band can breaking up can be enough to take the wind out of your sails. Stay positive and creative. I guess the thing that really makes me not sweat anything is looking at my life as if it’s a book. Any stressful situation can easily be made into an adventure depending on how I choose to handle it. It can even be an adventure and a challenge to remain positive, but I find a fun and motivating pride in trying to keep my head up at all times.
Do you have a financial safety net, and what does that look like for you (i.e. how many months rent, bills, etc, do you have saved if your income evaporated tomorrow)?
I’m going to be completely honest here — not at the moment, and it is one of my biggest fears. A long time ago I made the decision to live my life with no plans of a having family, and I just wanted to remain on the road and live minimally. Now, as I approach 30, I have a whole new view on life. I got lucky and met the girl of my dreams, and now I hope to have a family. To use a pop culture reference, I kind of went from having a Mad Max mentality about music to almost having an almost ~professional jazz~ outlook on life. Meaning, I was once just kind of a renegade musician living life rough, and now I’m in a calmer transitional period. I want to become a “true professional” musician and view this as more of a craft. With that being said, I’m in the midst of turning my career into a small business. I’m doing this by organizing my financial situation smartly and utilizing my talent, knowledge of the industry, creativity, and (most importantly) my love of everything that comes with it — the good and the bad.
Image via Pexels