The Reality Of The Surviving Musician

I recently had a conversation with a good friend and musician about how often we see people romanticizing about becoming that starved musician.  They have a dream.  They have a dream of pursuing the one thing they love, no matter what the cost.  Whether they have to sleep on park benches or in their beat up old car (the lucky few), they are happy just to have that one gig, just to play one more time…for now.

Well, here is a crazy idea.  What if we actually took a moment to identify some of life’s basic luxuries and tried to determine what it would take as a gigging musician to cover these expenses.  What if we were actually prepared to survive and knew what to expect before we walked blindly into the hopes of making it big.  Now when I say some of life’s basic luxuries I am referring to things like a roof over your head, means of transportation, food on the table, and maybe an occasional date with that special someone.

No matter where you are in the world, it is important to figure what the average costs are to survive in your area.  Be sure to thoroughly research this as much as possible.  Call your local providers for each of the expenses you will incur and get as many prices as you can to be as comprehensive as you can.

You will want to include things like: rent, renters insurance, utilities, vehicle payment, vehicle insurance, vehicle maintenance, gas, health insurance, prescriptions, food, high speed internet, cell phone, music expenses (strings, sticks, picks & heads),  and anything else that you just can’t live without.

The basic formula we would use is:

(Average cost of all expenses combined/average pay per gig = approximate number of gigs you need to cover expenses)

I understand that most musicians would never think about this kind of stuff before they head out into the world.  However, those park benches can get old after a while.  Six months down the road… one year… how long are you going to go before you just want a place to call home.  Another thing to remember is that none of the expenses we are talking about today help you to prepare for the future.  We still are not setting money aside for savings, retirement, a wedding ring for your special someone, diapers for the kids, etc.  This is just the most basic means of comfortable living.  Another very important item to note is taxes. I have not included anything in this article about how much you should be setting aside for taxes.  Please do your self a huge favor and find out as much as you can about your tax circumstances.

Here is a hypothetical scenario:

1.) Studio Apartment – $450/month

2.) Utilities – $75/month

3.) Car Payment – None, your parents love you dearly and gave you an old Volkswagen Van and a bike.

4.) Car Insurance – $60/month

5.) Gas – $160/month

6.) Cell Phone – $115/month

7.) High Speed Internet – $55/month

8.) Food – $200/month (Ramen Noodles, Bread, Peanut Butter & Purple Stuff)

9.) Music Gear (Sticks, Picks, Heads & Strings) – $50/month

10.) Health Insurance – You simply can’t afford it and you can’t get sick or hurt ever.

11.) Vehicle Maintenance – If your van breaks down you are toast.  Credit card debt here we come.


Total Expenses Per Month = $1,165

Average Pay Per Gig = $50

Gigs needed per month = 24 gigs per month (rounded up)

That means you should try and have at least 6 gigs lined up every week that pay $50.


I have found that a lot of musicians will find part time jobs that offer great benefits while they are pursuing music.  Do some research for employers in your area that offer both the flexibility and benefits that you need.

Here are some resources that might be of use while you research what works best for you:

1.) – Check out their article “Average Income Of A Musician” & “Tax Tips For Musicians

2.) Top 10 Part Time Jobs With Benefits

3.) Musicians and Singers Tax Info

4.) Tax Tips For Musicians


I thank you all for your time and wish you the best on your musical endeavors!

Miguel Monroy