Hello again indie artist! So I’m sure you’ve heard about all the amazing ways artist are making money out there today. It may all sound great, but if you don’t have at least a basic understanding of personal finance you will most likely mismanage your money at some point. Now if your far enough in your career and have an accountant or manager handle this for you – great! However in most cases today, indie artists start out on their own or with a trusted friend or classmate acting as their manager. For most artists, finance is the last thing they want to focus on when there is recording, touring, shoots and social media to tend to! But finance and budgeting are important if you want to have a real career as an artist. We can all agree that there is nothing fabulous about being famous and broke.
1. ACT LIKE A BUSINESS
Successful artists and bands today were already thinking of themselves as a business before they made it. If you want to turn your hobby into something that can actually generate income, then it is a good idea to consider forming a legit corporation such as a Limited Liability Company (LLC). Making yourself or your band into a corporation only makes you appear more professional, but it offer you legal protection, more flexibility and tax write offs as well!
Creating an LLC gives you which is the main reason why it is a preferred choice for many artists and entrepreneurs. Now, instead of signing contracts or doing gigs under your personal name, you can do this under your business name. This way you are not personally liable should something go wrong under your deal or should a fan or vendor decides to sue you. I won’t go into too much details in this blog, but the protection that comes with forming an LLC can be quite valuable. Additionally, things like mileage to get to the studio, equipment expenses and recording costs can all be deducted if you have an active business. My next bullet point will explain how to make sure you capture all of your possible write-offs.
***Now keep in mind that forming a corporation or LLC does comes with annual costs and will also change the way you do your personal taxes. Check with your state of residence about their requirements and be sure that you are able to cover all the necessary costs before you decide to form your company!
2. TRACK YOUR INCOME AND EXPENSES
Let’s face it, life as an indie artist can be inconsistent, and so can the pay. Touring, album releases, festival seasons and more can all play into how much you make and when you make it. By tracking all your income and expenses, you can get a realistic view of what you are bringing in and putting out over a period of time. Personally, I use a cloud program called FreshBooks to manage all my accounting. But as long as you are willing to start tracking, feel free to use whatever method works best for you, even if it is just a simple excel sheet!
For your income tracking, just make sure you account for all the money you receive whether it is by cash, check or credit card. If you are in a band where multiple people need to be paid, consider opening up a single bank account – this is where you LLC comes in handy – so that all members can see what is being made.
Create a spreadsheet just for expenses. Your spreadsheet doesn’t need to be complicated, the more simple you keep it the better. Try and think of everything that contributes to your music career and add it to your spreadsheet. This can include travel mileage, hotel, airfare, studio time, mixing/mastering costs, makeup artists, photo shoot props, etc.
When you are just starting out with a budget, watch it closely for the first few months. It will take you a bit to see exactly what your cash flow is. Once you have an understanding of how much is coming in and what is coming out, you will have more control over your spending and be able to plan better.
Budgeting is the key to life. It is also the key to having a successful and consistent career in music! Your budget is basically a plan for your money and how you will spent it over a specific period of time. Once you know what your expenses are, you can determine how much money you have to spend elsewhere.
As an artist, you should make a budget for each project you have – album, performance, video shoot, etc. Use a spreadsheet to break each categories within that project down. For example, if you budgeting the recording of an album, you need to account for rehearsal time, studio time, engineering, copyrights, distribution costs – well you get the picture. By laying out all of this information, you will know exactly how much money you need before you even step foot into a studio. This will give you more room to cut back if needed and make any necessary adjustments. Plus, you avoid starting a project that you don’t have the money to complete – the worst thing an artist can do! The most important thing about creating a budget is that is allows you to plan ahead and develop a successful, realistic strategy for your music career.
4. SAVE, SAVE, SAVE
Saving is probably the hardest thing for an up and coming artist to do. We all want to make a lot of money from our music, but if you are constantly spending everything that comes in, you won’t be able to grow your brand. Keep in mind as your name gets bigger, so will your expenses. You may need to buy equipment, hire a band to help you with live gigs or maybe you need new promo materials to boost your next project release.What if you finally get that call to meet with a label and you need to purchase a high-priced flight? Trust me, your savings can seriously come in handy.
If you are not used to saving, start small. Pick a percentage of your earnings that you are comfortable with and stick to it. For most artists, 5-10% is a good place to start. But as long as you are getting in the habit of putting something aside, any number will do! The key is to keep adding to your savings without ever pulling from it until you really need it – trust me this can be hard for some people. If you have a business manager, ask them to help you open a business savings account and come up with a solid savings plan. It will be very helpful when you are ready to start a tour, record a new project or hire outside help. Remember – SAVE, don’t spend!
Good luck indies 😉