Let’s Talk About Money, an Introduction
You can learn just about anything on the internet. For musicians, there’s a trend in talking about, teaching, and practicing entrepreneurship—an essential skill for anyone who wants to make a life in the arts. To clarify, entrepreneurship, in the artistic sense, has evolved to encompass everything from the hard and soft business skills needed to run your career to starting your own business.
People like Angela Myles Beeching, Mark Rabideau and 21CM, Garrett Hope, David Cutler, and Andrew Hitz realized that students and professionals needed tools and discussions centered around anything but practicing for the next audition. These resources are now great and many, but they all side-step one thing: the money.
As musicians, how much are we making? How do we negotiate for more? How do we create and advocate for sustainable, liveable wages when we are confronted by the biggest taboo of the 20th century: talking about how much you make is rude.
At some point we need to know what is reasonable, what are the lows and highs in our region, and whether or not we can live off of it. If you avoid talking about the financials of being an artist, you do a disservice to anyone who wants to come up into the trade. Falling in line with the status quo leaves the younger generations of artists clueless, all the while perpetuating the position of power held by those who control the money. The taboo of money talk stems from a complicated history, but sits with corporations trying to get the best bang for their buck out of employees, so profits can soar and owners can become rich. Yes, it’s a dramatic generalization but let’s go with it so we can inspire change.
There is no one way to make a living in music. There really are too many paths to talk about. But knowledge is power, so I have recruited three amazing musicians and one ensemble who have generously agreed to openly discuss their finances and how they make it all work. This is not intended as an instruction manual but as a way for you to learn, compare, and set your own goals—and hopefully develop your own ways of finding financial success through your art with more perspective and clarity.
For this series of articles, I will interview Tony Manfredonia, game and orchestral composer; Lisa Neher, composer and mezzo-soprano performer; Loadbang, the new music ensemble; and Pamela Z, an electronic music composer and performer.
For this installment, meet Tony!
Tony Manfredonia Talks Money & Lifestyle
Tony is two years out of his bachelor’s program at Temple University, married with no kids (at the moment), living in Petoskey, Michigan, (despite hosting the Bayview Music Festival, it’s not generally a music mecca), has no plans to pursue a graduate degree, and is making a living primarily from being a church music director and a concert and game music composer. Tony and I had a wonderful talk via Skype, and it is highlights from that discussion that will be laid out here. Tony has also allowed me to share some personal financial data with you all, so let’s all take a moment to appreciate his openness and bravery.
Last year  Tony made approximately $50,000 pre-tax. For Petoskey, Michigan, this is good! The median household income is $39,690. It’s also slightly above the average male wage for the Northwest Michigan region. But dear readers: although comparing numbers is helpful to know where one sits, it doesn’t define your experience. Tony’s wonderful wife, Maria, has been working through some medical problems and many of their “extra” resources have gone to appointments with specialists and a long list of medical expenses. Thankfully, with Tony’s income, and Maria’s work (when her health allows), they get by just fine and hope to start saving for a house once the medical bills lighten up.
Here’s the breakdown of Tony’s 2018 income. Again, thank you to Tony for sharing and breaking down the taboo:
$35,000 Music directing at a Catholic church, full-time (organ, choir, planning mass)
$13,600 Game, film score, and concert music commissions
$1,400+ Composition lessons, weddings, funerals (the numbers are still coming in)
It’s also helpful to have a general idea of what Tony’s workweek is like. It is interesting and inspiring to see how he maximizes his time blocks to do various things by focusing them together. However, he only has one day off a week.
Monday: Compose 7 a.m.-3 p.m., Lessons approx. 3-5 p.m.
Tuesday: Compose 5-7 a.m., Church music 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
Wednesday: Repeat Tuesday
Thursday: Composing all day
Friday: DAY OFF – focused time with his wife Maria
Saturday: Compose in the morning, Church (mass) in the evening
Sunday: Church services all day
Tony hustles. Sometimes his days are long, and his “weekend” is only one day NOT on the weekend. In between all of this, he still finds time to work out and cook—two things that are very important to his and his family’s well being.
What I also find to be inspiring is that Tony shows up to compose every day he can, regardless of the fact that composing currently holds the title of “secondary income.” However, his commitment to his long-term goal of being a full-time composer has paid out. From 2017 to 2018, his composing income has doubled. Also observe that Tony’s primary income is condensed into four days, leaving room for his craft and saving some commuting miles. His primary income also offers opportunities to increase his pay through extra wedding or funeral planning and performing. These types of situations are perfect for a music portfolio career.
Most all music careers require you to maintain a “gig mentality”: keeping your brain creatively thinking about and pursuing the next gig. It can be difficult to find the energy for this while working a full-time position, so for artists, it’s important to find work scenarios that allow a little freedom, flexibility, and autonomy. To keep the side income growing, it’s also important to be in a continuous state of networking.
These “composing” timeblocks that Tony adheres to are also peppered with very important tasks, including targeted networking. Since Tony lives in a more rural area, far from busy music scenes, he relies heavily on active networking and leveraging his contacts. During our conversation, he frequently spoke about keeping up with his contacts by scheduling time to respond to emails and keep discussions going with past and future collaborators. (Tony prefers to use Workflowy to keep his to-do list organized. I have found Google Keep to be another effective digital list-making tool.)
In my own interactions with Tony, I have always felt very comfortable communicating with him, whether it be via email, Twitter direct messages, or phone/Skype. One of the reasons I feel Tony is a strong communicator is his ability to take interest in others, and to have a great exchange. The conversation is never one-sided. Tony has taken the natural, positive approach to networking (vs. the infamous “schmoozing”) by being deeply interested in others first, and finding connection points second. This type of networking is easier on the psyche and can lead to easy collaborations. You also can realize quickly when your activities/styles/projects don’t align.
Through scheduling a to-do list of keeping up with contacts, Tony keeps himself in the forefront of his collaborators, and potential collaborators, minds. More importantly, Tony also constantly meets new members of various music communities which keeps his network fresh. This is why attending concerts and meeting people is high on Tony’s to-do list. He currently dispels the myth of the late-night composer by composing early in the day and leaving his evenings open for family, friends, and concerts. Tony makes sure to introduce himself to performers and conductors wherever he goes, keeping his ears open for potential collaborations, and following through to keep the conversations going.
At some magical point in the networking timeline, conversations turn into projects, and projects turn into viable income. But instead of an employer offering a salary up front, we composers and performers are asked to quote our rates. This causes anxiety for many, but the funny thing is, this practice is no different from any other service industry. However, most people don’t wonder why they are paying a plumber so much.
Self Worth & Fee Negotiation
Artist contracts, fees, and rates will likely always be something of a Wild West: a land full of no rules and shady propositions. But to be financially viable, everyone has to cross this territory. When speaking about fees, Tony said that he starts with the New Music USA rate calculator, but immediately noted that those rates are the ideal, and often the reality is lower. And this is the guiding principle: quote higher and negotiate to a reasonable fee.
We also spoke about the battle of having the lowest fees. To that, Tony said, “People try to grab gigs by lowering their rates” but continued with an alternative idea: “You’re going to find more gigs by raising your value.” This value isn’t about money grubbing; it’s about being an advocate for liveable wages and quoting the client your worth.
Your Worth is a culmination of what you need to live, and the time and money you have already invested into your craft and equipment. Many musicians spend 12 years studying an instrument, 4-8 more years in schooling for a degree in their craft, and countless hours practicing their craft – all for no pay. The investment is huge so you should always quote your worth to potential clients.
Tony’s approach to fees allows him to be more selective with the projects he takes on, without joining the rat race of fee lowering to get the next gig. This allows him to position himself as a serious professional, receive fees that allow him to create a liveable, and growing wage, and decide when he wants to take on a project for a friend, or for a value that is not in dollars.
To receive appropriately sized fees, it takes some negotiation skills and finesse. There’s no magic formula, but Tony has a few tips that keeps him happy with the fees he receives. 1.) Quote higher than you think, so you can be happy with a negotiated price; 2.) understand what your peers charge for like-projects, and; 3.) have a benchmark for what you want to make per hour for the project. My favorite thing that Tony said regarding fee negotiation:
There should be a part of you that feels a little uncomfortable…maybe it should feel uncomfortable because it helps you grow.
I asked Tony if he ever wrote commissioned pieces “for free.” He said he gives himself “1-2 projects a year.” He doesn’t take these pieces lightly. They are typically for friends/colleagues, fit his overall goals (concert music or game music), and have guaranteed performances, or in the case of a game, great distribution and publicity. These pieces also help Tony build his portfolio of work.
Let’s Talk More
Tony invests a lot in his self-worth—perceived and realized—and it shows with his increase in activity between 2017 and 2018. At the time of our interview, it appears that Tony is taking charge of his career path and finances through consistent networking, strategic acceptance of projects, and an already well developed and growing financial literacy.
The confidence to hold your rates at a standard, and negotiate as necessary, takes a certain comfortability with talking about money. Setting financial goals and seeing the paths to get there takes an honest awareness of your financial situation—how money comes in and how it goes out. Income generation is always important, but budgeting can help you gain control of the money flow early on. It is hard to do both of these things in a vacuum. Although society thinks talking about money is rude, being more open about our cash flows allows us to take ownership of our financial futures, see what’s ahead of us, and find ways to leverage the tool of money for our use. This is especially important for musicians in career paths that are complicated, non-linear, and have no consistent expectations.
For your financial success, here are a few tools to start budgeting:
For those who are more DIY, here’s a budget template of my own design, using Google Sheets, for personal or for business use: Make your own copy here.
You Need a Budget. Loved by many, this is an affordable budgeting software. At $83.99 a year, it’s cheaper than Netflix and pretty sophisticated.
Mint. A free app, this connects to your bank and cards and helps you track your expenses when they happen.
Personal Capital. Like Mint, but with investing options!