Sink or Swim: 7 Money Management Tips for Independent Artists

In an age of uncertainty within the music industry and beyond, an artist’s ability to effectively manage their finances is of greater importance than talent or ability when building a stable career or future of long-term success. Don’t get me wrong, penny-pinching won’t magically transform someone’s terrible music into a flourishing career, but bad money habits will make it hard for a genius talent to ever leave the ground, or at least stay in flight for any extended period of time. 

Take any two artists of roughly equal talent and work ethic, and track their career trajectories over a period of 5 years or more. You can nearly guarantee that the one who achieves the most “success” by all measures (not just financial) is also the one who puts money away each month, has some sort of financial plan, and has multiple streams of income instead of relying on music sales alone. Even if the less financially-savvy musician has more talent and drive, they won’t be able to dedicate as much time and energy to their work when they’re constantly worrying about where their next paycheck is coming from, and/or burning through their cash as quickly as it comes in. 

But why is money so important? Isn’t there far more to art and life than just working to earn a living? Absolutely! At the same time, money is simply another form of energy, and you can accomplish incredible things in this world when you have some financial power in your gas tank instead of running on fumes. 

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So many artists are taught all sorts of myths about the relationship between money and their music, including statements like "profiting from your music makes you a sellout," "money is the root of all evil," "financial motivation is not pure," and my personal favorite, "artists should focus on their craft and let others take care of the 'business side' for them."

These are the types of false beliefs that keep artists separated from their power and blind to their true worth (and conveniently keeps big business in control of the money flow). With every book and internet resource at our fingertips, there is no longer an excuse to give our financial power away or assume that an entrepreneurial sprit devalues our artists pursuits. It’s quite the opposite. 

if we want to build a better way of doing business that supports independent musicians, then we have to take charge of our finances and create new rules to play by. Change is going to come from the minds of the artists, not the suits. Here are 7 tips to start taking back your power and creating a career that is supportive of your work. 

1. Invest in yourself first, gear second. 

Trendy software, synths, and all sorts of gear will come in and out of style over the years. If you’re lucky, many different instruments will pass through your life as an artist, but the only constant is YOU. Before you reach for that Guitar Center catalogue, invest in courses, mentors, lessons, books, or anything to enrich your mind and creative spirit. The return on your investment will be tenfold. It might not be as much fun as posting those instagram pics of your new MIDI controller, but you won’t care about your feed in a few years when you’re onstage at The Hollywood Bowl or in the studio with Rick Rubin. 

2. You don’t need a fancy studio to do your best work. 

Take it from a girl who sunk thousands of dollars into building TWO different studios for her record label, only to end up creating her best work from bed at 4 in the morning. Sure, everyone’s dream is to have their very own workspace, but do you know what is far more cost-effective for a young producer? Paying an hourly rate to rent a studio that has better quality gear, and showing up to your sessions PREPARED to do your best work. This route is cheaper, commitment-free, gives you better sound, and you don’t have to deal with all of the headaches that come with running your own space. 

Skip the pricey status symbols and let your music speak for itself. Plus, if you don’t have a label or management paying for your studio time, you’ll automatically be working twice as hard to get the most out of the sessions you’ve personally invested in. 

This is where I recorded and mixed New Energy and all the gear I used for it.

A post shared by Four Tet (@fourtetkieran) on

3. Find the right day job(s). 

One of your main objectives as an independent artist is to create a lifestyle that gives you time, space, and energy to do what you love most. Having AT LEAST one stable source of income is imperative to your long-term success and mental health. You’re not any less of an artist if you have other jobs to support your creativity. Find a day job that isn’t mentally taxing, diversify your income sources, and create additional streams of passive income using other talents or skills you may have.

4. If you quit your day job, have enough savings to cover 6 months of expenses before you leap. 

This is a marathon, not a sprint. Planning ahead will get you much farther in the long run than flying by the seat of your pants and living on the edge. While stress and financial pressure might be motivating for a very small percentage of people, money worries are one of the ultimate creativity killers for nearly every human in the modern world. 

Having an “all-or-nothing” attitude about your work is the exact mindset that causes people to crash and burn far too early in the game. We hear so many romanticized stories of young artists moving to LA or NY with $200 to their name and a heart full of hope, but the reality of these scenarios is far less glamorous than the magazines paint them to be, and detrimental to their work.

5. Have a financial plan.

This is a no-brainer, but it’s shocking how few people take the time to track their spending or put a percentage of their monthly income away for savings and investments. I personally use mint.com to create budgets and goals, but there are a ton of free tools available to help you keep an eye on your cash flow. The more awareness you have around your spending habits, the easier it will be to manage your money and make it work in your favor. 

If you’re just beginning your journey into the world of freelancing, you’ll also need to remember to put away a healthy percentage of your income to cover those tax bills when Uncle Sam comes knocking. Hiring a CPA who has experience working with artists was one of the greatest investments I’ve made in my career thus far, and keeps me sane when all of those 1099s start rolling in every new year. 

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6. Celebrate every penny you make. 

No matter your talent or skill-level, making music is always a privilege, and never something you are entitled to. Your job as an artist is to create magic with the time, energy, or resources you are given, so it’s counterproductive to sit around and complain about the unfairness of the world, or wallow in what you “could” have but don’t. Take a bit of time to express gratitude for any amount of money that comes in support of your work, either large or small. It will be hard to fully appreciate the big wins when you don’t cultivate appreciation for the little successes too. 

In this moment, there is someone else on this planet who has it much worse than you, and they would probably love to have your problems in exchange for theirs. In their eyes, your worst day could be their best, so never take a penny earned for granted. 

7. Donate a portion of your money to charity each month. 

If you’re not careful, it’s easy to slip into a scarcity mindset when you don’t have fixed income, or think of yourself as a “starving artist.” Any attention given to fear or lack will only increase it in your life, so how can you shift your thinking? Generosity builds your faith, trust, and confidence in providing for yourself, and the karma of free giving can come back to you in unbelievable ways. 

Even something as small as $10 per month might not mean a lot to you, but you never know what kind of difference that small amount could make in another person’s life. Plus, a lot of donations are tax-deductible! If you have to spend that money regardless, wouldn't you rather have it go to an organization of your choosing?

Living life as an independent artist isn’t always the easiest journey, but you can have significantly smoother sailing when you treat your finances with the same level of care as your art. Wishing you all a fulfilling career of creativity and abundance!

-Dot