The current Corona Virus pandemic is just one of many horror scenarios you’ll have to overcome as an artist. In this episode, you’re going to learn how to survive a crisis as an artist and come out stronger on the other end.
What the current Corona crisis means for artists and the music industry in general
If you want to know how to survive a crisis as an artist, you can learn from the things that are going wrong right now during the Covid-19 outbreak. This current health crisis is a massive, existential threat to all artists, music producers, and other businesses in the music industry. The problem is that we’ve become incredibly dependent on income from live events. Most artists who make a full-time living in the music industry can only do so because they get paid for gigs they play in front of a live audience.
But they’re not the only ones who are affected by this. Think about booking agents, clubs, show promoters, live-sound and light engineers, hell even the bartenders are struggling right now.
The streaming of music is expected to go up more than 60 percent, according to a recent study (since people have to stay home and have time), but this is most likely not going to be enough for artists to pay their rents. Most producers will be happy if their streaming royalties are high enough to buy an extra roll of toilet paper (sorry, I just couldn’t resist making this joke).
The real problem is our lack of preparation as creatives
Now that we’re in the middle of this, it becomes clear that most artists (and most small businesses in general) have not been prepared for tough times. If you want to survive a crisis as an artist, you have to do everything you can to maintain your financial and psychological stability before such an event occurs.
Let me get this straight: The crisis itself isn’t the problem. Our lack of preparation is. The question was never whether there would be a crisis or not. We simply didn’t know when exactly it would happen and what type of crisis it would be.
There’s very little you can do in such a phase so it comes down to what you’ve set in place beforehand. Let’s talk about how you can (form now on) protect yourself as an artist, DJ, or music producer.
The three pillars of security every artist should have
I’m now going to share with you three ways of protecting yourself as an artist during a crisis. This is the bare minimum you should put in place so you’re prepared for tough times. It will still be rough for a couple of months, but it won’t be an existential threat.
1. Financial resilience
Surviving a crisis as an artist relies, first of all, on your financial resilience. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, resilience means:
“The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.”
As an artist, DJ, or small business in the music industry, you have to build financial resilience to survive tough economic times. Your goal should be to increase your “runway”, meaning how long you can sustain yourself even if you don’t have any income.
You can easily calculate your runway. Simply divide your cash reserves by your monthly expenses. If you have set aside 9.000 $ and your monthly expenses are around 1.500 $, you have a runway of 6 months.
Four steps to financial resilience as an artist
First of all: I’m no financial advisor and this is not financial advice. I’m only sharing my personal opinion and experience here. That’s it for the legal stuff, now let’s move on to my suggestions:
- Start tracking your monthly spendings using either a spreadsheet or an app like YNAB
- Know your business expenses but also your private ones and create a “worst-case” scenario of the realistic minimum you need to invest per month.
- Calculate how much money you need to stay afloat (as a business but also personally) for at least six months without income. If you want to be safe, go for 12 months.
- Start an “emergency fund” on a separate bank account (or virtual sub-account) and initiate an automatic bank transfer that adds money to your emergency fund at the beginning of every month until you’ve reached your investment goal. Modern banks like N26 make it very easy to create sub-accounts and set up automatic transfers.
What’s super important here: You HAVE to automate the process and deduct a certain part of your income right at the beginning of every month. If you try to do it manually at some point during the month, you will either forget about it or you will have already spent the money. Treat it exactly like your fixed expenses (rent, electricity, etc.).
Your emergency fund is not your retirement account
People sometimes mix this up and throw short-term investments, long-term investments, and emergency funds into one category. That’s dangerous! You need to separate them because they’re meant to achieve different things.
Investing in your retirement account is a long-term strategy. Easy access to cash is not important here, you’re looking at a time-frame of 20-50 years (depending on how old you are now).
Investing in short-term dreams (like new furniture, a car, or even a pet) requires a different strategy. Easy access to cash is not super crucial, but you should be able to stick to your investment strategy for at least a couple of years.
Your emergency fund is something completely different. Easy access to cash is absolutely crucial because you might need it immediately. Therefore, keep this money in a standard, easy-access bank account (which you hopefully don’t have to pay for).
2. Psychological resilience
If you want to survive a crisis as an artist, you need to also watch out for your mental health. I’m going to publish an episode specifically on the topic of mental health in the music industry soon (interviewing an expert), but I still need to mention a few things here.
Psychological resilience, according to the American Psychological Association, is defined as:
“(…) the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.”
You might think that you’re either born with psychological resilience or not. And indeed, some people have a harder time with this than others. But the good news is that you can build that muscle of resilience over time.
You can increase your psychological resilience as an artist by
- Investing in personal relationships
- Practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation
- Finding purpose by giving something meaningful to others
- Focusing on a positive outlook even in bad situations
Let’s take the current crisis as an example. I can already say that it impacts my studio business severely. My income heavily relies on people hiring my mixing and mastering services. When artists don’t play shows, they have less disposable income to invest in my services. It’s that simple.
So what do I do? Give up and complain about the circumstances? Hell no! I focus on giving even more to my community of podcast listeners and clients. This gives me a sense of purpose in dark times and I feel a lot of positive energy thanks to this.
By the way: If you want to join our community of like-minded electronic music producers, head over to our private Facebook group.
3. Multiple sources of income
Having to rely on one source of income in the music business is extremely dangerous. I’ve you’re used to making a living by playing live shows and DJ gigs, you’re having a hard time right now. If you want to survive a crisis as an artist, you need to diversify your income a bit. The good news is that there are still other ways of making money as an artist than playing shows:
- Licensing your music for films and games (“sync-licensing”)
- Giving classes and workshops (this also works online)
- Creating valuable content and monetizing it (through platforms like Patreon or a paywall for some VIP-content)
- Selling high-class artworks and merchandise to your “true fans” (if you don’t know what that means check out this episode)
- Write articles for music magazines or blogs
- Create sample packs and sell them online
- etc., be creative, there is way more
In my studio business, I had to prepare for change as well. I’ve noticed that artists are very interested in growing their skills rapidly. Online tutorials can only teach you so much. So I’ve started offering 1-on-1 coaching sessions besides my usual mixing and mastering work. This diversification now helps stabilize my income. Guess what: If people have to stay home now in the Corona crisis, they’re probably still interested in learning new techniques or discuss their artist career with me.
Short term remedies for the current crisis
Dealing with a crisis as an artist is tough, especially when you’re not prepared for it. Since this episode is mainly focusing on how to prevent the worst case, it’s probably not helping you much in your current situation.
So I’m going to give you a few tips on how to act in the crisis you’re facing now:
- Do everything to protect your cashflow. This means, first of all, minimize all unnecessary spendings, especially subscriptions and memberships that are not essential to you.
- Look for support in your social security system. Many countries (and even the EU as a whole) are putting together emergency funds to protect small businesses and artists from bankruptcy. Study these options and act fast! If you believe in your artist career, a short-term loan might help you survive this turbulent phase.
- Even if we’re all meant to practice “social distancing” in the current Corona crisis, we shouldn’t stop meeting friends. We don’t have to do this physically. Go back to the good old practice of giving your friends a phone call, use online meeting software like Skype, Zoom, or Google Meet, and maybe even write a longer message or email (remember when people were sending each other physical letters?).
- Focus on GIVING. This is, psychologically speaking, more important than ever before. Do whatever you can to help and support others in your community. Use your talents wisely and enjoy the rewarding feeling of purpose in your life.
- If you struggle with anxiety due to the virus, restrict yourself to watching/reading the news not more than once a day. Call professional hotlines where trained psychologists help you calm down again and don’t hesitate to seek help. If therapy gets necessary, this will be possible in some way online as well.
Lastly, surround yourself with people who are in a similar situation. This isn’t meant to be promotional but honestly, we have some amazing artists in our Pick Yourself community.
Conclusion: This is not the last crisis you will have to deal with as an artist
Even if the Corona pandemic is considered a “once in a hundred years”-type of historic event, it’s more than likely that you will have to face several other crises over the course of your music career. So better start preparing for the worst-case so you don’t have to panic when times get tough again.
Overall, I’m convinced that we will overcome this pandemic (with considerable losses though) and it’s our obligation to make the best out of our future afterward. So do what you have to do now, trust in science and not in doomsday prophets or conspiracy theories, and most importantly: #staythefuckhome 😉
Putting it into action: How to overcome any crisis as an artist
So what can you do to survive a crisis as an artist? I’ve put together three action steps that you can take.
1. Calculate your current runway and set up an emergency fund as soon as possible
- Keep in mind that you can only do this when you have more disposable income than what you’re currently spending. So if the crisis has already caused a heavy hit on your finances, you have to postpone this step a bit for a more stable phase.
- Make sure you use a bank account that is easily accessible and low-cost.
2. Start investing in your psychological resilience
- Start with little daily rituals of sending one nice message to a close friend or family member every morning.
- See if there are any mindfulness techniques that resonate with you. This can dramatically help you build resilience and makes you react differently to stress.
3. Explore which other sources of income you can incorporate in your music career
- From sync-licensing to selling sample packs: There are way more options for you than you think.
- Even if many of the suggestions I’ve made don’t sound realistic to you, chances are that you’re underestimating yourself and your capabilities. Give it a try at least and you will be surprised.
Alright, so that’s it for this episode. I hope you and your loved ones stay healthy. Please follow the instructions of professionals in the health sector and do what you can to overcome this crisis.
I’d like to hear from you now: Are you directly affected by the Corona crisis (in regards to your artist career)? What are you doing to mitigate the negative effects?
Let me know in the comments, I read everything!