Music Industry

Music Career or Expensive Hobby? Which Do You Have?

30 July 2017 by Gaetano

Music career or expensive hobby? How do you distinguish between the two? Which one do you have? The first step is being honest with yourself.

We’ve heard it thousands of times before. A common answer to this simple question.

So, what do you do? 

“I’m a rapper” – millions of aspiring people, worldwide. 

Rapper is the lowest common denomination, especially here in NYC. But you could easily replace that with singer, producer, songwriter, DJ, etc.

Now ladies, be honest. What’s your reaction when you hear a guy say that?

Is it fair?  Probably not. But guess what – it’s reality.

Nobody Cares

The hardest thing to do as an upcoming musician is face reality.

Here’s some brutal truths:

  • Talent doesn’t determine your success
  • To an extent – neither does hard work
  • It costs a lot of money to make things happen
  • The landlord doesn’t care about your dreams 
  • Don’t expect people to care about your movement until you can portray certain aspects of success

To sum it up,  it’s all about marketing yourself.

Not just as an artist – but as a brand, a lifestyle, and “fitting in” as a piece of pop culture.

Sadly, gimmicks & frauds are still winning (and they always will).

Just look at what a joke XXL has become…

Even reflecting upon my own journey – look what happens when I post pics with celebrities, versus promoting a new video release.

Picture w/ Tank – 146 Likes + MAD COMMENTS.

And then…. 

New Video Release – 47 Likes + 1 Lonely Comment

Independent Music: Where’s The Love?

It’s just a known fact at this point – while there are still some die hard fans, most people don’t show love to independent music anymore.

The popularity trend of independent music continues downward over time. 

Just compare the careers of Immortal Technique vs. Lil Wayne. Look at the brand messaging, what each rapper stands for – and then the numbers. Why is it so backwards?

Digital Music News published an eye opening study that revealed 91% of all artists are completely undiscovered. 

This is alarming, but to be expected. The disparity is even more jolting when comparing the social media reach of commercial artists vs mid-size artists vs independents.

Approx 90% of all likes, followers and views across Facebook / Twitter / YouTube belong to Mega and Mainstream commercial artists.

Does this suggest that 90% of undiscovered musicians suck? No.

Here’s what I’m confident it suggests:

“As upcoming musicians, we invest a lot of time, passion, money, and effort into our music.  But we suck at marketing it.” 

Here’s what else it suggests. You need MONEY to break an artist.

How much do you need? Well, that’s up for debate.

Filmmaker, Da Inphamus Amadeuz says it’s known in the NYC music circuit that $13,500 is all you need to “break a record.”

If you have the right record, and can come up with the dough – getting it to the right people can be a powerful career move. That said, Digital Music News reports it takes 500k to break a new artist!

Sobering Truth: I’m An Adult Rapper

Before I let you decide whether you have a music career or a very expensive hobby, you should check out this documentary.

Some of this is painful to watch. These are real people, with real dreams.

Personally, I felt heartbroken hearing their stories.

The documentary shines light on some very talented people who are working hard, doing their best to try and live out their dreams.

Some are making it happen, while others have pulled the plug…

How To Know If You Have A Music Career

I believe it starts with setting goals and expectations for yourself. Do you want to be Drake? Yeah, that’s probably not gonna happen.

But if you say something like:

“I want to earn $100,000 a year in profit from making music”

Suddenly, that seems more attainable. In theory, you’d just have to get 10,000 people to buy one copy of your album at $10.

So, if you’re an upcoming artist, producer, writer, DJ, etc…

Can you truthfully make these statements about your music career?

  • I make enough money with my music to sustain my cost of living.
  • I can prove to the IRS that overhead costs qualify for tax deductions.
  • I have a business plan that includes a budget, production, promo strategy. 
  • I have assets – my own domain name, website, press kit, albums, videos & merch. 
  • I have realistic goals about my music career.
  • I track / measure my goal progress on a consistent basis. 
  • I monetize my art via ticket sales, merch, downloads, streams, and ad revenue. 
  • I consider many avenues of profit – such as writing & producing for other artists. 
  • I manage & track everything I spend money on, and measure my ROI. 
  • I have (or am close to having) at least 100 true die hard fans.
  • I have a day job to support myself, but dedicate every last breath outside of my 9 to 5 toward building my music career. 

How To Know If You DON’T Have A Music Career

I get it. As artists, creators, dreamers – we want to feel good. We want to build our art, and we want everyone to love it. We want to inspire, and leave our mark in the world.

That’s great and all, but you gotta eat too.

So, if any of these apply to you, then you probably have an expensive hobby:

  • I don’t earn any money with my music, at all. 
  • I pay sketchy companies like Coast 2 Coast Mixtapes $300 to perform one song.
  • I continue to do free shows in hopes to “catch my big break.”
  • I invest a lot of time creating music, but not marketing it.  
  • I create expensive music videos and hope for the best. 
  • I spend tons of money on studio fees, and never see returns. 
  • I believe that my talent and “the universe” will reward me. 
  • My marketing strategy consists of blindly posting on social media. 
  • I don’t have a mailing list, website, or audience data about my fans. 
  • I don’t build real relationships with fans, DJs, bloggers, and community. 
  • I have no idea who my target market is. 
  • I consider other upcoming artists / producers to be my competition. 
  • If I had a manager with connections, I would have been “put on” by now. 
  • I’m really good looking, so I don’t need to work hard on music.
  • Someday – I’ll find an investor who will pay for everything and then I can just focus on making music. 

Keeping It Honest

The game ain’t like it used to be. It’s harder now to break through than ever before, especially because of how insanely saturated the markets have become.

If you mostly aligned with “I have an expensive hobby” then you need to be honest about your career goals, and expectations.

These are tough things to come to terms with, even for myself.

Because of my social media status – many people think I’m traveling the world, doing shows, and having the time of my life.

Truth is, that’s only how I’m living life a small percentage of the time.

Most people don’t know it – but I have a day job.

Aside from being an author at Digital Music News – I’m the SEO Manager at a software company, and I spend my days doing technical website audits, keyword research, building links, adjusting title tags, competitor analysis, and creating cross-channel strategies.

I recently wrote about my experience being a white dude in tech.

Does this mean I’m drifting away from music? Maybe… maybe not.

While it does feel like the passion comes in-and-out, it’s largely a result of going where the most immediate opportunities are.

It just makes sense for me to focus on marketing right now. There’s lots of demand for my service. There’s almost zero demand for my music.

I haven’t released anything at all in 2016, and not one person is knocking at my door asking me for new music, yet everyone wants my marketing help.

It’s not a bad thing – it’s just reality.

I’ve learned a lot about how large businesses execute their digital marketing, and I’ll probably need to write a post soon on how to take what I learned doing SEO for corporations and apply it to my music career.

I’m also in the process of building a new plan of attack for music in 2017. I’ll probably release parts of what I plan to do, just not anytime soon.

For now… I’ll just continue writing.


If you enjoyed this post – follow me on Instagram. 


Gaetano is a NYC based Singer, Songwriter, Producer, Guitarist that has worked with some of the biggest names in music. After releasing 2 EP’s and producing records for major artists, Gaetano has been documenting his music industry experiences via his blog. To get in touch with Gaetano, follow him on Instagram: @official_gaetano