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  • Writer's pictureMr. FI Musician

The Financially Independent Musician

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

The Financially Independent Musician. This may seem like an oxymoron. After all, for hundreds of years even the most famous of musicians have been financially dependent on wealthy patrons: Haydn and the Esterházy family, Beethoven and Archduke Rudolph, Wagner and King Ludwig II.



Let’s face it, the arts have never been a field people enter to become rich. I remember at the age of 20 half joking with friends from high school about how, as a double major in music ed and performance, I was destined to be poor for life.


This is the society we live in: choosing to take out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to major in a field that we know will more than likely never pay a six-figure salary. Sounds a bit crazy, right?


Well, student loans are definitely crazy, but that’s a conversation for another day. What’s not crazy is wanting your career to be something you love. It’s not crazy to want to spend your life making music. And it’s definitely not crazy to want to quit that 9 to 5 job you loath but need in order to make rent.


We all have dreams about what we want our lives to be, but often times those dreams seem so far away, they’ll never become real. Take my fictional friend Fred, for instance:


Fred is a 30-year-old classically trained musician. He has an undergraduate and master’s degree in performance, and $20,000 in student loans. Fred’s dream is to write and arrange his own music and tour the world performing his compositions.


Since graduating from his master’s degree, Fred has been living in the same city he did his degree in. He feels the city is oversaturated with musicians and it’s difficult to find work. He takes every and any gig he can find, regardless of how it pays or how passionate he is about the music. A gig is a gig and will surely lead to more gigs, right?


His steadiest gigs are playing with a few regional orchestras that require driving 1-3 hours one way. On paper they seem like decent pay, but when factoring in the time in the car it turns out to be less than minimum wage. But it’s a gig, right?


Even with these performances, he only earns enough to cover his rent. Fred works in retail to offset the rest of his expenses. He hates his job, but it offers flexible hours, allowing him to continue gigging.


Fred has credit card debt and makes the required minimum payment each month. For his student loans, he’s in a 30-year income-based repayment program and because his income is so low, he “owes” $0 per month right now. He chooses not to put any money towards his student loans and ignores the fact that his debt is growing rapidly due to high interest rates.


Between his gigs and retail job, Fred is exhausted. At the end of the day, he is too tired to compose music. Instead, he grabs a drink with friends or just sits on the couch to binge watch the latest Netflix series he keeps hearing about.


Fred feels trapped. Every day he becomes more jaded about music. His dream of performing his compositions around the world seems less and less likely to happen. In fact, Fred thinks his dream is unobtainable.


My message to Fred, and anyone else feeling trapped: Your dream is obtainable.


Hang in there, Fred!


I would suspect that if you’ve made it this far into this blog post, it’s because you can relate to the above narrative. I know there have been points in my life where I felt this way. I felt trapped.


Until…


Two years ago, I was introduced to the concept of the FIRE movement (so much gratitude to my friend Bill who introduced me to this!). If you’re unfamiliar with this, FIRE stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. The basic idea behind this is to save a high percentage of your income, invest those savings in areas that will yield a high rate of return (such as index funds or rental properties), and eventually live off of the returns, allowing you to “retire” (This word gets a lot of flak. Don’t think of it as true retirement. Think of it as freedom to do whatever you want).


But the FIRE movement is so much more. It’s about life optimization. It’s about taking control. It’s about mental health. Most importantly, it’s about happiness.


Since diving into the rabbit hole of FIRE, my wife and I have demolished our debt and are close to hitting a 75% savings rate. We’re eating healthier and are more productive throughout the day. We are currently on a path to being financially independent in 3-4 years. We’ve never been happier.


It’s easy to think that FI is only for doctors, engineers, and lawyers, but I’m here to tell you: FI is for anyone. It is my hope that this blog will create a space that is relatable to artists. To show you that you don’t have to live like Fred. You’re in the driver’s seat. You can make your life what you want it to be.


So let’s shake up those societal norms and stop thinking that to be an artist requires dependence on wealthy patrons, or anyone else. We’re in control and we’ve decided we’re going to be financially independent musicians.

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