Expert Q&A

Musician/blogger Doug Ross on music and money management


For professional musician and blogger Doug Ross, the key to having a successful music career is not artistic integrity — it’s about making a living doing something you love.

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In this segment of our series on how to build a successful music career, musician, teacher and blogger Doug Ross shares the financial and credit smarts that have kept his career going for 25 years.

Musician/blogger Doug Ross on music and money managementDoug Ross
Professional bass player
Music business teacher
Blogger, Sound Music Sound Money What’s the key to your 25-year career?

Ross: It’s not about artistic integrity or being pure to your own creative vision; it’s more about making a living doing something you love. It’s still a service and your job is to please the client. Those who turn their nose up at doing anything other than, say, heavy metal can’t really sustain a living in my experience unless they’re the best at what they do. How do you handle money?

Ross: My mantra has always been keep your expenses low. It’s the one thing a musician has control over. Musicians have some extra challenges because, on average, we earn less money than most people and it’s a less consistent income in most cases. But there are ways to save money and still live well. You just need to plan ahead, learn how to cook, buy in bulk.

Making money and music
The record industry’s traditional powers have suffered mightily in the digital age, but the rise of new platforms has given musicians many more opportunities to make a living off their art. spoke to three experts to find out how musicians can thrive in the new landscape. Are credit cards a danger for musicians?

Ross: I’ve had a credit card my whole adult life, and I’ve always paid it off every month without fail. That helped me maintain a good credit record, which helped me just buy my first house. It was my only line of credit all those years, and I was glad I had done that. But I’m extremely — maybe irrationally — averse to debt, which is how I’ve survived so long. A card can be dangerous if you don’t have the discipline to pay it off every month. How can young musicians make it in music today?

Ross: Diversify your income stream. If you’re involved in multiple bands, doing gigs, teaching a bit and recording some, if any one of those dries up, you can stay afloat. But if you’re totally committed to one band and that band breaks up, all of a sudden you go to zero. The more different things you can do and different styles you can play, the better your chance of long-term survival. Should you run your business or farm it out?

Ross: I know a lot of former musicians who tended to delegate the distasteful stuff like booking gigs and managing money, but it’s inefficient and more likely to get you into trouble because nobody is ever going to care about your money or career as much as you do. For 21st century musicians, it’s all about doing it yourself.

See related:7 building blocks of good credit, 10 worst credit card mistakes, 10 expenses to cut to help pay off credit card debt

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