Surviving a Recession as a Musician

Kanon Kulpa recently published a post on Branding During a Recession. After discussions with fellow musicians, I’ve been thinking about how musicians are impacted by an economic slowdown.

As prices rise and incomes are stretched, entertainment is one of the early casualties of cutbacks. As Kanon mentioned in his article, people do not necessarily eliminate entertainment, they tend to look for lower cost alternatives. For example, it is a lot less expensive to grab a 12-pack and have a house party than hit the clubs.

For entertainers and venue owners, this can be a problem. As bar revenue decreases, owners and managers are forced to look at their expenditures and ask the question: Does providing music continue to generate revenue, or is it an expense that can be cut?

Obviously, there are many venue types out there; some are 100% dependent on music, others fall into an area where music is optional because they have other streams of income including food service, juke boxes and dare I say it…karaoke. Not all clubs will survive, others will thrive.

Among fellow musicians, we’ve discussed the following issues:

Clubs asking for musicians to take a cut on their rate
It is important to ask yourself: Do you have a good relationship with the club owner? Will the rate go up once things get better? Will a temporary rate cut lead to long term bookings? Remember, you have to balance your expenses (gas, strings, etc) and make an practical decision.

Reducing travel
With rising gas prices, many musicians are reducing their travel distance or asking for more money to travel further. This is a tightrope issue; if clubs are cutting back and you are asking for more money, will you loose the gig? On the other hand, this may be an excellent to and expand your market by expanding your territory.

Some bands are finding that their gigs are simply canceled due to the economic strain on venues. This situation is difficult for the club, the band and the fans who may have been planning on attending the show.

Promoting Yourself
If you continue to bring in fans and generate income for the venue, chances are you’ll fair considerably better than bands who just ‘show up and play’. Recessions are a great time to spend extra effort building and maintaining your fan base, especially by using tools like MySpace and Facebook Band Pages.

There are no hard and fast answers to the impact of recessions on the music scene. Every market, venue and performer has idiosyncrasies that make each situation unique.

Handling yourself in a professional manner and promoting yourself is essential at all times, but especially so during hard economic times. The important thing to remember is that recessions tend to come and go on a cyclical basis.

What issues have you seen? What have I missed?