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Chasing the Dream, Part 3: The Next Step

This is the third and final part to my “Chasing the Dream” blog series.  In this blog, I discuss the next step I’m taking in my music career:  I am transitioning to a semi-professional musician.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that I want my music income to cover my music expenses.  I will no longer subsidize my music with income from whatever job I happen to get.  Music must pay for itself from now on, including recording projects.

“That’s it?” I hear you say.  “What’s the big deal?”  Why not set a goal of becoming a professional musician?

Because that’s too big a leap to happen in one year.  It’s not realistic.  Ever since 2007, when I made the decision to call music my career, I’ve lost thousands of dollars at music each year.  That’s not a career, that’s a hobby.

So going from losing money each year at music to breaking even, will be a big challenge, especially given the current trends in the music industry.  Maybe someday music will not only cover its expenses, but also pay some of my bills, but I have to take it one step at a time.  The immediate goal is to break even.  A day job will have to cover my living expenses.

On the other hand, what’s wrong with having music for a hobby?  Nothing at all.  Calling someone a hobbyist doesn’t mean they aren’t serious or passionate about their hobby.  Just the opposite.  People love their hobbies, whether it’s fixing up old cars, skiiing, or music.  Some music hobbyists are no doubt more passionate about music than some music professionals.  The terms “professional” and “hobbyist” simply define whether one makes a living at music, or subsidizes their music with income from another career.

So why not remain a music hobbyist?

Because there’s no other career that appeals to me.  All my life I was searching for my career, and never could find it.  I met with career counselors, read books and took tests, but nothing really appealed to me.  Actually, many years ago, a career counselor suggested music– and so did tests– but I immediately rejected the idea, thinking there’s no way I could make a living playing the kind of music I like.

What do you do?

I used to dread the question you’re always asked when you first meet someone, “what do you do?”  I didn’t want to tell them want I did for my job, because people assume that your job matches your personality.  And that wasn’t me.  I feared that by answering “what I did” people would get false impression of me (which, many times, they did).

It was in 2007 that I finally realized that I should have been doing music for a career.  So beginning in 2007, I began answering “what do you do?” by saying, “I’m a musician.”  That was a big step for me.  It was quite liberating, in fact.  But I hadn’t faced up to the financial implications of saying that.  A professional musician makes a living music.  So now– 10 years later– I’m defining myself as a semi-professional musician– one who is in between a hobbyist and a professional;  someone who makes enough money at music to at least cover their expenses, but not enough to pay their living expenses.  I feel that’s the least I can do if I really want to call music my career.

The Plan

How do I plan to do it?  How do I plan to break even financially at music?  It will be accomplished both through reducing music expenses and increasing music revenue.

Reducing Expenses

On the expenses side, I decided at the beginning of 2017 that I would break even on music gear.  Any new music gear purchases would have to be paid for by selling old gear.  So far I have met that goal– I’ve sold a lot of stuff in the past year– 3 guitars, an amp, and a bunch of pedals– so I’m slightly in the black with 2 1/2 months to go in 2017.  I should point out that “gear” isn’t just the big stuff– guitars, amps, and recording equipment– it’s the little things, like guitar strings, which must be replaced periodically.  This has required a lot of discipline– there are some guitars and other music gear that I really want, but I’ve held off.

(I have more than enough songs for a new album, but I have not made plans to record those songs, because I don’t have  enough music income to afford it.  And, actually, now, I don’t have enough money period.  There are even a couple of songs I started to record, and have spent money on, so it would just cost me a few hundred dollars to finish, but they will have to wait until I have more music income.)

Another way I hope to reduce expenses is that I’m going to ask fans to volunteer for some of the work that I would otherwise have to pay people to do– band photography, videos, graphic art design for CDs, posters and flyers, etc.  A professional who makes a lot of money from their music can afford to hire professionals for this stuff.  I can’t.  I have to ask for help.

Increasing Revenue

On the income side, I need to raise more revenue than I have in the past.  Here are my potential sources of music revenue:

1.  Revenue from Live Performances

Unfortunately the pay for live music has paralleled the dramatic fall in pay for recorded music.  The reasons for this are not as clear as recorded music, but nonetheless a reality.  The majority of gigs I’ve played over the past 10 years paid nothing at all.  I will continue to play live because I love to play for people.  My plan is to play with two bands– acoustic and electric.  I may become more selective with the venues, however, in order to realize my goal of becoming a semi-professional.  I will favor the venues that pay better, unless there is a chance to reach a lot of new people with my music.

2.  Revenue from film and TV

In the past year I have begun exploring the possibility of composing music for film and TV.  I joined the organization Taxi, which connects composers and songwriters with film and TV industry people.  I plan to go to the Taxi convention in LA in a couple of weeks to learn more about this.  That is a significant expense, but I think it could pay off, although more likely in a couple of years.  So this will result in increased costs in the short term, but hopefully significant revenue in the long term.

3.  Revenue from Teaching.

Most music professionals realize a significant portion of their income from teaching private lessons.  I actually like to teach, and am good at it.  So it is high time that I start offering lessons.  I tested a songwriting class last summer, and it was successful.  I can also teach beginner guitar lessons.  I just have to figure out how to offer the classes and market them, and get my first students.

4.  Revenue from Producing.

Producing other people’s recordings is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.  I have a good ear for arrangements, and have recording experience of my own now.  I need to figure out how to market my skills in this area and get my first clients.

5.  Revenue from Recordings.

This includes CD sales, downloads, and streaming.  Given that the big corporate streaming services only pay between 2/10 and 6/10 of a penny for streams, that is clearly not a viable source of revenue.  So I have been on a campaign to get my fans to join the Standing O Project, an alternative artist-friendly subscription streaming service.  Which leads me to….

The Misfit Club

I want to– no- I’m going to— become a semi-professional musician. Would you like to help me?

The Misfit Club will consist of people who want to help me “chase the dream” of becoming a semi-professional musician by giving me regular financial support.  There are 3 ways you can do that:

1.  Join the Standing O Project
2.  Join the Misfit Club in Bandcamp
3.  Volunteer

I mentioned the Standing O Project earlier.  When you subscribe to this artist-friendly streaming service, you are asked to choose one artist to support.  Half of your monthly subscription– $5, $10 or $20– goes directly to this artist.  I already have 3 subscribers of the Standing O Project supporting me.  My goal is to get the number to 10 by the end of the year.  Who’s next?  Here’s the site:

https://www.standingoproject.com/

Another way you can become of member of the Misfit Club through my Bandcamp download site.  That site is:

https://robroper.bandcamp.com/the-misfit-club

Volunteers

I mentioned earlier that reducing expenses by recruiting volunteers is another way that I can achieve my goal of breaking even at music and becoming a semi-professional musician.  I already have two volunteers.  One hosts my web presence, and another does my taxes for free.

Here’s some other work for which I could use volunteers:

*  Booking assistant
*  Photography at gigs
*  Video at gigs
*  Recording at gigs
*  Create videos for my recorded songs
*  Poster design
*  CD artwork design

Please email me at rob@robroper.com if you would like to volunteer in one of these areas.  All those who provide significant volunteer work will automatically become members of The Misfit Club and receive its benefits.

The Misfit Club Benefits

Upon joining, members will get a Misfit tshirt and a copy of the Misfit Deluxe CD.  Also, I will share with you songs-in-progress– lyrics and/or music– that I’m working on, so you can see a song develop.  But mostly, Misfit Club members are treated as my inner circle, as friends.  They are helping me to “chase the dream.”

So how am I doing on my goal to break even at music?  In 2016, with two album releases, I lost almost $9000 on music.  In 2017, I’m only $528 in the red, with two months to go.  So I’m getting there.  And with a little help from my friends, I will get there.

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Chasing the Dream, 3 Years Later

In my song, “The Other Side of Nowhere,” the mentor criticizes the student for “doing what you should, not what you want.”

I did what I should for 40 years.  I’ve been doing what I want for the past 3 1/2 years.

The plan was hatched around the time I wrote “The Other Side of Nowhere” in 2009.  I cut expenses and began saving my money.  I had no illusions that I’d be able to make a living at music, although, I confess, I did have that hope– or dream.  But I knew it was a longshot.  I just wanted to see how much I could accomplish with music if I didn’t have to spend 8 or more hours a day working for a corporation.

I left my IT job in March, 2014 and have been studying, writing, composing, recording and performing music full-time since then.

What surprised me was the praise I got from so many people.  “You’re chasing the dream!” they said.  One friend said she was living her life vicariously through me.  When I ran a crowdfunding campaign in 2015 for my Total Flower Chaos recording project, support for “chasing the dream” was cited by many people as a reason for their contribution.

I didn’t expect that.  If anything, I expected the opposite.  “I have to work.  Why should you be happy?” was more the reaction I expected.  I’m still trying to understand this.  I think it says something about our society, when people admire a person just for doing what they want to do.

But all good things come to an end.  My savings is about gone, so I have to take a day job again.  It was a good run.  So what did I accomplish?  Was it worth it?

In the last 3 1/2 years, I did the following:

  • I wrote several new songs, started dozens more, and recorded several home demos of the new songs.  Although I wrote some in the acoustic singer-songwriter style, I focused on writing rock music.  This was important to me, because I love rock music, but I hadn’t really figured out how to write in that style.  I feel like I’m starting to get it now.
  • I released a 3-song spoken word over rock music EP, “Word.”  This was also a radical departure from my previous acoustic singer-songwriter-oriented recordings.
  • I released a 5-song instrumental rock CD called “Roses,” under the band name of Total Flower Chaos.  I really went out on a limb here.  At the time the project began, I had never written even one instrumental rock piece.  I had never even composed a melody on guitar.  I was conscious at the time that I might fall flat on my face with this, but I did it anyway.  I grew as a composer and musician as a result.
  • I went back to school for 2 years to study music theory, piano and composition.  I learned how to put circles and lines on paper and make them sing.  But I learned much more.  I learned what professional musicians go through;  the sacrifices and hard work it takes to become a professional musician.  I can speak their language now.  I learned how to practice.  I learned discipline.  You don’t feel like practicing tonight?  Tired?  Too bad, you have a test tomorrow.  Get your ass on the piano and practice.
  • I continued to perform live in my acoustic singer-songwriter group, Scupanon.  Despite my commitments to rock music and classical music theory, I still love to play folk music.

But all good things must end.  My savings is running out, so I am going to have to take a day job soon.  I hope that’s not too big a disappointment to those of you who have been living vicariously through me.  It doesn’t mean I failed.  Making a living at music was never an expectation, only a dream.

So one chapter of my life is coming to a close and a new one begins.  I will once again sell my labor power to a corporation for money to live on.  I will still create, record and perform music, although I will have much less time for it.  What’s the plan?  That’s the subject of my next blog.

–Rob Roper, September 12, 2017

 

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New Song “Metadata”

This was inspired by the documentary CITIZENFOUR about Edward Snowden.  Snowden worked for the National Security Agency and exposed their program of spying on all US citizens, supposedly to protect us from “terrorists.”  Snowden had to flee the country of his birth to avoid persecution for revealing government secrets and was given political asylum in Russia.  The NSA program exposed by Snowden includes the collection of “metadata” of all phone calls, text messages, internet searches, social media posts and other information about citizens.  By “metadata”, they mean the time and date of a phone call or text message, from whom and to whom the call or message was sent, etc., and not the content of the call or message.  The metadata can then be filtered, analyzed and searched to supposedly identify potential “terrorists”, but obviously could also easily be used to identify and persecute opponents of government policies.  Here are the lyrics to my latest draft.

Metadata (We’re Watching You)
by Rob Roper  3rd Draft  Aug 25, 2017

We’re watching you, watching everything you do
We’re watching you, it’s for your own good
We know what you like
We know what you don’t
We know where you go
We know how you vote
We’re watching you

Privacy is dead, freeedom long gone
if you’ve done nothing wrong, then just go along
Don’t you see?
Both parties agree
It’s what we need
to keep us all free
We’re watching you

There once was a man, who ran off with the plan
but you didn’t understand, so now he’s living in a… cold land.
and now he’s fading out
we got the news blacked out
one less boy scout
who stuck his neck out
…for you

Hitler, Hoover, Stalin, in their wildest dreams
could never have imagined, such a beautiful scheme
So hang onto your phone
Take it everywhere you go
’cause that’s how we know
what we need to know
We’re watching you
watching everything you do.

We’re watching you
It’s for your own good

Don’t worry
It’s just…
metadata

 

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Powerless

Powerless (poem)
by Rob Roper 1st Draft May 25, 2017

It’s a kangeroo court

Those in authority can lie
They can invent evidence
They can falsely accuse me of things
They can say I said this or that

What they say
is gospel truth
Whatever I say
is disregarded
Their lies are accepted
my truth is rejected

They can
convict me of crimes I didn’t commit
They can
take my money
They can even beat me
and they’ll get away it
they’ll win
They always win

Those in authority have always abused me
It’s happened over and over
all my life
And there’s nothing I can do about it
nothing I can do.

People say, “Yes there is!
You can unite with others
against the people in authority!”

But they never unite.
Nobody ever backs me up.
They leave me standing all alone
to fight the powerful
It’s a losing battle

For I am powerless
I am in the class of losers, the rejects

And you wonder
why I have no confidence
you wonder
why I have no hope
It’s the result of experience
lessons learned the hard way

This is what I’ve learned:
Superior force always wins
Justice always loses

I have no power
They always win
I always lose

always lose

always lose

always lose.

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My People

My People (poem)
by Rob Roper 1st Draft May 26, 2017

I have no use for the winners
The frat boys
now yuppies
with their careers
and families
Taking the baby out for a stroll
with their expensive pure-bred dog
(probably ordered him online)
and their boring mainstream clothes
mainstream haircuts
mainstream facial hair
according to the current fad
staring at their mainstream stupidphones
their boys and girls on bicycles with
training wheels
but wearing helmets anyway
living in their big yuppy triplexes with
3 living rooms
5 bedrooms
and 4 baths
where a small house from the 1950’s once stood
generic boring
shrubs and grass planted by
Mexicans
hired by
the developer landscape company
not a single flower to be seen anywhere
all neat and orderly
like their haircuts.
I have no use for these people.
They bore me.

Give me the losers
the misfits
the rejects
rejects
not because society rejected them
but because they rejected society.
Those who
worked odd jobs all their lives
and never had a career
because all careers seemed boring to them.
Those who never made it
due to lack of enthusiasm for “it”

Bring me the failures
those who have been searching all their lives
but never found it
The wannabe poets, artists and musicians
Well-read
with and a sick and twisted sense of humor
and a healthy dose of cyncism
who know that American politics is corrupt
and whose taste in music
is a rejection
of the mainstream
and an embrace of the subversive

These are my people.
People like me.

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