Last year I published my finances so it helped other musicians, artists, and showed a level of transparency I wish most businesses had.
Anyway, I’ve been doing this idea for about 6 years, and the first 3 years were awful. In the first 3 years, 2007-2009, I made about $2,000 in total: In 2007 I made about $200. In 2008 I made $500. In 2009 I made about $1,000.
There have been other things I’ve done to survive, like write music for people on the side, collect unemployment when I was laid off, worked as a music instructor, cashed in my baby bonds, and made music tutorials on Youtube. Although the pay wasn’t much, it was just enough to get by so I didn’t lose sight of this ‘ForOrchestra’ goal. So now onto the past 3 years of my music sales:
July 2010 to July 2011 I made $4,766.64 of music sales
July 2011 to July 2012 I made $9,232.80 of music sales
July 2012 to December 2012 I made $11,862.88 of music sales
So it’s safe to say I’ve seen a 100% growth year over year. In that last picture above you’ll notice that I made more money in the last 6 months than I did in all of the previous year. Since I’m on track to make $22,000 this year, for the first time in my life I’m finally above the poverty threshold (which for individuals is $14,800).
Those stats are my gross income, so I still have to pay out royalties, taxes, etc. But still, that’s insane, and I can’t believe this. I actually feel like crying. Anyway, there are a number of reasons that explain why I’ve grown:
1.) My music sounds better every week
2.) The arrangements themselves are much more mature
3.) I understand the music catalogue, trends, and demographics much better
4.) I’m more focused than ever before
5.) I’m becoming more transparent and creating more rapport with my community
6.) Unlike the first 4 years, I no longer need a job to support myself - so I’m spending more time on writing music as opposed to having a side-job
7.) Update: as Vexarian mentioned: there’s a 7th point you missed, which is that over time your community grows by default the longer you stick with it (thanks for mentioning that. Yep -that’s true!)
In my tips tag I always say that being patient is the #1 thing. If I gave up on year 4, then I would have never known if this idea could work. I also talk about the importance of being on a schedule. It doesn’t have to be a weekly song schedule, it could be something like a tour schedule, or a merchandise schedule, or whatever. The important thing is to stay on point.
So to answer a few pre-determined questions:
Yes, it sucked every Thanksgiving for half a decade saying to my relatives “My music is going to work out, trust me.”
Yes, it sucked being $15,000 in debt a few years ago.
Yes, it sucked when my hands went numb from pinched nerves and over-working.
Yes, it sucked working weekends and 16 hour days.
Yes, it sucked having a failed Kickstarter at a time when this idea needed it most.
Yes it sucked at times not having a car, health insurance, a haircut, a house, or a steady paycheck.
Yes it sucked when I ate turkey gravy straight from the can because I had no money to buy food.
Yes, it all sucked. Everything. It sucked to the point of almost breaking down. And then something funny happens after a few years. Something magical. A tipping point sort of experience. And you think. You just think. You stop and realize for the first time you’re able to make ends meet. You start thinking that since you now have disposable income you can start making merchandise this week and other higher-margined items as opposed to a song that pays 40 cents. You even start thinking about how your own story probably isn’t much different than others you read about over the years.
You start getting excited at the idea of hiring real artists to make beautiful cover art as opposed to the ones you’ve been struggling to make in your room. You start thinking that you’re following your heart. You start thinking that all those days people said “don’t give up”, that they weren’t just words, at this very moment it was turning into advice from experience.
You start realizing the importance of how none of this would be possible without a community who kept you up when you were falling. Every comment, every share, every purchase - they were all like these little silent whispers saying “Keep going, we believe in what you’re doing for new orchestra music. You can’t stop now”.
So I want to say thanks. I’m so glad you enjoy my work and that this idea is creating a glimmer of hope in the orchestral repertoire.
To sum up this post, I want to say to other artisans - you have to keep on going. Your DeviantArt drawings, music, or unpublished books are meant to be read and experienced, and it’s more DIY-accessible today than it’s ever been in history. In fact, a lot of the ideas for my music are the result from all the amazing things I see online and offline each day. Art is a melting pot, so you need to create great work so we can all add to the brew kettle. Some people need to drink from it whereas others just want to watch it and experience it. But the point is that the kettle needs to keep being added to, or it will die. Every single thing you see in this world is here because someone brought something in their brain to life.
Fluency, mastery, learning, and overcoming obstacles take decades - so you can’t give up. You have to keep on going.