The Problem With Common Sense

I bet if you’re reading this, there is a good chance you moved to Nashville to be in the music industry. That’s not rocket science. I would also wager on you knowing several people who took on side jobs (like bartending or waiting tables) to continue to pay for their dream. People need money to eat… that also, is not rocket science. So, how do we make this leap from making little or nothing from music towards a self-supporting career? One rule and one rule only. Time management.

Now, wait. Before you get all flustered about the typical ideas of time management, don’t worry. We are not going to talk about those. Besides, I’m sure you know plenty about what you should be doing. I want to talk to you about what happens when common sense betrays “the dream”.


Let me walk you through a typical scenario; one that I hear almost daily. Jessica (the most common female name for 1995) just moved to Nashville. She has about $5,000 saved up in the bank, a 7 year old car that runs well enough though it occasionally gives her troubles, a now used Taylor guitar that her parents bought her for graduation, and a brand new apartment that she shares with her two roommates where she pays about $700 a month in rent and utilities.

Jessica is really excited to be in Nashville and for the first two months spends almost every night out at songwriter rounds, open mic nights, and clubs meeting new people and looking for songwriters to work with. She knew that her funds were limited so she has spent her money sparingly. Her savings is now at about $2,000.


Common sense says Jessica needs to get a job. She knows this and by next week she is working 20 hour a week part time. The $900 a month that she makes from this job is enough to pay rent, but she soon notices that her account is down to $1,000 from additional expenses. Again, her common sense kicks in and she starts working 30 hours a week.

Jessica has now organized her songs from the last few months and chosen five of them for an EP. She’s found some friends that can act as her producer, engineer, and guitar player and she has decided to spend $5,000 on this project. She uses her credit card to finance the project, though close to the end the project goes over budget by another $1,500. Once again, her common sense kicks in and soon she is working almost 50 hours a week to pay for her living expenses and her music career.

After almost a year of living in Nashville, Jessica is working a 50 hour a week job, paying off the debt from her new CD, and exhausted. She is now only going to open mic nights once a week at her favorite venue, and she can’t remember the last time she sat down to write a song.

(All of this) is perfectly justifiable. After all, when we need money common sense says we need a job. What no one has ever told you about common sense is this:

Common sense only works in common cases. Guess what? You (or the musicians you know) didn’t come to Nashville to be common. You came here to be somebody, to be different! To be different, by definition, means to not be ordinary… to not be…common.


Let’s now journey down the path of a slightly different and much more rare scenario, perhaps Jessica in a parallel universe. Assuming our situation stays the same, she needs a job to keep from going broke. Jessica knows that she can work a job for 20 hours a week and make $900 a month. She also realizes that all of that “work” is for someone else, and it does not benefit her music career; it is solely a means to end. 

She decides, instead, to spend 20 hours a week researching coffee houses within a five-hour drive of Nashville. During this time, she contacts the owners or managers and asks if she can set a date to come in and perform for a couple of hours. Several of these coffee houses say yes. Some offer a hundred dollars guarantee, others simply offer her a place to play where people will be. She sets five dates in her first month and for each of these performances makes $135, $210, $65, $185, and $320. She grossed $915 and spent $100 more on gas than she normally would.

The saving in her account, just like in our first example, is dwindling; it’s now at $1500 too. Jessica decides to work harder and in her next month books seven shows. The shows go about as well as her first shows and she nets $1300. She selects her songs and, once again, the cost of making her cd goes on a credit card. (At this point, nothing substantial has happened in Jessica’s situation. She is working the same amount of hours, spending the same amount of money, and incurring the same amount of debt.)

Jessica now is working almost 50 hours a week to make this plan work. She has booked 12 shows next month, and for the first time has her CD to sell with her at local shows. Her bookings are becoming easier as she is learning what to say, and she is gaining the confidence to ask for a $150 guarantee each time.


1. Income

12 shows x $150 guarantee =                 $1,800

12 shows x average $75 tips =                $900

12 shows x 5 cd’s sold x $10 per cd =     $600

Extra cost of gas =                                  -$150

Total monthly income =                           $3,150

2. Own Your Time

Jessica no longer feels the need to be at all the open mics each week as she is performing regularly on her own. She now goes out with her friends primarily for relaxation and enjoyment.

3. End The Rat Race

Thinking outside of the box and ignoring “common sense” lead Jessica to a path where she can live her dream instead of just dreaming.

4. Set Up For Success

Expand Jessica’s future in your own mind. Think about how she can continue to grow this model, build her career, and own the fruits of her own labor.


Common sense (at least in this case) is your enemy!

This IS doable. I intentionally used numbers that are not exciting. I don’t know any working musician who gets excited about selling 5 cds, or about driving 4 hours one way to play a gig that only pays $150. That’s the point. These numbers are real. These numbers are repeatable. Most important, these numbers are beatable!

I’ve spoken to hundreds, if not thousands, of musicians about this. For every 100 musicians that travels the road of broken dreams, there is one that finds the solution. And I say this one more time. This is not rocket science. This is, however, taking a step into the unknown and trusting in yourself. I know that can be a scary thing.

You can do this - if you believe that you can.

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