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Earning a Living with Your Music II

Amanda Plays a Mean Blues Harp

When Amanda Grzadzielewski was four years old, her parents purchased her a piano and paid for piano lessons.  
Three years later she was with her parents visiting Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market when she heard two musicians playing and talking with a crowd of listeners that surrounded them.  Her reaction was to say to herself, “I want to do that.”

Fast forward to 2012, and Amanda and parents have moved permanently to Poulsbo near Seattle and the University of Washington where her father studied mathematics.  True to her dream, she’s busking for passersby at Pike Street Market to earn an income, to find performance opportunities and to find students in her three instruments of choice, piano, guitar (since age 14) and harp (the past three years).
Arriving in Poulsbo just this past June, she went to work introducing herself to business owners and civic associations, printing up a business card then dropping by various related businesses such as art studios and cafés to introduce herself.  While her ultimate goal was to pick up paying gigs and students, her immediate goal was to build up a rapport in both the Poulsbo and Pike Place communities. 

In addition to networking, she offered to perform in exchange for being allowed to put out a tip jar and business cards.  She had her first local performance within two weeks.  Amanda performed for the Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce – gratis – and for the Poulsbo Sons of Norway, which she offered as a gift to help give the events what she calls a “finished touch with class”.  She did, however, set up a table with a crystal bowl, “nick-nacks”, CDs of her playing and business cards. 
Back to her dream busking at Pike Place Market:  at first, she was hesitant to pay the $30 fee required by the Market for a performance permit.  However, a friend paid it for her, and now Amanda performs around the Market every Thursday morning, hauling her harp and a stool from Poulsbo via bus and ferry on an adapted golf-bag dolly with a violin case on her back holding CDs and business cards – and to serve as her tip jar while performing.

“I don’t want to be famous,” she says.  “I want to do music enough so I don’t hate it.” 
Amanda seems proud that she’s played for tips as small as a penny from one listener and piece of fresh mango from another.  She even plays for the grumpy passengers on the ferry into Seattle, to the delight of some and the annoyance of others. 

“It’s about the people.  And attitude,” she said over a cold beer at a café in Pike Place.  During her visit to the Market at age seven, she watched as buskers changed the lyrics to fit the listeners, reaching out and interacting with people to give them a personal experience.  She told me she works to incorporate what she learned at the Market years ago.  “You touch people’s lives.” 

* * * * *
There is a community of buskers here, we all know each other.  I’m new, and I ask myself if I really want to rock the boat.  I’m just the cute, naïve harpist here.” 
* * * * *
Has her approach worked?  She gave up 25 active students when she and her family departed Stevens Point, Wisconsin, this past spring.  Currently she has two students and is looking for more from the  many prospects she meets in the market.  And she’s picking up leads for performances as well.

According to Amanda, her biggest adventure since moving here was being asked to sit in with Glen Bui’s Steppenwolf cover band, Magic Carpet Ride, joining the band on the classic Born To Be Wild and even jamming with the lead guitarist.  And she’s building a reputation as professional player in the local music community.  For example, Amanda told me that the owner of the Slaughter County Brewing Company in Port Orchard tells people she “plays a real mean blues harp.”
Not long ago she was pulling her harp, recently nicknamed “Tyranny”, through downtown Seattle when she passed local musician Saxman McKinley busking on a sidewalk.  He stopped her by ordering her to “park that thing right here.”  She set up her harp then McKinley gave her the key of E and the two were off, there on the street, exploring the unusual mixture of harp and saxophone.  The end result is that the Saxman invited her to appear on his next studio album.

A strong beginning for just four months spent building a network based and a rapport in her target communities while trying to fit in and not rock the boat.  As Amanda said as we parted in front of the Pike Place Pig, “I’m living the best years of my life.” 
With an attitude like that, how can she go wrong?

*  *  *  *  *

So what is the financial reality of busking?

As with any business, you need to have reasonable expectations about the income you can earn.  In busking, you depend on the tips you receive while actually performing.  Using the generally accepted model for income for a free-lance artist or writer, you can project an annual income.  The model is simple.  Let's say your goal is an annual income of $30,000.  To calculate what you need to earn per hour of work is straight forward.

Desired annual income divided by 2100 hours times an accepted constant equals an hourly rate. 
  • 2100 hours is approximately the number of hours a full time employee works in a year.
  • The 2.5 multiplier is accepted as the mark-up based on the assumption that working for yourself, you won't be able to bill out every hour you work.  In fact, experience shows that you'll spend about half your time doing un-billable tasks such as doing your books, writing proposals, calculating invoices, collecting what's owed you, marketing through sales calls and attending networking events and so on.  In addition, this multiplier includes a mark-up for your social security taxes, insurance, overhead (rent, utilities, phone, etc.)
If you work as a free-lance writer, to earn $30,000 over the course of a year, you need a billing rate calculated as ~

$30,000 / 21oo X 2.5 = $35.71 per hour
This model can be used for anyone providing a service as a self-employed business person, and this includes self-employed musicians who work as street performers or buskers.  No, you can't "bill" $35.71 an hour to passers by as you rely upon their tips for your income.  In this case, the $35.71 becomes an hourly goal you're working to average.  Of course, the other half of this equation is your need to be actually performing an average of twenty hours per week, week in week out. 
Flipping the free-lancers equation to cover someone working for tips ~
Average tips per hour divided by 2.5 times 2100 equals your projected annual income. 
This isn't that difficult to work out.
  • If you average $15.00 per hour performing 20 hours a week you should take home $12,600.00 annually after expenses, taxes & so on.  ($15 / 2.5 X 2100 = $12.600)
  • If you average $20.00 per hour performing 20 hours a week you should take home $16,800.00 annually.  ($20 / 2.5 X 2100 = $16,800)
  • If you average $25.00 per hour performing 20 hours a week you should take home $21,000.00 annually.   ($25 / 2.5 X 2100 = $21,000)
You can try to fit in more hours performing in a week, but I would guess 20 is a reasonable work load considering all that a busker has to do besides performing.   You'll probably need to work more hours during the season especially in locations that attract tourists to make up for a reduced income during the off season when you may not work at all.

If you're going to work as a busker is keep records as you would in any business.  It doesn't have to be elaborate.  A calendar on which you write down each hour worked at a specific location and the money earned at that location.   Keeping a record like this will help you stay on track to reach your goal - and will help you understand which locations are best for you. 

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The Entrepreneur's Bookshelf ~
The more you know about small business management and financing before you start, the more likely you are to succeed.  That's why I urge anyone thinking of starting a business to contact their local Small Business Development Center or Community College.  I have also organized this bookshelf for you at Powell's Books, the world's largest single site new and used bookstore, featuring the latest books on small business start-ups, marketing, and small business money management.   
A Selection Related to this Post:

Making Money Teaching Music
by David R Newsam

Click on this link to see all the selections on ~

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  1. Part of my sucsess is the result of support from people like you, thank you Jim, for using your gift of writing to give me my moment, thank you, thank you.

    1. You're welcome. Your inate understanding of how to market your self and your music is excellent. Keep it up, it will take you far.

  2. You couldn't have chose a more deserving subject for this article <3

  3. Really cool to learn some more about you Amanda, you surely do look like your'e having fun! =) Peta


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