Understanding the Risks of Pursuing a Music Career

© 2010 Vinny Ribas

In the business world there is factor called ‘risk tolerance’. It refers to the measure of risk that a person or company is willing and able to take in any major move they make. For example, an entrepreneur might determine that he is willing to spend only a certain amount of money to start a business because he would lose too much if the venture didn’t succeed. Analyzing and knowing the amount of risk you are willing to take is an extremely wise move, because it prevents you from getting in far deeper than you are comfortable with. Overstepping those boundaries can result in making desperate moves, in losing much more than you can afford to lose, in ruining your health, in breaking up families and even worse.

When you are planning out your music career, it is essential that you do a risk analysis on yourself, as well as everyone else who might be affected by your choices. Here are some of the scenarios you will face, along with the tough questions you need to ask. It’s vital that you are brutally honest with yourself! If you’re not, you may end up losing much more than you were ever willing to risk.

  • There may be limited income for an extended amount of time. You need to decide how long you are willing to make less money than you would make in a more traditional job. How much money do you need to make on an ongoing basis to justify making music your career? How does your family feel about your decisions? How will this affect your plans to start or extend your family? Is everyone willing to live a moderate lifestyle until your income is adequate and steady? In order to minimize this risk, you can:
    •   Start by doing music on the side until you master the arts of performing, marketing, turning your audience into fans, songwriting etc.
    • Create multiple streams of income such as teaching, singing or playing on demos etc.
    • Save up first so you have money to live on
    • Find investors who will carry you for a short while or for an extended period of time
    • Maintain a minimal lifestyle until the income is substantial
    • Put yourself on salary so that your personal income is even and steady, even when you have a larger than usual band income
    • Create a ‘mailbox money’ stream of income, such as selling teaching DVDs online, so there is money even if you don’t make it from performing.


  •  You will need to invest money before you make money. Depending on your role, you may be solely responsible for the costs of some equipment, band member salaries, a vehicle, recording, insurances, legal issues, taxes, fulfilling contracts etc. How much money are you willing to invest in your career? What happens when the money is gone? Do you quit? Cut back?  After all, you are really starting a business in the same way that you would spend money to open a new store.  In order to minimize this risk, you can:
    • Pre-sell your CDs to minimize up-front, out-of-pocket costs
    • If you have notoriety, try to get an endorsement deal for the equipment you need
    • Lease as much as you can instead of buying, but only if it makes financial sense
    • Put some money away from every gig to replace and/or repair equipment
    • Find investors to take the risk for you
    • Put strict limits on your expenses
    • Spend your money wisely by buying the most reliable equipment you can afford
    • Find band members who can supply some of the equipment, such as a PA system
    • Join a band that is already equipped with everything they need so that you only need to buy your own personal equipment


  • You may be away from home for extended time periods. Do you give up your house or apartment because you won’t be spending much time there? If you have a family, or if you are in a serious relationship with someone, you need to find out how this will affect them.  Distance can put a toll on any relationship. This is no time to be selfish. Everyone needs to be on the same page.  In order to minimize this risk, you can:
    • Bring them with you, at least once in a while
    • Limit your time away from home. (e.g. – 2 weeks/month or just weekends)
    • Be sure to communicate with your family every day. Schedule the time if you can, and use webcams (e.g. Skype) because it is more personal.
    • Monitor the continued acceptance and tolerance of the other people. What sounds OK in the beginning may take a toll as time goes by. Remember that they may say everything is fine because they want you to be happy, but they are actually growing more and more discontent with the arrangement.
    • Have someone house-sit or at least check up on your house or apartment.
    • Have someone check in on your family.


  • You and your family may lose much of your privacy. Whether you’re being followed by paparazzi or just opening up your daily life on Facebook and Twitter, you will be in the public eye at least some of the time. And the more popular you get, the more people want to know about you. In order to minimize this risk, you can:
    • Closely guard your private life by not giving out personal information
    • Use a stage name instead of your real name
    • Be very careful about what you post online. Have someone you trust read it before you post it to insure you’re not saying too much.
    • Have a post office box for your mail so people don’t have your home address.
    • Use a secure voice mail system so people can’t track your phone number back to you.
    • Make sure your family is protecting your privacy as well


  • Your reputation is at stake all of the time. You are constantly under public scrutiny. You will need to guard your image and brand at all costs. This may require changing things that you like to do, and possibly that your family likes to do. Think about how your reputation will affect your family as well. In order to minimize this risk, you can:
    • If possible, make certain that the image you portray onstage is the real you. That way you don’t ever have ‘fake it’.
    • Be sure that your image is not something that your family would be embarrassed about. For example, your wife may not appreciate your ‘image’ as a ‘womanizer’, even if it is just for show.
    • Be extremely careful about who you surround yourself with (your team, your band etc.). Avoid being surrounded by people with different moral and ethical convictions than yours.
    • Be careful not to get sucked in to the wrong lifestyle. For example, if you’re playing in bars and nightclubs, you may have to deal with people who are drinking (or drunk).
    • You may be tempted to cheat on your spouse or significant other because you are so far from home. Or, someone else may come on to you and just make it look like you’re cheating. You don’t need a fan posting a picture of that on the Internet for your family to see! Stay clear of possible temptations at all costs.
    • Monitor your online presence so you know what people are saying about you. You can use a program like Google Alerts to find out every time your name is mentioned online.
    • Dispel any rumors quickly! Don’t think they will just fade away on their own. They just may do the opposite and spread like wildfire.

Depending on the role you are about to step into, your set of risks may be different than these. But in any case, the point is that all of the risks should be identified, and your tolerance in each situation analyzed before you make a giant leap. The last thing you want is to discover that you’ve gotten in way over your head, even if it is in just one area. One bad risk can ruin all of the other great things you have done!