There are some pretty neat people among the readers of this blog, and they’re sending me great stories from their lives all the time. A few months ago, a guy named Franco shared the story of how he built his own house in the Pacific Northwest mortgage-free for $30,000, and now his family lives there happily.
But there was more to come. It turns out this Mustachian is also part of a high energy Ska band called Locust Street Taxi, and they had a very relevant video on the topic of “Stuff”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-PvDlwU550
When he found out that I liked his video, he also sent me this unsolicited story about balancing the exciting life of a musician with the constraints of limited funds and a family at home. It rang true to me, as I’ve watch my own brother tour the world on a shoestring budget as well – the hard times of a life touring are excellent practice for running a good financial ship back at home.
How to be a Mustachian Musician
Being in a working band could be considered a very anti-mustachian profession. Commuting six-hours from home, one-way, to work a job for one hundred and twenty minutes and then driving six hours back home, bleary-eyed, through the wee hours of the morning while drinking all sorts of strange liquids to help one stay awake sounds like the antithesis of efficiency and the definition of anti-Mustachian insanity. And it is. But some people cannot be persuaded not to do it by any number of wise and loving old people. The reason is that they love it and they also happen to own optimism guns (Triple M brand.) This is where the hint of Mustachianness in the life of a working musician comes in.
The optimism gun turns the six-hour hellish commute into a six-hour super fun road-trip with three of your best friends to perform music that you wrote because you enjoy writing music for people who love and adore you – and coming home with more money than you had when you left. After using the optimism gun it sounds like a most Mustachian achievment. Getting paid to play music is pretty cool. My band loves playing music so much that even after hundreds of gigs, we still have a hard time saying no to any gig that promises a beer and a meal. Rock out and get free beer at the same time? Count us in! We also know that the amount of money we make at a gig doesn’t really affect the amount of fun we have, but it does affect our ability to justify the time involved to our wives. We have, therefore, learned to say no from time to time when a gig doesn’t make financial sense.
To tell the truth, even though we still get a kick out of being paid to do something we love, my band has indeed experienced the “six-hour hellish commute” version of gigging as well as the “six-hour super fun road trip” version- and sometimes both at once. But there some ways to make musical work more Mustachian rather than less. We don’t always succeed in following them, but they are there.
One of those ways is to not do it full-time. My band normally performs about 50 shows per year and not all of them are six hours from home. This makes the “fun road-trip to play music with friends and get paid at the same time” view almost reasonable. If we were playing a hundred and fifty gigs a year like some working bands, I don’t think we could consider them all to be fun road trips- at least the two of us in the band who have kids couldn’t. The two single dudes would love it.
Because we only play fifty or so gigs a year, with many of them bunched together, I have time for other side jobs and productive activities like building my own house, chopping my own firewood, helping my wife coach soccer and chasing my own children around the yard. My band mates have other jobs too, such as going to college, working in restaurants and doing freelance writing. Right now, our fifty gigs don’t pay them enough to live off of for the whole year – but that is the goal, and we are getting closer.
I think our band is pretty lean and efficient. Often, relatives and friends have a hard time believing that we come out ahead in our musical pursuits. We often get asked if we break even, but we do a heck of a lot better than break even.
Here are some of my personal favorite ways we save money:
1. Staying with friends and fans when on the road instead of in hotels. This is obvious, but so much more fun and interesting than staying in hotels. Homemade food is better, the conversation is often enlightening and the good feeling from being taken care of by people who like you is hard to beat.
2. When we do stay in hotels reserving just one room, not two. This means sharing beds with trombone players and drummers, but saving a lot of money. It also turns out to be way more fun (even though none of us are romantic partners.)
3. When we do stay in hotels, never throwing furniture out the window and no matter how late we got in the night before, always, always getting up in time for free continental breakfast. (Though, recently we checked in so late – 7am – that we couldn’t decide whether to have breakfast before bed or after.)
4. Buying food using my “most calories per dollar” rule. Not everyone in the band espouses this method, but I have used it to successfully fuel my body on the road for half the amount that an average guitar player might spend.
5. Writing songs that aren’t too depressing or pretentious. This has saved us untold amounts of money in the form of gigs we would not have gotten and fans we would not have made if we wrote those kinds of songs.
6. Recording an entire album in a day. (Big-time bands can afford to spend months in the studio to make mediocre albums. Someone should tell those artists that they could make albums just as mediocre in a single day. In fact, I bet in some cases that this would make their albums better.)
7. Not lugging around stacks of amps and speakers that are thirty sizes too big for the venues we perform in. Small is good for gas mileage, especially in that it makes it possible to fit the whole band into one vehicle. Also, sound engineers thank us all the time for being reasonable with our stage volume.
8. Having a trombone player in the band make a really fun clay-mation music video with $100 worth of clay and materials, a web cam, Windows Movie Maker and lots of tedious work. (Girlfried just getting home from work: “How was your day, honey?” Trombone player: “Great. I got 8 seconds done.”)
Besides these, there are some things that I have learned on this blog that I intend to try, such as squeezing the band into a smaller vehicle that gets better mileage. We fit the whole band and all of our gear into a GMC Safari now, and I used to think that was pretty impressive of us. But MMM has inspired me to do much better than that. I am imagining a 35mpg hatchback or station wagon with a tremendous storage bin welded to the back bumper. Perhaps I could get a collapsable guitar to save space.
(MMM Comment – I think a little closed-top cargo trailer would be perfect, and they’re light enough to tow with a small car!)
Also, in the past we have always stopped for gas whenever the gas gauge read low. How simple of us. Our drummer now has a smart phone which he is very pleased with. I think he would love to have the assignment of finding good deals on fuel while we are cruising down the interstate.
Above all, I think the most valuable asset any band can have is a good attitude. That may sound trite, but it has been true for us. A lot of musicians who are very talented have bad attitudes. “People just don’t support music any more,” they like to say. That hasn’t been our experience. Just look at all the people who have fed us good food and drink and have let us sleep in their houses.
Thanks very much for sharing the story Franco, and have a great weekend all!