Music and finances (Part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

I recently went to hear a motivational speaker discuss the concept of living the way God wants you to live. Most of the audience was older and I sensed that he was talking mainly to them, trying to encourage them not to coast or give up but rather to make their lives meaningful.

His point was that most people never learn to live. And then at a certain age, they start checking out and hanging on for dear life. Among others, he quoted Henry David Thoreau:

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”¬†

Most of us studied Thoreau a bit back in some literature class. We were taught that he had some strange minimalist ideas and some of his writing was anti-Christian. On both counts, that is correct.

But on the other hand, much of what Thoreau wrote is incredibly wise and relevant to today’s society. I could easily post an insightful¬†Thoreau quote every day of the year.

What Thoreau taught in a nutshell is that people needlessly shackle themselves through societal pressure and unnecessary complexities. In the end of the day, they become their own worst enemy, creating an environment for themselves that eliminates their ability to live.

What does this have to do with music and finances? A lot actually. Many of you reading this are far better musicians than I am. Some of you will never know it though because you have fallen into the trap that Thoreau talks of. You have entangled yourself financially to the point where you can’t really pursue music. Some of you are young and haven’t started making those critical financial decisions. For those in that category, listen carefully: if you follow the status quo, you will end up in that desperate situation too.

There are at least two huge traps out there ready to destroy your ability to live: debt and monthly services. Both will shackle you and limit your ability to do what you should do and what God wants you to do.

The dangers of debt are obvious. It will not kill you but it will kill your ability to do what you might be called to do. If you want a career in music and are in debt, your plan should start with eliminating debt from your life.

On the other hand, monthly service contracts are more innocent but also very dangerous. It is staggering what people end up paying for cell phones, TV, gyms, etc. Locking yourself into those deals raises your cost of living which greatly hampers your ability to pursue dreams.

Thoreau would shake his head in bewilderment if he had the opportunity to see poor college students carrying iPhones. Don’t tell me you got your iPhone for free if you had to agree to pay $80/month for two years. That is an $1,000/year obligation, or to put it more bluntly, a $1,000/year pair of handcuffs for middle-income people. If you earn $40,000/year, you are spending 2.5% of your income on a cell phone. Any objective person would call that kind of decision a very iffy one.

I know families earning maybe $50-$60K/year who spend $200/month on cable and $200/month on cell phones. That is 10% of their salary, and here is the truth: that is just ludicrous.

When you add up all those monthly fees and compare it to your income, you might be in for a shock. That stuff will kill your ability to take the financial risks to live the way you should. Ignore the ridiculous societal pressure to buy an iPhone unless you can honestly say you are good enough financial shape where it will not shackle your dreams. I have a MacBook Pro and I like Apple. But too many of you are mortgaging your future to Apple, paying them money that you should be investing in yourself.

What percentage of your income should you spend on all those services? Ask Dave Ramsey; I am not a financial expert. But that percentage is definitely a lot lower than most people shackle themselves with.

Want to earn a living in music? It’s tough and maybe getting tougher. You will have to take financial risks and you will have to invest money. You are going to have to be in a position where those things are possible. That means low debt and a comfortable level of financial obligations.

So here is my advice. Don’t worry so much about the well-publicized problems in industry such as illegal downloads just yet. Just start working toward fixing your own financial foundation so that you can have legitimate opportunities.