The 23rd Hour Blog

THE GIST: “The Linchpin” by Seth Godin 

The Gist is a new series where I summarize books I’ve read and my reflections on how their concepts apply to my life as a music entrepreneur.

It was 2008 and I was about to release my first EP of 7 songs. As I sought for marketing strategies, I came across bloggers Derek Sivers and Seth Godin. What was supposed to be marketing advice turned out to be full blown life philosophies that I have lived by for about a decade. Both Derek and Seth are gentle, articulate heretics. Their respective blogs are generous with their wisdoms. They have an optimistic outlook on life and the future of art. They question the status quo, and don’t settle for “that’s what people do”. My kind of people. It was not hard to win me over as a customer.

I’ve just finished re-reading Seth’s book “The Linchpin”. Here are my take-aways:

  • There is art in every job. All of us are artists when we find an elegant solution to a problem, or add a personal touch to make a customer feel special, or even just offer a kind smile. Art isn’t just for musicians, painters, writers, film makers. It’s for everyone who is willing to be creative.
  • In a post-commercial world, we need artists. Those people who come up with creative ideas, who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo, even if that means risking ridicule. The linchpins. Not necessarily glamorous people. Just people who are very, very hard to replace because their mere presence makes things better.
  • Emotional labor is quickly replacing physical labor. It takes emotional labor to care about the job, the customer, the problem, and to come up with a creative solution. It takes emotional labor to put something out in the world despite our lizard brain begging us not to risk rejection and make a fool of ourselves. It takes emotional labor to distance ourselves from our work enough to be objective and not take it personally when it does not work out.
  • Fear and anxiety are not the same thing. Fear keeps us physically alive. In modern society, very few things actually warrant fear. We mostly experience anxiety. Anxiety is redundant. It is practicing failure that will not actually happen and often makes things worse.
  • The lizard brain (the resistance) wants you to fit in, worries about what others think, would prefer you to settle for less. Recognize it, acknowledge it, and move on. Often, the lizard brain will urge you to do something rash. Do nothing. Great negotiation tactic.
  • Linchpins do not let emotional attachment or ego get in the way of the work. Attachment can lead to denial. E.g. the record industry in the early 2000s.
  • You can fit in or you can stand out. You cannot do both. Success starts with a choice.
  • We experience joy from giving. Giving only what you are paid for deprives you of an opportunity to experience joy. Do not let the transactional nature of business get in the way of creating joy. It will make work more rewarding.
  • In the connection economy, the generous win, the hoarders lose.
  • Masterpieces are shipped. Always ship. On time. The work is worth nothing if it does not ship.
  • Projects often don’t get shipped because of too much thrashing at the end. More and more people are brought in as the project develops and request different approaches and features, which then introduce bugs and other issues. It should be the opposite. Get all the opinions upfront, then lock it down. Less and less people should be involved closer to ship date. Thrash often, but thrash early.
  • Artists don’t color outside the box. Outside the box is doomed to fail. On the edge is where everything is happening, where projects are shipped and problems are solved.
  • You don’t need to change titles, jobs, or careers to be a linchpin. You can decide to become one by seeking interesting problems to solve within your current organization.
  • You are a genius. Sometimes. Most people are geniuses sometimes. No one is a genius all the time. You could probably do Richard Branson’s job most of the time, except for a few minutes or hours a year when he comes up with the next big thing. The rest of the time, his work is just average work.
  • The education system was founded on the economics of factory production. Factories needed trained workers who can follow and obey simple instructions. Schools created obedient, competent workers for the factories. Cogs.
  • In the new connection economy, we need creative people who are not here to follow instructions. And we need to allow them to challenge the status quo. You can have a culture of obedient workers, or one of (sometimes disobedient) linchpins.
  • Art by default has external benefits for those who haven’t purchased them. If I buy a painting and hang it at my house, anybody who visits can also enjoy it. Art is to be shared.
  • What people truly want is connection. To be seen.

So how do I apply this to my career as a songwriter, producer and music entrepreneur?

I often wonder what life would be like if I had other people to do all the non-musical tasks. The “genius sometimes” concept is a good reminder that it is acceptable, even normal, for a lot of my work to just be… work.

Now about thrashing… I have to admit that a number of songs at various recording stages are stuck in limbo. It is time to put in the emotional labor of going through, finalizing, releasing with inevitable imperfections, knowing a shipped piece is better than 20 shelved ones. Much easier said than done. But I will try.

As a songwriter/musician, I have submitted songs to various opportunities and most of them never pan out. By now, I am used to rejection. Write, record, pitch, rinse, repeat. I don’t take it personally. I know it’s a numbers’ game and that’s just the cost of doing business. That said, sometimes I just can’t help thinking “if I could just get a break”…

Well, it is time to reverse this rhetorical question and instead ask “how can I be someone else’s break? How can I find and serve a music consumer, solve their problem, and make their day, even if it is to refer them to a different musician?” The challenge to myself here is to go out and make those connections. That’s the part where I’ve honestly been slacking. As emotionally labor-intensive as it gets if you ask me.

Next, anxiety. It runs so strongly in the family that it’s anybody’s guess whether it’s nature or nurture. Probably both. If I don’t call home, it will be assumed that I am likely deathly ill, kidnapped, possibly murdered by a serial killer. It’s no wonder that to this day, I have nightmares of people dying. Next time I catch myself worrying about things I cannot control, I will have to remind myself of the fact that anxiety is merely practicing failure that hasn’t yet happened (and likely won’t). That said, please try not to die, thank you :-)

Last but not least, the gift. While the intention comes naturally to me, I don’t always execute. For example, I often think about sending cards, but then I put it off and forget. I also often have ideas for a blog with tips for fellow musicians, but then leave it 3/4 finished in the draft folder for a month. I’m going to try and clear out more time for this in the future. For starters, I’ll try to write a blog on every book I finish with the main points and how I can apply it to my own life. Hopefully it will help someone somewhere.

What’s your favorite take-away from the book? Let me know in the comments.

Finding Authenticity 

One day, I stumbled upon the world of sync licensing. Many of the songs being licensed were three chord songs, simple melodies and lyrics, cute but nothing complicated to them. Our songs naturally tend to be cute, but with intricate progressions, so writing a three-chord song felt easily achievable. After all, the first few songs I wrote were similarly simple. I could easily do it again. Or so I thought.

I was going through a difficult time. As I re-evaluated my life goals and searched for answers, I would go to my car during my lunch breaks and attempt to write happy songs. Even then, I saw the irony. I would look at the list of themes that I had decided were sync-friendly and just brain dump. Most of it was terribly trite. We did finish a couple of these songs, and they weren’t bad, but none of it rang true to me. The result was lackluster music. Happy, upbeat, simple, but nothing I was particularly eager to share or spend a lot of money to produce.

During one of these solo car lunches, starting with yet another sync-friendly prompt, I found myself writing about what was truly consuming me. I forgot about the theme (independence) and followed my muse to the internal debate I was silently going through every day. I was feeling lost and trapped. I found myself wondering whether I was really enjoying that dream data scientist job I had. What really made me happy? Why was I so anxious all the time? Am I being selfish? Am I crazy?

It took me months to figure out why I wasn’t feeling fulfilled and what to do next. But in less than 20 minutes that day, I was strumming the chords and singing some of my most honest lyrics to date. It turned out to be a 5 chord song, ridiculously simple, with universal lyrics, all the hallmarks of a sync-friendly song. But it rang true. Perhaps because it was true. I finally got it. I locked the car and walked back to my desk feeling a little lighter than I did before lunch.

A few months later, I quit my job. I decided to dedicate a full year to building our catalog, learning production, and growing our music business. When I played the song for the first time, the audience reaction was immediate. I could see people connecting with the song, the melody, and my story. Unlike the dozens of happy songs that I half-heartedly tried to write while feeling unhappy, this one was a positive twist on emotions I was really feeling when I was writing. That was the key to the simple but authentic song. Although not everyone will connect with it, I’m confident that we’ll find a home for it somewhere.

The song is now in production and we will release it soon. In the photo below are the lyrics. If you’d like to hear the song, we’ll be sending it to our subscribers in one of our upcoming newsletters. Sign up now to get it for free: 23rdhr.com/signup. We send a newsletter every 4–6 weeks.

I Quit My Job To Start My Music Business: People React. 

Photo credit to the incredibly talented Lesya Kulchenko.

I wasn’t quite sure how my colleagues, friends, or family would react to my departure. For a long time, I dreaded that my decision would be met with derision, shaking heads/eye rolls, and full-blown panic attacks respectively.

After months of weighing pros and cons and recalibrating my fears vs what is really likely to happen, I finally got to the point where I had to do it. I just had to. I left my job, taking a full year off the 9-to-5 to focus on the craft of songwriting, to travel, and spend time with loved ones. And the reaction was not quite what I expected.

I am writing this hoping it will help at least one person out there realize that it likely wouldn’t be the end of the world if you wanted to explore something different for a little while. People will support you. And you can still go back. And going back isn’t proof that your idea failed either. We no longer are expected to pick one thing and stick with it all the time, for ever. Take advantage of it.

Below are my favorite reactions and lessons I learned from them.

If you’d like to listen to our music while you read, please do enjoy the embedded @SoundCloud links :)

The song below is called “Risking More”. It was inspired by a quote found on a friend’s Facebook profile around 2008. It read:

“If you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.”

— Unknown.

Quote

“Glad to hear that you are taking the time — you would have had more regrets about not trying than you will have about a year’s salary. “

— a colleague

Lesson: Time vs money

Life is both long and short. We have a lifetime to earn a paycheck. Taking a year or two off to launch your business is not such a crazy idea in the grand scheme of things.

Quotes

“I did a similar thing a few years back — left my job to pursue music production. “

— another colleague

“I just came back from a similar break. I took 8 months off to travel with my spouse. Congratulations!“

— yet another colleague

“I did the same thing for 18 months. It was awesome. You can always come back and everything will be the same. A little different, but mostly the same. I’ll likely to do it again every 10 years or so. “

— yet another colleague

“We’ll miss you. If you’re ever back in the market for a job, definitely let me know. “

— a boss

Lesson: Not that big a deal

They got their jobs back. Nobody thought they were out of their minds. In fact, it seems more people do this than I previously thought. And it is something that is celebrated. Most companies want people to come to work refreshed, energized, focused. If you need to take some time off to do your own thing to get to that state, then do your thing and come back when you’re ready to give it 100% again.

Creativity is becoming more and more salient. To be creative, we have to acquire different experiences. We have to live life in order to find true inspiration and identify real problems to which we can contribute a solution in this world. If you’re running out of ideas, maybe you could benefit from a change of scenery, too.

Quote

“I have to admit, I’m a little jealous.”

— many colleagues

Lesson: You’re not alone

More people long to do this same “crazy” thing than you might think.

If you are in a position where you can afford to, and you’re driven to make a passion into a profitable business, just start. Even if you end up going back to a 9-to-5, you’ll have a lot of fun and the experience of a lifetime. I know I am!

Quote

“You’re so brave, you’re inspiring me. “

— yet another colleague

Lesson: Bravery is for the beholder

When you acknowledge your authentic self, and how you fit in the market place, and what changes you need to make to maximize both your productivity and your happiness, people won’t think you’re cray-cray. They might actually admire you for daring to do it.

The best part? It’s not even about “daring” to do it. It looks a lot harder on the outside than it really is. While I did take a long time to make the decision and ensure a smooth transition, it didn’t really feel like I was taking a huge risk, and that it was a do or die career move or anything this dramatic. It just felt like I had to do it. It was almost a compulsion. I needed to do my thing for a while.

You don’t have to be or feel like a hero taking huge risks. Just take calculated steps to what is right for you. It’s just a bunch of small steps, one foot in front of the other. Bravery lies in the eye of the beholder.

Quote

“So when are you coming to visit? You can stay longer now!“ — Grandma

Yes we can, and yes we will.

Lesson: Time is all we have to give

Your family will be just fine. Just make sure to budget some weeks in there for quality time with them and assure them that your finances are in order. Time together with the whole family is a luxury for those of us who are immigrants. They’ll be happy to see you.

If you’ve enjoyed this blog, clap, repost, comment, send it to someone who needs it.

Written by Sherry-Lynn Lee

ASCAP EXPO 2018 

Words of wisdom from those who are at the top of their game in the industry. A selection of our favorite golden nuggets from ASCAP EXPO “I Create Music” 2018, including Meghan Trainor, J Kash, Greg Wells, Claudia Brant, Jeff Ellis, Ne-Yo, Amanda Berman-Hill, Priscilla Renae, Lindsey Stirling.

“My dad told me if you’re gonna do this, you can’t rely on anybody else. You have to know how to do it all yourself. He would buy me gear for Christmas. He would tell me to set it up. Then he’d tell me “Ok, record a song”, then he’d say “Ok, tear it down and put it back in the box!”

So I was this 16 year old girl going into the studio and I knew how to do everything and it kinda freaked people out a little.

He told me I need to write 200 songs. When I did, then he said write 500, then write 1000. He’s been a great supporter.
— Meghan Trainor

“If you’re good, people will know. It’s a small community. You might not think we know, but we know”
 — J Kash
(lyricist: Charlie Puth, Meghan Trainor, & more)

When I first started, I would do five sessions a day, and often two songs per session.
 — Priscilla Renae
(songwriter: Iggy Azalea, Train, Nick Jonas & more)

“My songs that did the best were all written from real life experiences.”
— Ne-Yo

When mixing, create a playlist of reference mixes. Every now and then, take a break from mixing and go listen to the playlist.”
— Greg Wells
(producer: The Greatest Showman, Adele, & more)

You’ll be surprised how many successful people let others control their life. Know what makes it fun for you, and respectfully say no to anything that isn’t worth it. I don’t care if it’s Drake or Kanye calling, I won’t be on call and I don’t work weekends unless it’s an absolute emergency, which it usually isn’t.
 — Jeff Ellis
(producer: Frank Ocean)

I don’t care if it’s fully produced or a guitar/vocal. It just needs to feel authentic” — Amanda Berman-Hill
(Publisher, Sony/ATV)

“When I translate lyrics I usually do my best to stick with the original meaning, but it’s not just that. You also have to match the vowel sounds, and that’s the hard part!”
 — Claudia Brant
(Multi Grammy winning songwriter: Alejandro Sanz, Camila Cabello, & many more)

I was told over and over that I was too different, but that’s the very thing that people liked about me on YouTube
 — Lindsey Stirling
(dancer/violinist/composer, YouTube sensation)

Recurrent themes

These are just a few quotes. However, the same themes keep showing up everywhere:

  • Write music that comes from the heart, that you truly believe in/feel, that you have a deep connection with. Those resonate the most with other people.
  • Work harder than everybody else.
  • Know what your goals are so that you can design your ideal job and set your own boundaries.
  • If you’re good, people will know/notice. The songwriting community is relatively small.
  • Hustle, hustle, hustle.

So, for all you songwriters and musicians, this is yet another reminder to treat your music like a business, and hustle like a startup! You are your own CEO and the decisions you make today will determine your value and how much people will want to invest in you in the future.

You Must’ve Known 

A song for our favorite superheroes: our moms and dads.

With Mother's Day and Father's Day being just around the corner, we decided to write our next tune in honor of the first superheroes we ever get to know as kids: our parents.

"You Must've Known" is an acoustic pop tune, with a bit of a Jack Johnson vibe. Lyrics are included below. We'd love to know what you think of the song!

https://soundcloud.com/23rdhr/you-mustve-known

For a limited time, it is available for FREE download on our website:

You Must've Known by 23rd Hour

You Must’ve Known

Music & Lyrics by George Paolini & Sherry-Lynn Lee

You must’ve known my name before I came along
The way you say it sounds just like a song
So I am pretty sure
You already knew my name
Before I came along
You must’ve known my name before I came along

And when we first walked hand in hand
I couldn’t reach couldn’t understand
But you were there at every step
Anticipating every fall
Gave me strength to move on
You must’ve known my strength before I came along

I made more mistakes than I can remember
You bit your tongue and kept your smile
Knowing eventually I’d figure it out
On my own but meanwhile

[Whistled/instrumental verse]

I just want to say thanks to you
For never saying I told you so
Except a million times but that’s okay
You must’ve known that too before this song

Thank you for listening to the new tune.

It is best served with loved ones gathered around a yummy brunch.

Forward this to a parent who would enjoy it :)

Gravity Can Wait 

Ever seen a skateboarder or snowboarder doing tricks where they seem to hang in mid-air for a second? That imagery is what inspired the song “Gravity Can Wait”. In that brief moment of weightlessness, it seems that gravity can wait, everything else can wait.

The song is now available on all major platforms. See below for lyrics. If you know a friend who would dig this, be a cool buddy and pass it along!

See below for lyrics.

Thank you for listening!

GRAVITY CAN WAIT
Music & Lyrics by 23rd Hour

Give me more of the long, long days
Warming to the golden rays
Riding free, I feel the wind
the rhythm in my skin
In my skin

When your soul is free and awake
The past and tomorrow can skate
Tricks to try, moves to make
You want to fly
One more time

Gravity can wait
Gravity can wait
Gravity can wait
Gravity can wait

All we have is the warm, warm breeze
And we wear our hearts out with ease
Feel the wind, on our sun-kissed skin
This is our time
We’ve got time

Gravity can wait
Gravity can wait
Gravity can wait
Gravity can wait

Give me more of the long, long days

Life Ingesting Plastic Ain’t Fantastic — Our trash problem 

Our trash is washing up on a Hawaiian beach, or ingested by the seafood we eat. Think about that.

Everything from crates to minuscule plastic pieces strewn along the beach.

It’s the most beautiful beach we know. Turquoise waters, fine golden sand, little tourist traffic. As we catch the mesmerizing sunrise, I can’t help but notice the debris strewn across this East-facing beach on the island of O’ahu.

A crab hole amidst plastic debris on the eastern shore of O’ahu

Some of the items are clearly recognizable. A tub plug, part of a comb or toothbrush. Others have been reduced to mere colorful specks of plastic over time by the thrashing of the waves. These were not trash from visitors. These washed up on the beach from the ocean!

This is not a new problem. You may have heard of the Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean. Due to the ocean currents, the eastern shores are the most vulnerable to the plastic invasion and the Big Island apparently has the worst of it.

Why do I care?

You may have already seen videos such as this ad by Zooey Deschanel or the BBC special “How much plastic do you eat?” which estimates that a garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute! And these little pieces make their way into the seafood we eat. If you eat mussels, you’ve eaten plastic.

Why is there so much plastic in the ocean?

Mismanaged waste disposal is responsible for the majority of trash in the ocean. Here are a few articles that go into more detail on the problem.

What is being done?

How can I reduce my use of plastic?

  • RECYCLE if your town supports it.
  • Opt for glass instead of plastic containers when shopping for spices, juices, etc if you can.
  • Bring your own reusable grocery bags.
  • Opt for paper or biodegradable alternatives to plastic straws, cups, plates, silverware.
  • Bring a reusable water bottle instead of buying plastic bottles.

How can I reduce the amount of trash I create?

Garbage in the Waikiki harbour. I felt sorry for the fish swimming underneath.
  • DO NOT LITTER the beach, the harbour, the streets. Use garbage cans and make sure your garbage is securely in the can. Mismanaged waste disposal is responsible for the majority of trash in the ocean.
  • Make sure your garbage bags are closed securely to avoid littering during transportation.
  • Find out what your city can recycle and recycle as much as possible.
  • If you have to use disposable food containers, use recyclable ones and make sure to recycle properly.
  • Avoid purchasing items with excessive wrapping material.
  • Make your own compost.
  • Opt for detergents that come in recyclable or biodegradable containers.
  • Use a Diva Cup instead of tampons/pads.
  • Urge your politicians to regulate the use of plastic

Thank you

Thank you for reading and doing your part in reducing trash and reducing your use of plastics :) Below is a picture of shells collected on a single beach in O’ahu. The ocean is a beautiful ecosystem. It would be a shame to give it up for plastic convenience.

Tiny shells collected on a single beach.

Taxes for musicians 

Deductions for 2017

Let me preface this by stating that I’m not a tax accountant or expert by any stretch of imagination. I’m just a musician doing my taxes and learning how it works along the way. I’m sharing what I’ve learned but it may/may not apply to you or be 100% correct. The information below is not replacement for expert tax advice/services. In other words, don’t quote me on it :)

That said, here are a few things you might find useful when filing your taxes this year if you’ve set up your music business.

Contractors vs Legal & Professional Services

Musicians for hire

  • If you’ve hired somebody multiple times AND you’ve paid them $600 or more in this tax year, then you’re required to provide them with a 1099-MISC. This can easily be created online. We created ours using TurboTax.
  • If you’ve hired somebody only once, you could deduct that in professional services instead, even if it is over $600.

Other items that fall under professional expenses

  • Production Services (production, mixing, mastering) if hired on a per-project basis. If they’re hired on a full-time or contractor basis, then report them appropriately.
  • Subscription to professional publications in your field (i.e any music industry publication)
  • Membership fees to join professional organizations such as a musician union, a songwriter association, or websites like Taxi and BroadJam that offer members only access to opportunities.
  • Distribution service fees such as TuneCore, CD Baby to make your music available on various digital platforms.
  • Short-term consulting fees
  • One-time management consultation fees
  • One-time marketing consultation fees
  • One-time engineering consultation fees
  • Fees paid for website analysis
  • Other outside consulting fees for short term advice on specific deals
  • One-time logo/web design fees
  • Fees paid to talent agents and business/personal managers who are not paid as employees.
  • Legal fees for business matters
  • Accounting fees

Vehicle Expenses

If you use your car for business reasons (eg to go to your gig), you can deduct certain expenses such as:

  • Miles driven for business
  • New tires, repairs, maintenance
  • Gas/oil changes
  • Insurance, registration, license fees
  • Lease payments or depreciation (see Assets)

There are two ways to claim these expenses: actual expenses and standard deduction. If you use a software like TurboTax, they usually guide you to figure out the best way to go for your situation.

Business Travel

  • Airfare/train/bus
  • Hotel
  • Rental car
  • Taxi/ride-sharing services
  • Baggage fees
  • Gas
  • Gear rental for gigs
  • Internet access fees (e.g on planes or in the airport/hotel)
  • Phone calls when away on business
  • Tips while traveling (except for meal tips, which are only 50% deductible)
  • Dry cleaning
  • Cost of shipping your equipment that is necessary for a gig
  • Cost of storing baggage/equipment during business trip
  • Late check-out charges if you’re required to stay over-time for business
  • You want to have receipts for anything $75 and over. You have to be able to show the business purpose of an expense if requested.

Miscellaneous expenses

  • Photography services can be deducted under miscellaneous business expenses
  • Music Conferences that you’ve attended to improve your skills, maintain relevance in your field, or otherwise improve your professional performance can be deducted under miscellaneous
  • Cloud services/software such as LANDR, Dropbox, etc also fall under miscellaneous.
  • Accompanist fees.
  • Banking/credit card/financial service fees (including interest) for your business accounts/cards.
  • Books, magazines and other subscriptions for business
  • Tax return software
  • Startup costs
  • Prizes to fans

Communication expenses

  • Cell phone service.
  • Internet service.
  • Second phone line.
  • Long distance calls.
  • Voice mail/answering machines
  • Call-waiting/message center fees
  • Video conferencing services (e.g if you use Skype or other such tools to call clients)
  • Modems and wireless routers
  • Ringtones for your work phone (who buys ringtones still, I don’t know…)
  • Fax line for work
  • Text messaging service (auto-responding text service)

Advertising expenses

  • Website hosting, Domain name purchases,Website design (e.g Wix, Bandzoogle, SquareSpace, GoDaddy, 1and1 hosting, WordPress, etc)
  • Business cards (for your music business)
  • Poster design & printing
  • Design services of any kind (artwork, posters, etc)
  • Online ads (Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, LinkedIn Ads, local newspaper online ads like patch.com, event promotion ads like Evensi)
  • Print advertising (duh)
  • Any merchandise that you’re giving away for free
  • Fees paid to ad agencies or PR firms
  • Yellow pages listings
  • SEO/web traffic analysis
  • Marketing email/direct mail campaigns
  • Professional performance videos and CDs (promo material)
  • Package design fees
  • Signs, display racks
  • Sponsorships
  • Basically any cost directly related to promoting your business.

Taxes and Licenses

  • Cost of applying for your business license.
  • Business license.
  • DBA/Fictitious business name one-time filing fee.
  • Incorporation fees.
  • Business name search fees.
  • Copyright application and registration.
  • Trademarks and logo fees.
  • Domain name search fees.
  • Fees paid to the state board.
  • State and local taxes.
  • Property taxes (NOT for home office).
  • Fees to acquire, draft, or cancel a lease.
  • Cover song licenses that you might have paid via Loudr, EasySongLicensing, CDBaby, WeAreTheHits or others.
  • Software licenses.
  • Image/Video footage licenses (purchases on sites like pixabay, shutterstock).
  • Payroll taxes for employees such as Medicare, Social Security. *
  • Unemployment taxes for employees. *

* We did not hire anybody as an employee or intern, so we don’t know much about the deductions for that. Feel free to comment below if you know more.

Home Office

If you have a home office/studio, you can deduct the following, pro-rated for the square footage and percentage of business use:

  • Rent/Mortgage
  • Utilities
  • Upkeep
  • Improvements/renovations on the home office

For example, if you rent a 500 sq ft place for $1000/month, and your office is 100 sq ft, then your pro-rated rent for business use is:

(Office space/ total space) * rent or mortgage per month

(100/500) * $1000 = $200 per month

So if you use that office room for business 100% of the time, you can deduct $200. If you use the room for business 50% of the time, then you can deduct 50% of $200, which would be $100.

Office expenses

  • Office supplies
  • Shipping & postage
  • Office cleaning
  • Shredding services
  • Security system
  • Office decoration, soundproofing

Supplies

  • Equipment accessories (carrying cases, straps, pedals, music stands)
  • Instrument accessories (cases, strings, reeds, tuners, metronome)
  • Sheet music and books
  • External hard drives, trackpad, mouse, cables/cords
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Safety/protective gear

Equipment purchases of over $200 can be deducted as assets. Some examples include your computer, guitar, keyboard, studio monitors, etc.

Assets

Equipment purchases of $200 or more can be declared as asset purchases. These assets can be depreciated over time (5–7 years). If you use TurboTax, it will automatically set the correct lifespan for it.

Some examples of common assets for musicians would be:

  • Laptop
  • iPad
  • Instruments
  • Recording equipment
  • PA system
  • Studio monitors

How depreciation works

Let’s say you buy a piano for $5000. Suppose you can depreciate it over 5 years. Each year you’re entitled to claim an equal amount of depreciation.

However, there are a few other options to consider:

Section 179 allows you to take the full amount of depreciation in that first year (year when the asset was purchased/put into use) instead of depreciating it over a number of years. However, it requires that you have income of the same amount or more, meaning you can’t use it if you’re running at a loss. This is a good option if you have a high enough income the year you buy the piano.

Didn’t make enough money for Section 179 to be an option?

If you bought the piano NEW, then you can use “Bonus Depreciation

Bonus depreciation allows you to take 50% of the cost as depreciation in the first year. So that means you’re left with $2500 to depreciate the “regular” way, over 5 years. That remaining $2500 is your “basis for depreciation”. You can take the first year depreciation on the basis on top of the $2500 Bonus depreciation.

Good to know: Bonus depreciation can be taken as a loss, meaning you can take it regardless of how much money you’ve made this year.

Bonus depreciation is not available every year, and tax laws change all the time. Be sure to stay updated. We use TurboTax, which updates according to tax laws every year.

Here is a video that helped me understand the difference between the two. It goes into much more detail and is worth watching:

Inventory

If you have CDs or other merchandise for sale, you are required to declare them on your taxes the year you acquired them. I’m not sure about the grey areas such as if you paid for them in a different year than you received them. I’m not a CPA :) Do your homework.

You are required to maintain inventory (ie you’ll need to report how much you had at the start and end of the year).

That’s All Folks!

Hope you found this useful. If so, claps, shares, comments would be very much appreciated :)

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Smart Musician Guide


Taxes for musicians was originally published in SmartMusicianGuide on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Letting go is a beautiful thing — the real value of all your stuff. 

Garden art made out of old wrenches and other tools by George.

As we prepared to downsize, we looked around the house with dread. We were going from a 3+2 with garage/workshop, back and front yard to a one bedroom apartment with no balcony. How can we ever let go of enough of these things?

What started out as a dreadful task turned out to be a most interesting juxtaposition of human connection and transaction. That one decision we made to move impacted so many lives in such a positive way. We could not have imagined that selling/donating our “stuff” would end up being such a beautiful thing.

We offered the family first dibs on some tools, instruments, and handmade furniture. If you have to part with your treasures, giving it to loved ones eases the heartbreak. It warmed our hearts to know that our family would be enjoying our copper sheets, premium lumber, Martin guitar, microphones, handmade bookshelves, chisels and power tools.

Our beloved SawStop table saw was purchased by a guy in Utah who drove all the way to our house to pick it up and drove right back. He used to be a professional wood turner, and is now diversifying into general woodworking. He couldn’t find a retailer for the SawStop where he lives and he couldn’t believe how cheap we were selling it, with all the extra attachments. This was an amazing deal, even for him. But we didn’t mind as much after meeting our new friend. Getting to know the people you transact with recalibrates your monetary expectation. Somewhere in the equation, genuine appreciation factors in.

Next came the movers, a very friendly crew of three. They carefully wrapped, packaged and sealed everything we were keeping and moved them to the garage. One of them asked us how much we wanted for the flatscreen TV and sound system. He probably thought we were crazy when we replied $150. We liked these guys. They were polite, professional and careful not to scratch any surface during the move. We’d rather sell our TV to them for cheap than sell it to somebody who’s just going to resell it for a profit. Again, the human connection buffered the prices.

Once our selected belongings were moved, we held an online auction to sell everything else. With bids starting at $1, it was heart wrenching to see high-price items sell for so little. It was even more depressing to see that our handmade garden art wasn’t going to bring in much either. These people are so darn cheap! They don’t appreciate the craft, the beauty, the art. All they want is a good deal! But then everything changed on the day of the pickup.

If you’ve ever wanted to let go of stuff but somehow talked yourself out of it, consider how much positivity your letting go could have on somebody else who is on the receiving end. One guy bought our bed and mattress. As George helped him dismantle the frame, he told us that he works with a shelter and was getting it to help a homeless person get back on his feet.

Another woman bought a rusty old bench and a bird bath that we had made out of an old salad bowl, a piece of wood and cast iron legs of an old sewing machine that we painted turquoise. She told me that, since her husband passed away a couple of years ago, she started taking on creative restoration projects. Being creative and working with her hands keeps her busy and makes her happy.

A couple came in with a huge trailer cart attached to their vehicle. They drove all the way from Sonoma County. They took our sofas, microwave, oven, and various other items throughout the house. Perhaps our stuff will help them furnish a new home. Maybe they were getting it for somebody affected by the Napa fires. Who knows.

A couple with a young kid picked up our kitchen table and chairs for less than $20. We’d carved pumpkins, painted, written songs, and had countless cups of coffee at this little table. Now it was theirs.

A friend of mine bought a good number of our plants and handmade planter boxes and pots that once adorned our yard. George and I had spent so many fun afternoons making those planter boxes, painting them, then filling them up with premium soil and carefully chosen plants. It was time for them to brighten another life now.

Another friend scored two of our handmade console tables. One was our entryway console table that George had made from an oblong-shaped walnut slab. I loved it. The other had a live edge maple top with Honduras mahogany legs, made using Japanese woodworking techniques. It has featured in some of our WineWednesday videos and has always been one of my favorites. Knowing that they will be welcomed and appreciated in a friend’s home is hard to put a price tag on.

It was hard at the beginning. The couch where we had our first jam, the kitchen where we fell in love, our studio where we wrote and recorded many of our songs, the garden art that George had made by hand, the furniture we had made together in the workshop, the vegetable garden we had created last summer, the side patio George had put in a few months ago, the cute porch swing. It was a lot to say goodbye to, but goodbye is not the end.

Now a new family will be making new memories in this home. A homeless man has a new bed. A creative soul has a few new projects to keep her busy. A man in Utah finally got his SawStop. Our friends and family have planters, tools, music gear, furniture, books, and other cool stuff to enjoy. One mover got a few instruments for his daughter while his pal scored a nice TV set. And we are left with just enough: lots of happiness and a newfound freedom.

For us, the most important thing is that we have each other. Everything else is just stuff our memories are made of. How many things do we buy, enjoy for a while, then eventually forget all about? Instead of letting these things collect dust in a closet, why not let them bring a little joy in another household? Why not keep on passing the gift?

“Retired” at 30. What Now? 

Photo from our trip to Hawaii, Feb 2018.

As we finished breakfast today, George asked me:

“What do you want to do today?”

Exactly a month ago, I officially resigned from my position at a Silicon Valley company to “retire” for a year. After two weeks of moving, paperwork and other minutiae, we went on vacation for two weeks. Today is the first “work day” since we got back.

For the first time since I left my job, I was experiencing the “what now” moment. There are so many things to do but I don’t have to do any of them right now. It’s a very strange sensation. As far as I can remember, there’s always been something that needs to be done with an imminent deadline, self-imposed or otherwise. Now I find myself contemplating life outside an office, trying to find the right balance between taking it easy and deep-diving into my next project like mad scientist.

On one hand, a mushroom cloud of possibilities exploding in my brain, competing for attention. The urge to do something before time runs out is ringing the alarm bells. The expansive universe of options is almost making me agoraphobic.

On the other hand, there is stillness. There is space and silence. Space to breathe, to stretch, to experiment. I can finally hear my own thoughts articulate themselves quietly, without being drowned out by the noise. The inner peace is comforting enough to ignore the outer chaos for a little while. It is an introvert’s dream. I’ve even started working out every day. I never worked out. I think that’s a good sign.

It’s relatively easy to be on vacation. You’re aware that you have a finite amount of time, and that the whole point is to relax and not worry about the future. You’ve still got emails to respond to, projects to complete in a few weeks. You’ve also got health and life insurance, a steady paycheck and you might even be getting paid while away. The routine you expect to go back to is a safety net that makes the vacation all the more enjoyable.

“Retirement” however is a completely different beast. There is no fixed end date, and while you may have money set aside, it is hard to accurately predict how long it will last. Health insurance and other benefits traditionally provided by an employer can become a major concern. There are many more variables. Retirement is not vacation. But what is it exactly? Does it have to be so black and white?

Growing up, my only idea of retirement was the usual narrative. People work all their adult lives until they are 65 or so, then they retire and receive pensions from the government or their employer. They stop going to work and stay home, watching their grandchildren, playing mahjong and what not. In other words: they stop working and start enjoying the simple joys in life. However, I was soon struck by a much harsher reality. Not everybody lives to be 65. I saw relatives and acquaintances die in their early 50s or 60s and it broke my heart to think that they never got to enjoy the fruits of their labour in their old days like they planned to.

Work used to be a necessity, to pay the bills. My great-grandfather escaped communist China disguised as a woman to avoid being drafted. Mauritius was a safe haven to raise a family, despite not knowing the language and not having any money. My parents grew up poor, too. They had to borrow money to get a fridge after they got married. Thanks to the tireless work of the previous generations, the dream has finally come true. My generation has a much better standard of living. So much so that we can actually choose our career path and pursue a fulfilling one. I don’t think there is a better way to honor their hard work than to fully take advantage of the opportunities their sacrifices have afforded me. That sometimes means breaking away from good old conventional wisdom and retiring at 30, while the people I love and I are still alive, healthy and financially stable.

The meaning of retirement is changing. It doesn’t have to start so late. It doesn’t have to last for the remainder of your life. It doesn’t have much in terms of guarantees, but really it never did… A colleague of mine (who previously took 18 months off to sail around the world with his wife) put it best:

“We don’t need to have one big retirement at the end of our life. Why can’t we take mini retirements every decade or so?”

I see this “retirement” as more of a sabbatical that I’m taking to pursue other creative projects and see what comes of it. My goal isn’t to sit around doing nothing as long as possible. Rather, it is to nurture other facets of my personality that did not have space to grow and thrive in a corporate environment. I’ve saved enough to survive a year but I don’t plan on using it all up. I intend to generate income, just not in a conventional salaried way. Most importantly though, I’m looking forward to spending more time with the people I love.

I’m aware that I am extremely lucky to be able to afford this year off to myself. While I’ve worked incredibly hard, so have many others who still couldn’t dream of doing this at my age if they wanted to. I hope that I’m not the only one who will benefit from this sabbatical year, but that something meaningful to many others will be born out of it. I hope it will at least inspire more people to think about their retirement plans, their careers, and what it means to be the heirs of the baby boomers’ success.

A few years back, George asked a newly retired neighbour whether he was going to find another job to pass the time. His response?

“I’m way too busy to work”.

Retirement doesn’t have to mean “I will no longer be contributing to society. Here are some alternatives:

  • I’ve saved enough to try something different that may not be cashflow positive but would be rewarding. Could be a startup, could be writing a book, could be volunteering, could be traveling, could be anything really.
  • I’m taking a break to find new inspiration in order to do more meaningful work later on.
  • I’m spending some time with loved ones before I move on to my next gig.
  • I’m starting a new company.

Here’s to many mini retirements. Remember that retirement doesn’t have to last forever. Nor does it have to be cash flow negative.

Written by Sherry-Lynn Lee

Summary

We love writing! Not just songs, but also little anecdotes, stories, reflections that hopefully provide a glimpse into our quirky artistic path. Somehow these unlikely bedfellows, two "perfect strangers" from across the globe found each other in California and turned out to be artistic soulmates. 
 

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