Smart Musician Guide
Wrap Your Head Around Backups — Musicians Edition
You know you need it but just the thought of it is so… boring. I get it. I get that feeling too and I’m a techie! That said, if making music is your business, then you have to set yourself up for success by being prepared as much as possible. Here’s how to do it.
The gist is, you want
- a setup that makes sense for your work
- a physical backup (or two) — this would be the fastest recovery method
- a cloud backup — slower than physical, but good to have in case your physical backup is also lost.
- a workflow that will allow you to focus on music, not backups!
Here are a few types of files you might primarily be concerned about
- Your “finished products”: releases, artwork, and any other accompanying document. You need to be able to access those from anywhere, quickly. For that, I recommend saving them to a synchronized cloud storage service like DropBox, Box, iCloud, GoogleDrive so that you can get to them from any of your devices anytime. I personally use DropBox, which is $9.99/month for 1TB
- Your recording projects such as Logic Pro X or ProTools sessions. Depending on how much you’ve got, it may or may not make sense to have it all in Dropbox. I personally save the recent ones/the ones I’m currently working on in Dropbox for easier collaboration. If you are very prolific and are running out of space to store them, you could move those to an external drive. Let’s call this your archive drive. You may have multiple ones.
- Your sample libraries and loops such as EastWest, Ivory or ThatSound. These easily take up a lot of storage. Left on your main computer, you will quickly find your system slowed down to a crawl due to lack of space. It would make more sense to move those to a separate drive. I am moving all of mine to a 4TB external drive that I call the sample library drive: https://www.logicprohelp.com/move-logics-additional-content-secondary-drive/
Physical Backup + Cloud Backup service
Dropbox and similar services only provide a convenient way to access particular files (that are in the Dropbox folder). It does not store all your other stuff such as app data, mail, downloads, documents, etc. For that, you want a true backup system. Preferably, you want both a physical and cloud backup for extra protection.
First let’s talk physical backup. If you’re a Mac user, you already have the most intuitive backup system at your fingertips: Time Machine. If you’re on Windows, perhaps Genie might be a comparable alternative. If you’re on Linux, you probably don’t need my help ;-)
Time Machine basically stores a copy of your system and files and allows you to “go back in time” by restoring your system with all its files exactly as it was at a particular point in the past. Let’s say you installed some new software that completely screwed things up, you can just go back and pretend it never happened. How far back you can go depends on how much storage space you have for the backups. Time Machine will do an initial full backup (which may take an entire day), then incrementally save the changes you make. It’s very easy to set up. You can also encrypt the backup.
There is one catch. Time Machine backups are not bootable. If your computer’s main drive is completely fried, you need to be able to boot from something before you can restore from Time Machine. For this reason, it is also advisable to have a bootable backup of your main drive. This would especially come in handy when you’re on deadline. You can do so using Carbon Copy Clone ($39.99) or using the Mac’s free Disk Utility to do it manually. CCC allows you to schedule it and make automatic incremental backups, which is nice.
Why do you need this? Well, let’s say someone broke into your house and stole both your computer and your backup drive. Then what?
I am currently researching options. Here are a few:
BackBlaze offers unlimited storage, advanced security features, they’ll send you a hard drive anywhere in the world for free if you need to restore your data. It has a 15-day trial and then it’s about $5/month per device. It works with both Mac & Windows.
Synchronize! Pro is the only one that offers a bootable backup. It seems to also offer unlimited storage and archiving capabilities to free up space on your drive. Unfortunately it does not support versions of Mac OS more recent than 10.10. We are currently on 10.14 so that’s a problem in the long run if the software is going to be discontinued. It works on Mac only.
CrashPlan keeps your deleted files forever, has unlimited storage, advanced security features. It is used by many large corporations so it is unlikely to go away soon. However it is the most expensive option I found so far. It offers a free month trial then is $10/month per device for the small business option. It works on both Mac & Windows.
Arguably, the online backup systems could be a replacement for the physical backups. The only caveat is that, when on deadline, you want to be able to get your stuff fast.
Remember, you want a “set it and forget it” system so that you can do it once, then go back to way more interesting tasks like making music :-)
The tips were compiled from a forum discussion I had with a few other ladies (and gents) in the biz. Thanks to Patti Boss, Carla Kay Barlow, Anne House, Michelle Lockey, Bill Lefler for sharing their strategies with me.
Venues & Bookers Will Love You For This
Top 17 things to do to make sure you’re booked again
You’ve landed a cool gig. Maybe you’re really new and you just booked your first coffee shop feature. Or maybe you just scored your first festival or showcase. Every new gig is an opportunity to make new connections in the music business, no matter how small the venue or audience. You always want people to feel like they were lucky to book you. It’s not hard to do, but it is all in the details.
Before the gig
- Make sure you know where to go, what to bring, who will be the point of contact beforehand.
- Decide on your set list. You should at least know how many songs you can fit into your allotted time slot.
- Think about your banter. Is this a venue where people will want to hear the story behind your music? If so, which story do you tell? Refresh your own memory so you don’t stumble on stage. You want to be as professional as possible to make your booker look good!
- Promote the event. Everybody loves some help promoting their event.
At the Gig
- Bring your best attitude and be flexible. You’re an entertainer, it should be fun to be around you. Introduce yourself to other musicians if you get a chance.
- Show up at load-in time. If applicable, ask where to put your gear until it’s your turn to soundcheck, so that it’s not in other people’s way.
- Once you’re there, stick around until you’re done soundcheck. Don’t have people chasing you around when it’s your turn.
- Try really hard to remember everybody’s names: the sound engineer, MC, volunteers, anybody who’s helping out. It does matter.
- Thank everyone personally before you leave.
- If it’s a new audience, repeat your band name a few times.
- Mention your social media and/or merch if applicable.
- Thank your audience.
- Thank your host/venue and the event staff.
- Do not apologize. It doesn’t make you appear humble. It makes you appear unprofessional and undeserving of the audience’s time. Even if you make a mistake, the show must go on.
After the gig
- Send a thank you note. Bonus points for physically mailed thank you cards.
- Tag the venue, organizer, photographer etc in your social media posts about the event. If a photographer provided pictures, make sure to give them credit whenever you post those photos!
- Share any posts about the event. Promote them. Reciprocity is the name of the game.
There you have it! Have we missed anything?
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.”
“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
“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)
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.
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
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.
- Rental car
- Taxi/ride-sharing services
- Baggage fees
- 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.
- 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
- 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)
- 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
- 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.
If you have a home office/studio, you can deduct the following, pro-rated for the square footage and percentage of business use:
- 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 supplies
- Shipping & postage
- Office cleaning
- Shredding services
- Security system
- Office decoration, soundproofing
- 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.
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:
- 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:
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!
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SONGWRITING & PRODUCTION
Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV - Robin Fredercik
Song Starters - Robin Frederick
Study the Hits - Robin Frederick
Writing Better Lyrics - Pat Pattinson
The Addiction Formula - Friedemann Findeisen
Mixing Secrets - Mike Senior
Plain & Simple Guide to Music Publishing
How to Make It in the New Music Business - Ari Herstand
Break the Business - Ryan Kairalla
Hack Your Hit - Jay Frank
The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory - John Seabrook
The Art of Asking - Amanda Palmer
Tribes - Seth Godin
Linchpin - Seth Godin
Predictably Irrational -Dan Ariely
Thinking Fast & Slow - Daniel Kahneman
The Innovator’s Dilemma — Clay Christensen