How to Make a Living (Part 2)


Kenny, should I take that second job instead of endpin into foot?

Where is the money at for most upright bassists? It is in weddings, clubs, and concerts; it is in entertainment. One of my friends/drummers gigs at clubs, the fortunate part is that he enjoys playing pop songs. Because of this, he gets the best of both worlds; good pay and frequent gigs. For others, playing pop songs and Kenny G’s top 20 is more painful than taking off your crutch tip off of your upright bass and driving your sharpened endpin tip into your foot.

It’s not easy to be a performing musician. Some people are fortunate to get paid well frequently performing the music that they like. As you get more artistic and creative with your music, the harder it is to get wide acceptance, which means it’s harder make a living. Most avant-garde musicians will starve without supplementing their income through other means. I’ve seen this too often sadly: Highly talented and creative musicians who have a lot to offer, but don’t make enough money to even support themselves. The toughest part is that the financial strain makes it almost impossible to be fully free and creative.

This is not to discourage you future upright bassists from pursuing music. On the contrary, I want you to thrive and be successful. If you can play pop tunes and Kenny G, all the while go an be creative, then you should be set in the future. On the otherhand, if playing those gigs will cause you to burn out as a bassist altogether, consider harnessing some skills in another field, and for students this means picking up a minor with your degree.

Most musicians do have second jobs, but they just don’t mention it because there’s some stigma about it. There’s a quote out there, “Being a starving musician is romantic when you’re young, but it’s depressing as you get older”. If you’re going to get a second job, at least empower yourself to have options and get paid well for doing it. From firsthand experience, my additional business education in addition to my music degree has created the opportunity for me both make a decent living and still be fully creative doing gigs in the evenings and weekends. Even when I was gradually getting burnt out doing pop songs to pay the bills, I was only playing evenings and weekends anyhow, but now I get to choose what I want to do.

How to Make a Living (Part 1)

In my final semester as an undergrad, there was a mix of emotions. I was thrilled that I achieved my goal; I’ve completed the curriculum and was finally getting my Bachelors in Music as an Upright Bassist. It’s a fantastic goal for me since 90% of entering music students at most universities do not graduate. I also remembered that I was faced with the reality that I would need to start my career and make a living.

Years later, I never once ever regretted pursuing music and getting my bachelors in it. The wealth of skill, knowledge, and history in music that you get from immersing yourself all day, every day for 4-5 years is something that will serve you for a lifetime. I knew that if I didn’t, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. Even as my career deviated from music for certain years, the degree and the experience that came with it was always fond to me.

As great of a program that California State University, Long Beach’s (Bob Cole Conservatory of Music) program was, it’s just like any other liberal arts program; they develop you into an employable musician, but it’s up to you to create your career. Here’s where some of my fellow students and acquaintances that were bassists (upright and/or bass guitar) have landed. Each will be covered in future parts of this series.
  1. Performing Musician
  2. Music Educator
  3. Music Business
  4. Non-Music Related Fields
Many do not limit themselves to one of these career fields exclusively.