So much of our focus as professional musicians comes down to making money, since it can be such a difficult thing to do at times. However, you might get just as close to financial security if you take some steps to focus on saving the money that you do make.
Of course, this is true for everybody, not just musicians. Some things are (hopefully) common sense, such as not going out to eat every day, avoiding expensive coffee beverages, and regularly depositing into your savings. However, musicians can end up with extra expenses compared to the average person, such as gear maintenance, gas expenses for travel gigs, website maintenance, and hiring costs for other musicians. Below you'll find a few musician-specific tricks for saving money that have helped many pro-musicians – hopefully they help you make money easier to hang on to as well.
1. Learn DIY maintenance
As musicians, we put a ton of use (and perhaps, abuse) on the tools we use on a daily basis. This includes our instruments, vehicles, equipment, and any technology that gets used regularly. Naturally, with heavy use, these tools begin to wear down and need repair. However, repair work can be very expensive, especially if you have a lot of gear that gets heavy enough use to warrant regular repairs and maintenance.
Thankfully, with a little research, the power of the internet, and perhaps a smart friend who knows what he or she is doing, you can learn to do your own maintenance and repair work on many of these tools yourself (at least on a basic level). If you can learn to work on your gear and vehicle, you'll save yourself tons of money down the road.
As far as gear maintenance goes, if you don’t have any friends who know enough to help you, you can find free clinics given at many music stores. You may also consider paying a professional tech for a repair lesson; it will pay for itself quite quickly.
2. Build music store relationships
If you're fortunate enough to live in an area inhabited by small, locally owned and operated music stores, make a point to pick a favorite location and become a regular customer.
If you're playing a lot, you probably go through tons of picks, strings, drumsticks, heads, cables, and lots of other small accessories. By doing business out of the same local music store regularly, you not only support the local economy, but you can begin to build a friendly relationship with those who run the shop.
Musicians will discover, more often than not, that locally run music stores are grateful to those who do business with them frequently, and they'll usually be willing to cut you good deals as a result (or at least, fair deals where you won't have to worry about being overcharged).
As an added bonus, getting involved with the community of shop regulars is a great way to network. Pro players probably go through more strings/picks/sticks/heads than anybody; if you spend enough time at a shop, you'll likely run into some pretty well-connected folks!
3. Network at local jams instead of at pricey concerts
One of the most common threads among professional musicians is that they go to tons of performances and get to know the scene by going to shows. However, going to a concert every week can quickly begin to tax your income. Local jams are another great way to get out and enjoy live music. Afternoon club jams are also a great way to network and try out new ideas that you've been practicing.
Most decent-sized towns tend to have at least a jam or two that happen every week at a bar or venue. Many of these jam sessions have specific genre themes, such as blues, jazz, or country, where many local up-and-coming players in each genre like to hang out. The best thing about these jams are that most of them are totally free (unless you buy drinks)!
4. Barter services with other musicians
It's really important to get to know other musicians, as other musicians are the ones who are most likely to hire you for your musical services. Sometimes, you'll need to be the one who does the hiring. Whether it's getting some lessons from a local instructor, calling some players for your next gig or recording, getting somebody to write arrangements for your original music, or finding somebody to help mix your new album, you might find yourself stuck if you don't have the funds to compensate the people you need help from.
Most musicians will frequently utilize the barter system with musician friends when short on money. The barter work could range from engineering demo sessions to cleaning houses. I know a bass player (a fishing fanatic) who bartered some of his fishing equipment on a trade for a few bass lessons from a great teacher, (who was also into fishing).
You might ask somebody to play on your next recording in exchange for playing on their next recording or do a one-off gig for barter. There are lots of ways to go about it; just make sure that you're keeping track of what services you can offer, so that (down the road, if this comes up), you have something useful to offer as a trade.
Important Note: Generally, bartering services works best with musicians who you're already friends with. Folks who don't know you might be a little reluctant to jump right into a trade offer when they don't know your skills yet and haven't worked around you before.
5. Trade up your gear
Not all musicians are crazy about gear, and some folks have no interest whatsoever when it comes to checking out the next awesome piece of equipment that just hit the market. However, many of us are always chasing after a better instrument, amp, pedal, or accessory. Guitar players tend to be a crazy bunch for lusting after trying out the best gear on the block. But, if you don't have the money to spend, try building up to new gear by simply trading up. Perhaps next time you want a new piece of equipment, try to trade or sell a few pieces of gear that you haven't been using regularly in order to fund the new stuff.
If this is something that interests you, then start keeping tabs on the market value of all of your equipment. When it's time to pick up something new, just look around the area where your gear is. What aren't you using regularly? What's easily replaceable should you regret selling it? Then, take to Kijiji/Cragslist/eBay/Reverb/ ...whatever used gear website you prefer.
Of course, an extra tip in itself is to check into buying used, before buying brand new. Many items that are in "like new" condition will be cheaper to buy used than it would be to buy in a music store. Additionally, since you're dealing face to face with an individual rather than a business, you can haggle to your heart's content. And sometimes, you can even arrange a straight-across trade; i.e., the pieces they're selling in exchange for whatever it is you're selling. This is a great way to get new equipment without spending a dime.