by Nate Dorr

So you want to be a rock star or rapper? Take a tip from superstar Jay-Z, whose interview in Newsweek laid it out for those kids dreaming big. He says, “Only about 10 to 20 rappers are in the game making money with album after album. Do the math and get your education.”


Lance Benson, a Bemidji-based musician, says it’s pretty hard to make a living at music without a backup plan. Benson honed his musical talents for over 19 years. He has four CDs, iTunes sales, and put thousands of miles on his vehicles to pursue a career in folk music. But, he says, it’s all about blending passions. In addition to being a musician, he is a low-voltage installation specialist for home security and entertainment systems. This career path required a specialized degree and is what really pays the bills. 


“It’s nice to have the fall back and not worry about the money,” he says. The steady income allows him to buy equipment to support his music career, which is something that full-time touring couldn’t do for him. 


Successful musicians need a variety of business, writing, and money management skills beyond their musical talents. Scheduling and promoting your music requires well developed communication skills. Managing your costs also requires regular accounting and math skills. Getting paid from a gig and paying the support crew or band at the end of the night requires unique interpersonal skills. On-the-job training might simply be feedback from an audience or other musicians. The musician’s learning curve can be a bumpy road.


Owen Weaver is completing a Ph.D. in percussion at the University of Hartford in Connecticut, and is originally from Bemidji. Playing in punk rock bands to solo artistic performances, he sees bands and musicians come and go. His recommendation is to “diversify your prospects, be able to perform, market yourself and others, and handle the business end of your own career.” Weaver says the prospect of landing the perfect orchestral or music administration job is rare.  


The reward for Benson, Weaver, and other musicians is being creative and working with other creative people. For musicians, music is more than a hobby – it’s a way of connecting people through rhythm, melody, emotion, and performance. Music shapes our individual identity in so many ways. Musicians and artists alike bring our society great color and variety to everyday life. Just don’t forget to turn in your college application. Oh, and show up for work on time!