Busy…But Broke!

Member to Member

Volume CVII, No. 7/8July, 2007

Rosanne Soifer

Why does more work not necessarily add up to more money?

This is not a contradiction. Many musicians look to take on loads of freelance work — often on top of steady gigs or a day job in another field — without calculating the hidden costs of burning the candle at both ends. And these hidden costs are not just about health.

Many of us don’t plan our gigs and schedules in terms of time management — we’re usually too busy being busy. Often, the end result is seeing how fast we can tread water, simply so we can brag about it. (Age does not necessarily bring wisdom in this area.)

Musicians also tend to be quite enamored of the fact that we can juggle so many balls in the air at once: some teaching here, a runout there, one week with a rock band, two weeks with a show, a festival in the summer, a recording project in the fall.

How diverse our talents are! We’re so busy and successful!

Then why does the compensation often not match the amount of work involved?


Many musicians can find themselves in the “busy…but broke!” category because they fail to adequately investigate some crucial areas regarding a potential job. Some of these areas may include:

  • Downtime. Is downtime built into the cost of the job? For example, say a three-hour teaching job is actually stretched into two 90-minute classes, with an hour break between classes. However, you are only being paid for the actual classroom hours. And unless the hourly rate is high enough to compensate for the unpaid downtime, your three hour job is actually four hours.
  • Transportation. Unfortunately, not all gigs automatically include cartage and travel. Leaving the issues of tax deductions and reimbursements aside (which are outside the scope of this article), transportation takes time — and time is money.
  • Meals. Killing an hour before a gig (or between gigs) may find you at a Starbucks. Afterwards, because it’s late and you’re tired, you may stop for some takeout. Ask yourself if the gigs warrant the extra food expenses.
  • Prep time. The extensive prep time involved in jobs like music directing, coaching and teaching is often non-billable, unless you specifically include it as part of your quote. (Local 802 contracts recognize that certain activities do take more prep time, so extra compensation is built into certain jobs like contracting, music prep and being a leader on a club date.)
  • “Home and personal administration.” (This is an upscale term I devised to describe housework!) If you become too busy to do routine cooking, laundry, shopping or cleaning, you’re forced to hire a person or various services to complete these tasks. Often they are not cheap. Do you really have the money? Or do you not have the time?


Ask yourself the following after you’ve been doing “extra” gigs for a reasonable amount of time:

  1. Are they leading to other work from outside referrals?
  2. Are they leading to more frequent work from the same source?

At the beginning of a career, we often take whatever comes our way to get ahead, to make some bread, to get our name around. Some gigs never change, but you do. And part of that change is knowing where to say yes, how to say no…and when to move on.

Rosanne Soifer is a member of Local 802. She can be reached at