Since the creation of memes (humorous images, videos or pieces of text that are copied and spread online), the Internet has buzzed with jokes about the difficulty of being a musician. One popular meme shows a picture of a run-down car, filled with musical equipment, with text superimposed that reads, “Musician: Someone who loads $5000 worth of gear into a $500 car to drive 100 miles to a $50 gig.” Despite the obvious embellishment, there is still some truth to the statement, considering how expensive equipment is for a musician and how little many clients are willing to pay for our services.
But fret not, there is a light at the end of the money tunnel. It’s called knowledge. The more you know about where to find good deals on equipment and instruments, the better off you are when it comes to your bottom line. To help you keep your bank account above the red, we’ve come up with 5 ways to help you save on your musical gear:
1. Stay educated- Whether you’re just starting out, have been going for years or are simply looking to up the gear you have with better quality, nothing helps you more than knowing what’s out there and where to find it. For starters, there are a ton of websites and e-newsletters you can sign up for that provide weekly deals on equipment that might otherwise be unaffordable. Websites like Musiciansfriend.com, Amazon.com and even Craigslist offer new and used gear with a variety of options in terms of shipping or picking it up from a location in your area. Generally, it’s safer to buy used gear from well-known sites, rather than private sellers, given rating systems available regarding those sellers on sites like Amazon. But if you do decide on Craigslist, use good judgment and try to research the seller first and test the gear or instrument out thoroughly before purchasing.
Buying from a well-established merchant does have its bonuses by offering warranty protection. Nobody wants to take time out of their day to return a busted P.A. system, but at least if you have to, you have the option with a warranty.
When it comes to buying steelpans, there are plenty of companies to choose from in the world, but the safest often offer financing options to help you pay it off over time rather than in a lump sum. The old guard of paying when you feel like and they’ll send you the pan when they feel like it is dying. It’s becoming an era of professionalism in business dealings, which is making it easier to get quality instruments. Just do lots of research and ask lots of questions before settling on a drum. If they ship it, it ain’t cheap.
2. Make More Money- I know what you’re thinking. It’s easier said than done. But in today’s market, there are tons of ways to add to your revenue stream that both involve and don’t involve music. Ride services like Uber and Lyft give you the option of using your vehicle to add to your income. If you know you won’t be booked solid on a steady enough basis to generate a living, work one of those aforementioned companies into you schedule, get approved and hit the busy streets of downtown.
If you don’t have a sufficient vehicle for that purpose, there are other options. Many working musicians have degrees, or at least, strong backgrounds in music, that they can leverage by teaching. Put up an ad on Craigslist as a music tutor on whatever instrument you feel comfortable with and get started. It’s inexpensive and tends to work fairly quick. Websites are easy to create with do-it-yourself options like Wix.com and Weebly.com, and cards can be ordered at the click of a button through sites like Vistaprint.com. Starting a side business today is made easy thanks to the Internet. If you have space to host students, have them come over by appointment. If not, head to their house. Just be mindful of the responsibilities that come with, including issues with underage students and safety issues regarding liability if accidents occur. Insurance of some kind might be a good idea if it becomes a regular gig.
3. Buy a reliable vehicle- If you have one, great. But if your car or truck is getting a little long in the tail pipe, check out sites like Edmunds.com or Auto Trader to get an idea of what you want and the prices. Use Kelly Blue Book to know what the car you want is worth and start searching for a fair price. If you are looking for an out-of-the-box solution, contact a local rental car agency to see what models they are getting rid of and find out how much they want. Most of the time, they just want to dump inventory to make room for new cars. The same goes for fleet departments at car dealerships. The next time you pass a Toyota or Ford dealer, drop in and ask to speak to a Fleet representative. Ask them what they want to get rid of and how much; it might surprise you.
If you’re really strapped for cash, think about auto auctions. They’re easy to find in your area and, as long as you don’t mind waking up at the crack of dawn, can offer great deals.
4. Buy, sell or trade with other musicians- This one seems obvious, but it’s often overlooked because we often think it’s better to buy new or even used from a reputable vendor because equipment is checked by professionals. This isn’t always the case. People are people and can make mistakes, regardless of their job title. Friends can too, but it’s less likely depending on the type of relationship you have with them. Keeping in touch with friends who play the same instrument as you can be huge, especially if they have a rare instrument, such as a Bertie Marshall Tenor or Ellie Mannette Signature Series Triple Guitars.
5. Ask for advice from people like you- The pan world is bigger than you think and from my experience, everyone just wants it to grow more so we have more places to play and people to learn from. Hit up a local player for advice when you get stuck. You may get more than just a musical acquaintance, but a friend for life.