Guitarist Cameron Mizell

New York Guitarist & Composer

The website of New York Guitarist Cameron Mizell.

Dear 1999

This post is part of a group blog event organized by MusicianWages. We decided that, as the decade came to a close, in lieu of a "best of" list, we'd ask a single question for other musician bloggers to answer. Here was our question:

“If you could go back to 1999 and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?”

Dear 1999 Cameron:

By this point you've finished your first semester of college at the University of North Texas. Five months ago you thought you were pretty good at guitar. Remember that? Life is different on the college level, and everybody is good. Really, really good. When you leave school and move to New York City, people will assume you know how to play. There are a few things that set people apart: Creativity, professional behavior, and simply being friendly. Luckily, these are things that come naturally to you. So instead, I've got a piece of advice for you that will otherwise take you years to discover. Nobody is going to tell you this flat out, and certainly not in music school.

Spend less money.

To be more specific, keep your cost of living as low as possible. Unless you're lucky (and sorry to burst your bubble, but you won't be), it's going to take a few years to generate a living wage as a working musician. Meanwhile you'll have to find other kinds of work to make ends meet. The more expensive your bills, the more dependent you'll be on non-music related work right after school.

When you do start working as a musician, a lower cost of living will allow greater creative freedom. There are a variety of musician jobs with steady pay, but they aren't always the most musically satisfying. Your strength is in writing and arranging original music, and you'll develop good management skills while leading your own bands during college. Initially, developing your own material requires a huge time commitment with little financial return. But if you can turn down a few one off "hired gun" gigs every once in a while and instead focus on your own material, you'll be much happier.

Perhaps the most important lesson about money I've learned in the last ten years is that it's easier to start out in a habit of spending less than it is to retrench. Once you've gotten used to making a certain amount of money, it's difficult to cut your costs and adjust to a smaller income, especially as you get older.

You'll do pretty well in the next ten years. You'll find opportunities to learn about the business side of the music industry and apply it to your career as an independent musician. Learn to be resourceful, and don't hesitate to try something new. Your only limitations are those that you create for yourself!

Speaking of self impose limitations: Start singing. You think you can't sing because you were kicked out of that choir when you were a kid, but they never gave you a chance. Singing doesn't come as easily as guitar, but your voice is just another instrument that requires some focused practice, which is something you're very good at. Singing is a skill that will double your value as a musician. Trust me on this one. Get in the practice room and shed your vocal chops.

A Balder You (you knew that was coming), Cameron December 30, 2009

For an index of all the answers, please visit MusicianWages.