Supporting Oneself as a Pianist

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Dear Greg,
You have answered a question as follows.. "don't go into music if you want to be a 'concert pianist.' Even if you've got mad skills, the chances of sustaining a career are next to impossible." despite the fact you then go on to state that there are lots of uses for pianists in the job market. Most people define the difference between a job and a career is a job is a way to make some extra cash, and a career is a steady paycheck to support oneself as guaranteed income. My question to you is, what is it you do to support yourself financially? I hear alot of artists do web design these days, unlike before the computer craze, many took office jobs, some worked in banks and a very lucky few took jobs in corporate, sometimes Wall Street gives a chance to someone without a degree in business. Strange enough, why is it so many artists dont teach music in public schools? Benefits, summers off and pension seem like a reasonable equation for a artist to work by day and practice by night while sharing their love of music with others. It seems to me this would be the career path one would go after making such an investment in attending Juilliard or any other music school.
 - Matt

Dear Matt,

Wow. Let's not confuse my meaning. (Perhaps I've mistakenly been using the words "career" and "job" interchangeably!) In these answers, I frequently find myself encouraging questioners to consider a musical career that doesn't involve trotting the globe performing for large, enthusiastic audiences. Such a career is partly a product of extreme talent and partly a product of pure luck. My point is: when a pianist seeks the fame and glory of the concert stage, he or she is probably on a path to disappointment; when a pianist is motivated by the genuine love of music, he or she will certainly find a satisfying musical career. There are countless fulfilling ways to make money as a pianist not wholly limited to performing on the concert stage. (Please view the "Ask Greg Archives: Career" for examples.) Yes, teaching music is one, but there are many more possibilities.

"What is it you do to support yourself financially?" This is like one of those questions one of my distant relatives will ask after a concert. "So, that was great Greg, but how do you plan to make a living?!" The answer: I play the piano and compose.

Seriously.

I keep a busy concert schedule, both as a soloist and a duo pianist. My recordings are self-produced and selling well, so I actually make money when you buy one. Please buy one. I'm a YouTube partner, so YouTube pays me when you watch my videos on YouTube. Do it. Click on those ads next to the videos! :-) I receive commissions and royalties from the works I compose for The 5 Browns. Liz and I sell my piano duo scores to the public; you can buy them on the scores page. That's most of it -- performing and composing! -- although I do give lectures here and there, I'll publish my book someday (someday!), and I have other surprising plans for the future in the works. At the moment, I don't pursue any financial gain through teaching, web design, video editing, or accompanying -- with everything that excites and consumes me, I simply don't have time.

Some people think I'm savvy, but I'm doing what feels obvious to me. I'm following my mission ("to make classical piano music a relevant and powerful force in society") in every avenue of my professional life, from my performances, compositions, concert programs, and recordings to my websites, videos, and book. My mission is ever present in what I do because I believe in it so passionately. It's not like the things I do are creative, random ideas; they are born from an innate necessity -- from a desire to make what I love relevant and powerful to others.

I'm not in it for the money, and it bothers me when people become preoccupied with this facet of the profession. Every time I check this website's Google stats, I see dozens of people finding the site through some variant of the following search: "How much money do concert pianists make?" I mean, really?! For real?! If you care about money, please don't become a pianist. You may or may not make a significant amount, but that's definitely not what it's about.

I really believe that if you are doing what you truly love, you'll find a way to survive. I'm not prancing about in piles of cash, but I manage to find enough doing what I do to pay my bills. I wish I had more (it would go right into recordings, videos, and websites!), but really, when it comes to money, my only concern is that I have enough to keep doing what I love.

- Greg