[Harp-L] Reality Check/long

Okay, I have always maintained that it is a problem with our culture
that it is taboo that we do not discuss our money and how we make it,
so I will try and lay my career on the table.

I have been playing harp 23 years.  I have only once made a living
purely from performing.  In 1998 I got the call to be the harmonica
player in the pit of the preBroadway and Broadway productions of The
Civil War, written by the guy who wrote Jekkyl and Hyde and The
Scarlett Pimpernell.  All in all the experience lasted a year.  I made
around $1500 per week, but had two months unemployment between the
Houston and New Haven preBroadway versions of the show and had to move
a total of 11 times getting from Austin to the preshow cities to New
York and back to Austin.  Plus, in case you haven't heard, New York is

It did become clear to me that the New York union is very strong and
if one could spend five years in New York making Broadway money union
gigs, one could live very comfortably on a pension for the rest of
one's life.

Other than Broadway, I have had two serious bands that have come close
to providing a living.  They actually would have provided a living,
but my philosophy has always been that if I have time off, I need to
find a way to earn money during that time off, so I would find other
jobs both music related and not to supplement my income.  Both of
these bands performed an average of 5 to 8 shows a week.  One band
remained in Austin, the other toured all around Texas.  I have been in
bands that have toured the Southern states.  Contrary to popular
belief, I see touring as mostly a good way to lose money.  It can be
very fun, however.

What I have been doing since 2000 is relying on private music lessons
as the bulk of my income.  For a long time I have been charging $35
per hour.  Come January 1st, I will raise my rates to $40 per hour.
If you are my student and you are reading this but have been coming to
me for under one year, your rate will remain $35 until a year has
passed, unless you can afford the rate change with no hardship.

I see this rate as very inexpensive.  My theory is people need weekly
lessons to progress.  If I keep my prices low, they will come weekly.
They will learn, they will see the value of the lessons and keep
coming. If they come weekly, ultimately the money adds up.

I teach around 20 students per week.  At least 10 students have been
with me more than a year.  At least 5 have been with me for over 3
years.  I love my students and consider them my friends.

As Larry said, sometimes students start lessons and quit after only a
few lessons.  I am so grateful for these students.  I would happily
accept many of them.  My philosophy says that these students are
paying me money as well, even if only $35 to $100.  A few of those
every month really adds up.

I also teach at the University of Texas Informal Classes.  This is an
evening class that anyone can enroll in.  The class runs 6 times a
year.  It is a 4 session class, with each session being 2 hours.  UT
pays me $160 per class ($20 per hour), which I am very grateful for.
Sometimes the class is cancelled due to poor enrollment, then I
receive no pay.  It normally has anywhere from 4 to 25 students.  I
cannot figure out why the huge disparity in student numbers, but it
seems to alternate from class to class.  UT provides a great
opportunity to meet private students.

Each UT class student is required to purchase my book.  Throughout the
years I have sold my book to many a student.  It is a 74 page Kinko's
copied book that talks about all of the basic techniques including
overblowing and talks about some basic theory.  For $20 I'll send it
to you, that includes shipping.  Go the the paypal button on the
lessons page of my wbesite.

I also have a CD of my music.  I mostly am a sideman at gigs and I do
not think it is appropriate to sell my CDs if it is not my gig, so CD
sales are slow, just a few a month.  When it came out it sold much
quicker.  For $15 including shipping, I can be yours.  $20 gets you

I record around 2 sessions a month.  Although I quote $75 per song, I
am a softie for my friends and in Austin, I have a lot of musical
friends. The rate becomes anywhere from free to the $75.

I am a regular member of 3 bands.  I also get hired regularly as a
sideman for shows where I am not a member. I seem to gig an average of
3 shows per week.  Austin shows pay nothing.  I can expect $30 per
show, am satisfied with $30 to $75 and I am blown away at anything
higher than $75.  In general, Austin shows are 1 hour in length, it is
rare when I play 2 sets.  However, I get there early for sound check,
leave late for getting paid and I carry a big bassman.  Still, every
little bit adds up.

I teach at harmonica conventions such as Jason Ricci's Rocking in the
Rockies, Jon Gindick's Harmonica Jam Camp, The Kerrville Folk
Festival's Harmonica Workshop, SPAH,etc.  Some of these pay for my
hotel room, which I am grateful for, and some pay me a nice sum of
money.  I'll leave that amount between me and the conventions.  But
these situations also create great opportunities to sell my book, CD
and meet new students.  I have many phone students.

I am working on a harmonica instruction DVD that is in a standstill.
Someone doing the next step for me is doing it for free, and is
therefore taking more time than I would like.  At this point, the DVD
just costs me money.  Hopefully it will be out by August in time for
SPAH and will accomplish helping lots of people to learn more about
harp in a fun way and help me make a living thru sales.

I have been in the Austin Independent School District substitute
teacher system since 2000.  In order to remain in the system, I must
sub 5 days per semester.  I choose to stay in the system because you
never know when music will not provide.  Also, if you want to buy a
house or car it is easier to explain to sellers from that yes, I do
have a job,call this phone number to verify it than to explain that I
am a professional harmonica player.

Also, like I said earlier, if I have time off, for example a day with
no students until 4pm, I cannot stay at home and practice or laze
around when there is possible money to be made.  This semester I have
subbed 12 days.  I love teaching and kids, so it is usually fun for
me.  As you probably know, sometimes kids behave poorly for a sub.  I
am pretty good at not letting it bother me.

I pay for great health insurance coverage with dental and optical.  I
also pay for collision insurance on my car.  My health insurance comes
from my wife's job.  I pay $160 a month for great coverage.

If she were to get laid off I would go to HAMM, a musician's insurance
that covers dentals and 80% of catastrophic health issues.  They pay
for the majority of doctor's visits and  prescriptions at a very low
copay based on income.  Apparrently they do not cover spouses, which I
do not like. We would have to search for good coverage for her.  There
is a separate musician's insurance for mental health care called Sims
that not only covers spouses but friends.  The copay is $20.

Of course, one must consider what money is going out.   I have credit
card debt, electricity, food, fun, rent, etc. The bills always seem to
get paid on time, I always feel broke.  Who knows what would happen in
an emergency?  Hopefully we do not have to find out.

My theory has always been, make some money every day and it adds up.
Also, every year I intend to give myself a raise.    I set a goal and
I always seem to make it.    Is the economy hurting me right now?  If
you looked at the last 4 months, I would be way ahead of my goal, so
it seems not to be affecting me right now, of course tomorrow is
possibly a different story.

Michael Rubin

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