Touring is one of the funnest things about being in a band. But too often, bands mistake touring for an excuse to party. When my former band, The Kitchen, toured down the West Coast in an ‘87 Dodge Prospector that was ready to die, and we mostly partied and ate out a lot and put thousands of dollars on a credit card, I learned the hard way. Looking back practically hurts my brain (and my wallet). When you’re funding your own tour/party-on-wheels, and big payouts aren’t guaranteed at venues, you end up literally paying the price in the long run.
Now there’s this thing called remote work. I wish I’d thought of it back then. About 53 million Americans are independent contractors, and nearly 40 percent of them rate flexibility as a top benefit. You could become a digital nomad: working during the day and playing shows at night. Goodbye tour debt, hello sustainable music life.
I know this is a hard pill to swallow, and of course it’s not a cure-all. There’s still the matter of getting along with your bandmates and playing the shows you actually want to play. These are subjects anyone could write a book about. For now, I’m just going to delve into how you can go about working freelance so to make affordable life on the road a reality.
Tech You’ll Need
You’ll need a laptop or a tablet, and since you’ll be doing work in the van for at least part of each day, you’ll need a device with which you can access Wi-Fi. Thankfully, this has never been easier.
Most smartphones and carriers now offer a Wi-Fi hotspot with the phone—all you need is to be in range for service. Depending on your carrier, Wi-Fi hotspot data could either come with your plan, or you may need to pay extra. For the sake of earning money on the road (which I’m going to call “shotgun freelancing” from here on out, because you’re freelancing while sitting shotgun in the van), you’ll probably want to go with an unlimited data plan that includes unlimited Wi-Fi hotspot data. Running out of data while you’re shotgun freelancing will definitely spoil the gig.
If you really want to be serious about this, pick up a mobile hotspot device specifically designed for your needs (here’s a list of the best ones for 2018). These won’t drain your cell phone battery, and they’re high-powered and secure. Coverage is limited to what a carrier can provide. You can add the device onto your existing cell plan for the cost of adding an additional line. Check and see if your carrier has any deals running.
Sites to Use
The nice thing is there are a lot of platforms to help you out. These are basically go-betweens. They connect you with whoever has demand for remote freelance work. The downside is you don’t make quite as much money as you would contacting each job source yourself. The upside is you’ll have a reliable, steady stream of work and won’t have to spend the time researching and contacting each work source and setting everything up.
Inc. offers a curated list of sites, among which nDash is of particular interest to writers. Through nDash you’ll create content for companies. You get to name your price and you can pitch your own ideas. Businesses will get a hold of you and negotiate the particulars.
Another great pick from this list is Speed Lancer. You don’t have a ton of time while you’re shotgunning, and Speed Lancer offers jobs that take a maximum of four hours. You’ll be able to see how much the task pays right away, then you sign up, receive an email, and voila—cash.
Moonlighting is a little more like a social network—you create a profile, and it offers the service of marketing you to businesses based on your skills and experience.
Then of course there’s always the huge site Upwork. No matter what your specialty you can find shotgun work here.
Tax Things to Know
You’ll need to file quarterly tax returns as a freelancer if you make more than $400. For this, take advantage of e-filing. According to Villanova University, e-filing programs have integrated smartphone and tablet apps, so that’s good for your purposes. It makes everything a whole lot easier.
Here’s a pretty awesome thing to know about: You can write off your business expenses as a freelancer.
According to Turbotax, these include:
● business-related foodstuffs
● office expenses
● required equipment or materials
Be honest, your late night taco truck run doesn’t count as a business expense—unless you’re working at the time. Additionally, if you buy the laptop for freelance purposes, write it off. As far as lodging goes, you can probably write that off if you establish your band as a limited liability company, but that’s a different story. You can also write off that second phone for your shotgun Wi-Fi. Write off all the miles you drive while freelancing.
What’s more, the new tax law means you can deduct 20 percent of your earnings from your taxable income. Get a Schedule Form C-EZ and keep track of all your expenses and income.
I know this is a lot, and you’re in a band, so you’re probably not the type of person who wants to keep track of all this stuff (hell, who is?). But like I said at the beginning, this will pay off in the long run. Be smart while touring and you’ll be able to tour consistently until you’re getting paid enough for the music so you don’t have to do anything else.