Friday, August 12, 2011

musical practicalities

Another thing that's been bothering me lately: things I wish I'd learned in music school. Basic, practical matters about how to live life as a musician. For example: taxes. Taxes for a freelancer are so confusing. There are so many different income sources, many for just a couple hundred dollars, and then there's what you can deduct and what you can't, and what category to put your deductions in, etc etc. Northwestern offered little seminars on these things, but I always said, I'll wait until I'm in grad school til I think about those things. Which is fine, because I probably would have forgot anything useful I'd learned by the time I actually had to pay taxes 3 years later. But I guess I was assuming that USC would have similar offerings, which of course they don't, because their music school is a bureaucratic mess that seems to be slowly disintegrating while all the money continues to flow into the ethically-challenged football team. Oh and into Colburn. So anyway, I never learned that stuff.

Nor did I learn that in Los Angeles, if you own your own business (and yes, being a freelance musician is considered owning your own business in terms of taxes), you have to apply for small business license from the city. Now, if you apply for it and you make less than $100,000/yr, you don't actually have to pay taxes as long as you show the city what you make. If, however, you don't do anything, you owe back-taxes on the pittance you made, despite the fact that if you had done your paperwork on time, you would owe nothing. Cool, huh? And a complete waste of hours trying to figure this stuff out. Not only that, but you must divide your earnings into teaching and performing. More fun.

Finally, I was in my car the other day and Marketplace was on NPR. It was the part of the show where they take questions from listeners about their financial situations. One of them was from a guy who was 28 and had worked a job for a few years where he had started a retirement fund, and was now going back to school. He wondered what to do about his retirement fund. At the same age, I thought, $&#*, I don't have a retirement fund! I don't know anything about retirement funds! Because my income doesn't come from any one source, I have no plan in which my company matches what I save or some sort of investment package. I don't how much I should be saving per month now, or what's normal for people, or what then end goal is. I know the musician's union offers something, but the number of union gigs I get in inconsequential, so I doubt the union would be much help. So for now, I'm probably just going to save what I can and hope for the best. The present economic situation isn't exactly helping my peace of mind, either!

So anyway, go Northwestern for actually making an effort to help people with these things, and boo USC for not doing so. But really, I think it would be great if there was some sort of "Musicians' Econ" class offered at music schools that was mandatory to graduate. Because it really would make life easier.


Diving Off A Cliff said...

I'm curious ... when you pay taxes on your freelancing/teaching gigs, do you have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes as well?

Gabrielle said...

Well, I have to pay a self-employment tax, which I think is probably the equivalent of paying social security/medicare taxes. And of course the part of my income that is through an employer has that already taken out of it.

Natasha said...

I've been thinking the same things lately. Why do they only teach you how to play excerpts in school, since many of us will be making a living outside of an orchestra? And how am I going to save for retirement?! Sometimes I think I'll be working till I'm 80.

Gabrielle said...

Me too!