Updated: Oct 13
Great musicians make great art. Successful musicians have bookkeepers.
Miles Davis knew the importance of bookkeeping. He also happened to be one of the most influential and financially successful jazz musicians of all time. Growing up, Miles was taught that to be successful at anything, he had to count his money. His grandfather, (Miles Davis the first) was a successful bookkeeper and landowner in Arkansas in the late 19th century, an impressive achievement for a black man in the south at that time.
In his autobiography self-titled Miles, he recalls the lessons his grandfather taught him. Davis says:
“My father told me my grandfather told him that whenever he got some money, no matter where or who he got it from, to count it and see if it was all there.
One time my grandfather gave my father what he said was $1,000 and sent him to the bank with it. When my father got down there to the bank, he counted the money and there was only $950. When he got back he went to my grandfather and said that he lost $50.
Grandpa just looked at him and said, 'Did you count the money before you left? Do you know if it was all there?' My father said, no, he didn't count the money before he left. '
That's right,' my grandfather told him, 'because I didn't give you nothing but $950. You didn't lose anything. But didn't I tell you to count the money, anybody's money, even mine? Here's $50. Count it. And then go ahead on back and put that money in the bank like I told you.' It was a lesson my father never forgot and he passed it on to his kids.
So today I count all my money."
Miles' grandfather knew what was up...
More important than who gives it to you, where it's going, or how it gets there, make sure to count your money. At all times you need to know how much money you have, who owes you what, and how much you owe to who.
As a bookkeeper at the turn of the century, Mile's grandfather literally counted his money. These days we make it a little easier. You won't need to count your money, there are computers for that.
What do Bookkeepers do for Musicians?
Bookkeepers manage and record all business transactions to generate financial reports to help understand where the business is, where it can go, and how to get there. This is usually done in electronic accounting software such as Quickbooks or Xero.
Firms like BMS Financial offer financial services along with bookkeeping
to help musicians with things like:
Project Budgets & Goal Tracking
Tax Strategy & Planning
Cash Flow Reporting & Strategy
Collecting Payments & Paying
Decide Whether to Repair or Replace an Instrument
You are first and foremost an artist. Your attention should be focused on perfecting your art.
But as your career and your earnings grow, your finances will become more and more complex. Set up a system early and have a plan in place to ensure you stay in a position to facilitate the growth and/or meet your next goal.