“Money for nothin’ and chicks for free” was a teaser for aspiring musicians in Dire Straits’ 1985 hit “Money for Nothing,” sometimes also known as the “I Want My MTV” song. The song was intended to be humorous, playing up the perks of being in a rock and roll band. Yet there are people who envision that lifestyle and believe that it’s a cinch to obtain it.

Don’t get into playing music if you think that is the reality — or if those are the only rewards you’re seeking. To be successful for the long haul, you should want to play or write music for the right reasons. And it’s important to educate yourself about both the craft of music and the business of making a living at that craft.

At the beginners’ level, don’t skip your K-12 band or orchestra programs. You won’t know how much playing those Sousa marches or “Claire de Lune” will help you to write or interpret your own compositions years down the road. Also seize opportunities to play or sing with ensembles outside of your school. There now are many “School of Rock”-type organizations, either independently owned and operated or aligned with park districts or museums.

The Old Fire House Teen Center in Redmond, WA was offering a place for young musicians to perform, interact and learn from professionals, many years before that trend took off. Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle and The Recording Academy, with locations in many major cities, also offer music camps and competitions for kids and teens. And don’t overlook the National PTA’s Reflections festival, which encourages students to submit recordings of music they’ve composed or performed. Participation in such programs can greatly expand your horizons and give you new perspectives on how to present your music to wider audiences.

At the college level, my friend Mitch Gallagher is spearheading an applied music curriculum at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Berklee College of Music in Boston and Full Sail University in Florida are also among the very best places to study the art and business of music. Depending on your budget or personal circumstances, you may not be able to take advantage of what these particular schools can offer. But do take advantage of what you can do, within your own circle of friends or your own hometown, to practice and perfect your music.

Remember, “Money for nothin’ and chicks for free” doesn’t necessarily exist in the real world.

Onstage with Lois Lane in Chicago.



  1. I can’t even begin to tell you how often I have to burst that bubble myself – great blog!

    • Thank you for your kind words Petra! I’m sure you know this familiar story. I was impressed by your improvisation blog. That skill is paramount when composing. Letting yourself sound sloppy in order to let the music out is key to creativity. Please stay in touch!

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