Ian Mbugua: My 10 tips on turning talent into profit

Ian Mbugua, teacher, singer, actor, director, entertainer, husband, dad and grandpa.
Music has become a legitimate source of livelihood in recent years. More and more consumers and promoters are learning to appreciate the art and pay artistes enough to live on.

Ian Mbugua has been a fixture in the industry for decades as a music teacher and mentor.

He’s won the hearts of many aspiring and established musicians by guiding them on managing their talent, especially when fame comes knocking and the money gushes in.

Here, he shares his top 10 tips on turning passion into a career.

1. Seek financial independence

Independence is key in turning your music career into an enterprise. I never depended on anyone from when I began my music career, especially when it came to financial matters. My family wasn’t well off, so I didn’t get too much financial support when starting out. I pursued independence, and that’s helped me manage my career path and stay relevant for years in an industry that’s largely believed to have a short shelf-life.

2. Pick strong cheerleaders

From the onset of my career, my family has always had my back. They were the first to know about my acts and performances. They were the first to turn up and fill the room – and not necessarily for free – whenever I performed and were my cheerleaders. They paid for my gigs first. This helped other people gain confidence in me, and look where I am now.

3. There will be rainy days – save for them

I taught myself the art of saving in the early stages of my career. As a result, financial shocks have never forced me to quit teaching or performing music. I’ve never had to borrow to record. It’s crucial for an artiste to know how to save from the day they earn their first coin. Put aside some money from every gig and you’ll be able to move mountains.

4. You won’t survive without resilience

I always tell young people working their way up to fame that resilience in this industry is very important. Not every song will be a hit. Not every gig will be full. Not every promoter will pay you. These may be considered failures, but you need to know how to deal with such setbacks. Get up, dust yourself off and learn from past mistakes. If something hasn’t worked, move on. Do not give up. Never give up.

5. Never give excuses when you fail

Many aspiring musicians give up when they face a challenge, and then give flimsy excuses for quitting. What does this mean? That they’re definitely not cut out for greatness. That’s why resilience is such an important trait; without it, there will always be an excuse for not reaching your potential.

6. To get to the next level, hire the experts

This is one lesson artistes need to learn if they’re looking to translate their music career into a viable financial source. As soon as you decide to treat your music as a business, engage the services of a manager, register a brand and register with collective management organisations like Performers Rights Society of Kenya and Music Publishers Association of Kenya. This will help you cover the thousands of kilometres you need to cover that much faster.

7. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day

Don’t jump into the music industry and expect to start making money immediately. Few musicians walk this path. Success takes time, and you may need to run a side hustle to pay the bills before that lucky break comes. This can take years. Patience is paramount. The bottom line is that you’ll get your share of the industry if you put in the time.

8. Agree to be mentored – and to mentor

Mentorship can take you places you wouldn’t get to on your own. A good mentor will see the talent in you that needs nurturing, but you need to accept the lessons and keep your hunger for success. And when you do get up there, help the ones below you grow; don’t look down on them.

9. Financial success doesn’t happen overnight

Never forget that it takes hard work to make it financially in any field. Once you’re successful, it’ll help to remember that it didn’t happen overnight. When you do succeed, don’t let it get to your head. When you forget the doors you had to knock on to open and get swallowed up by success, it’ll be the end of you. Pride is a recipe for your ultimate downfall.

10. Don’t live beyond your means

Don’t waste your money living a life that pleases others today – tomorrow, they’ll be scolding you for your financial inability. Flashy clothes, cars and parties won’t help you make money in music. They’ll just eat into your savings.

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