Full-Time Musician’s Guide to Annual Planning (with Free Template Download)

By Jason Stallworth

January 12, 2022


I’ll start this off with the old saying ‘People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.’ And I’d venture to say that most of us creative and free-spirited musicians cringe at the thought of making a plan.

Whether you’re a full-time or part-time musician, planning for the year should be high on your list of priorities. If it hasn’t been, I hope this article changes that.

In this post, I’m going to share:

  • My personal 2022 annual planning (to serve as a guide)
  • How to perform a S.W.O.T. analysis for your music business
  • How to assess and create a plan of action for your ‘must-wins’ for the year
  • How to plan without being overwhelmed (my method simplifies this process)
  • How to keep up with daily tasks, stay focused, and be organized
  • FREE annual planning template that you can download and use (***SEE BELOW)

Video Version: Annual Planning for Musicians

***I encourage you to read the full article below as there are things I cover in this post that I did not cover in the video.

Why You Should Treat Your Music Like a Real Business

Now, you may be asking yourself ‘Is annual planning really that important?’

Take a moment to reflect back on the prior year. Did you get that album or single released? If so, was it released on time? Did you accomplish more than 50% of the things you said you would do (musically)? Did you reach any of the major milestones you had wished for?

It’s easy for us to act based on how we feel. After all, that’s how a lot of songs and lyrics are written. Those moments are seemingly bestowed upon us and songs are born from that passion.

But if you’re always waiting for those opportune moments, you can count on never reaching your full potential as a musician. And though we don’t like to think of money and music together, you do need to make a living from what you do best.

Taking the time to write out a plan is going to help to stay focused on those specific goals. And keeping that plan close to you will help you ensure that you’re daily activities are aligned with those goals.

As we go through this process, you’ll see that I’m using my 2022 annual planning as an example. Understand that your goals may be different than mine; they do not have to be the same. But this will give you a better idea of how to apply these methods to your music career.

S.W.O.T. Analysis for Working Guitarists and Musicians

If you’ve ever worked in the corporate world or have taken any businesses courses, you’re more than likely familiar with the S.W.O.T. analysis. But have you used this to assess the goals of your music business? Get ready…

A S.W.O.T. analysis is assessing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. I recommend writing these out (or using the template spreadsheet in this post) to reflect on each of these from the prior year up to the current point.

Here’s what my S.W.O.T. analysis looked like from my 2022 annual planning session:

StrengthWeaknessesOpportunitiesThreats
Guitar coursesRevenue consistencyBoosting revenue with adsNegative feedback
Audience building and engagementOverall revenue (volume)Build automation and systemsAds and promotions to the wrong audience
Diversified and expanded talentPlanning and schedulingPlan, schedule, and organize
Brand buildingOrganizationFocus more on what’s working
Live gigsAdvertising challengesEliminate non-essential work

When listing your strengths you may come off as a bit egotistical. That’s okay. You need to be honest about your strong points. Those are the things that are driving your music business so you’ll need to not only continue with those but find ways to make them even stronger.

Your weaknesses will be the ‘thorn(s) in your side.’ These are often the things we don’t like doing or just downright struggle with. For me, it’s advertising, specifically Facebook and Google ads. I spent a lot of money in 2021 on ads and the results were not in my favor.

***A side note of weaknesses: There may be some things that you can work on and get better at while there may be other tasks that you want to outsource to an expert. I’ve considered that with ads but I really want to learn that process. In any case, this is something to consider. For example, maybe you need help with bookkeeping for your gigs, music gear, and other related purchases. Hiring a bookkeeper could help you focus more on what you’re best at.

Opportunities are can be the fun part. As musicians and songwriters, we’re also the visionary for our craft. This is where we can come up with ways to push ourselves forward.

One key opportunity for me was eliminating, or at least reducing non-essential tasks. The truth is that it’s easy for us to make up ‘busy work’ which often makes us feel like we’re achieving something. Just remember that you can put a ton of effort into running in place yet not go anywhere.

Potential threats exist in any business, and we as musicians aren’t exempt from that. For example, you’re playing live gigs, there may be competition with other bands trying to play those same gigs. This is where you can go back to your opportunities and assess what you can do that’s different or better or out of the box that other artists are bands don’t bring to the table.

Although I gig as a solo artist almost every weekend, the bulk of my revenue comes from my guitar courses and other online sales related to my music. So my potential threats are things like negative feedback or wasting funds not promoting to the right targeted audience (ex: As a heavy metal and acoustic artist, I would not want to promote to folks that like jazz or hip-hop).

Annual Goals and Objectives for Guitarists and Musicians

Once you go through your S.W.O.T. analysis for your music business, you’re ready to assess your core goals for the year. More importantly, you’ll want to list how you plan to achieve those goals.

This doesn’t have to be a lengthy list. In fact, none of this should feel overwhelming. If it starts to, take a step back and think of just two or three major accomplishments that you want to go for that year.

Also, you’re not posting the minor details here. We’ll get to that soon. These are major goals and should be listed at a high level.

And you’ll want to use the S.W.O.T. analysis to determine your goals and plan of action. Below are my high-level goals for 2022.

High-Level Goals ====>>>>>Plan/Objetives
Collective annual revenue = $____ (revenue consistency)Boost sales with ads + organic growth, and increase opportunities for royalties with music releases
At least 1 album and 1 single releaseCreate an aggressive schedule to have the album complete by end of January
100K YouTube subsCreate more focused and evergreen content, expanding with live gig content and content beyond just metal (include vocals, too)
100K FB and 20K IG followersPotential growth with ads and more consistent posting for organic growth (focus on local well to promote live gigs)
At least 7 live gigs per monthPromote, use appropriate hashtags, build a larger local audience, repurpose live shows for social media videos (promote!) and use for YouTube videos
INVEST!Invest in local businesses, specifically craft beer and music venue opportunities

My first goal is income-based. Any business owner knows they must generate enough revenue to support their household and that was a challenge last year. I opted to not share my revenue goal for 2022 but I encourage you to write down a specific income goal.

Other goals are built around continuing to build my brand, building my audiences, promoting my products, and what I do musically, which all work together.

Lastly, I would like to get beyond just supporting our household to generating enough revenue to invest so that we can continue growing. I have a heart for supporting small businesses, as I’m essentially one. And I’d love to ‘tap’ into the craft beer industry as an investor or partner later this year.

Special Note: Don’t Try Boil the Ocean

As I reflect back on 2021, I was supposed to have released an album and a single. That was part of my annual planning for that year.

But what a minute…I DID plan!!! What happened?

I attempted to ‘boil the ocean’ as one of my prior bosses used to warn me about. I planned but I piled an overwhelming amount of goals on my plate. Whereas I made some great progress, I was also stressed about the things I didn’t accomplish.

This also aligns with what I mentioned earlier in the opportunities section about eliminating non-essential work. Many of us don’t feel like we’re doing enough if we’re not constantly busy. Look, being a musician can be a lot of work. But if the things you’re doing aren’t moving the needle forward, they’re only holding you back from focusing on what’s most important.

You’ll notice that nothing I’ve presented is overwhelming. It’s all simplified as I have scaled back my goals and plans, and I’m confident that’ll reach all of them. If I end up doing more, that’s just icing on the cake.

Detailed Planning for Music Projects

Now that you have your high-level goals, you can take them to the next level by assessing the music projects you want to accomplish for that year. This is the 2nd tab in the planning template I give you on this page.

I like to plan these projects by quarter. For example, in 1Q2022, I have an album to complete, a few YouTube collaborations, and start writing for another project. I feel like that’s more than enough. If I had any more, each project would not get the effort it deserves and needs to be great.

Each quarter thereafter, I have even fewer projects listed. That will likely change depending on how the first-quarter projects go. But the goal is to list the most important projects that you want to accomplish and give yourself enough room to put 100% into each of those.

Here are my major projects for 2022 (I also list some of the details to help me stay on track:

QuarterProjects
1Q2022Complete and release the ‘Overcometh’ album:

– Record guitar and bass in Jan
– Write lyrics and record vocals in Jan
– Get album artwork created in Jan
– Determine who will mix and master the album in Jan
– Setup, promotions, merch in Feb
– Release in Feb

YouTube Collaborations:

– Mike Shroedder in Jan
– Cliffhanger in Jan
– Elizabeth de Deus in Jan
– Ken Candelas in Feb (after theory course release)
– Ben (Carcass) in Feb

New Rock/Acoustic album:

– Start writing material for the new album
2Q2022New potential gothic rock or melodic death metal project – questions to assess:

– Is this a solo album or band or project?
– Is this greater than just me?
– Album with story/book, or script for movie or TV series?
– If the above, ‘Jason Stallworth’s Darknysteria?’ 
– Should I sing or hire a female vocalist (or a mix)? 
– Local musicians for band or hire European musicians to capture that vibe? 
– Melodic death metal or dark, gothic rock? 

Singletrack for ‘If You Leave This Life Before Me’

– Have song ready to be released on August 16th
3Q2022Create a plan and start writing and recording for the gothic rock-melodic death metal project:

– Work on existing and write new songs for melodic death metal album
– Determine if this will be an album or band
4Q2022Possible new guitar course (7 string)

One final thing to consider for this section is that you may have other businesses or projects outside of music. So you have to think about those as well when doing your annual planning.

For example, I also run a fitness blog (since 2010). And I’m part-owner of Metal Mastermind, which is the platform for metal musician courses. And those have annual plans as well. So you have to make sure that you’re not loading an unrealistic amount of work on your plate.

You may have another full-time job. If that’s the case, you may want to scale back to just one or two major accomplishments that year. The idea is to give every project 100%. I’d rather see you release one amazing album this year that you can truly be proud of rather than releasing several mediocre projects.

Never confuse movement with progress.

Denzel Washington

Daily Planning for Guitarists and Musicians

At this point, we’ve done everything in a spreadsheet. And you may want to continue that for this next part. But I personally prefer the old-school pen, paper, and physical calendar for the daily stuff.

There are two simple methods that I use:

  • Listing the daily tasks for that week
  • Scheduling major events on the calendar (I’ll also use my Google calendar to set reminders)

Just a simple notepad will do the trick. I keep one in my recording studio and another by my laptop downstairs where I do my non-musical work. This is where I write down ideas, lyrics, agenda for my YouTube videos, and anything that requires planning, which is pretty much everything!

For the physical calendar, I typically use Sunday afternoons to plan for the upcoming week. And I’ll write down the list of tasks for each day.
*And again, for any major events such as live gigs, collaborations, and meetings, I’ll set reminders in my Google calendar.

Staying Focus and Organized as a Working Musician

Let me close by saying there’s no right or wrong way to perform your annual planning. At the end of the day (and year!), your plan needs to cater to your own vision. And the process and tools need to work for you and cater to your liking.

And I’ll reiterate that planning for your music business, whether it’s annual or daily tasks, should not feel overwhelming. Those are the times when you really have to reassess what you want out of your music career.

On the flip side, there are times when you need to push yourself and test your limits. If you’re too soft on yourself, you’ll easily set yourself up for failure, or non-movement and you’ll never get anything done.

I’m still learning the art of balancing things and my wife has been trying to teach me since the day we met.

I truly hope this annual planning process for working musicians helps you! Now get out there and do what you do best!

Keep it Metal,

Jason

Jason Stallworth

About the author

Jason is a hard rock and heavy metal recording artist, songwriter, and published author. Primarily a guitarist, he's known for his melodic style and positivity. He also enjoys helping other guitarists and musicians excel. When he's not writing music or filming YouTube videos, he's helping others build muscle and get in shape on themuscleprogram.com.

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