Adam makes a plan for livin’.
In part one of “Getting Down To Business” I talked about my decision to make my leave from the U.S. permanent, and about some of the challenges facing me, and anyone planning to make the same move, in terms of making a living. In part two I’m going to talk about what my actual plans are for how I’m going to make this work.
Plans Should Be Flexible
I’m a great believer in good planning…but you can only plan for so much. Good plans leave room (and backup plans) for things to go wrong…and also for things to go right. Once you put your intentions out there, and you show that you are sticking to them, opportunities tend to find you. There’s a good chance things will come up that you can’t predict that will send you off in new directions. But first you have to make a plan and point your boat, and adjust course when new things comes your way.
For anyone planning to make this kind of move, once you understand your expenses, you have to assess what your assets are – your skills, your financial position, and your tools – and organize them to figure out how you’re going to support yourself. I’ve made those calculations and this is what I’ve come up with.
Step One: Selling Out In The U.S.
Unless the domestic situation really deteriorates — and I’m watching it very carefully (I’ve been predicting some sort of collapse for awhile now and since I can’t stop it, the only silver lining to being right about that is to not be around when it happens) — I need to go back to L.A. for a short while.
If it winds up being a bad idea I don’t absolutely have to, but it would be wise. The reason is that, although I sold off a lot of my possessions before I left, I kept everything I would need to restart my studio business if I decided to back out of the Asia plan. I can’t leave expensive musical equipment laying fallow (or in the possession of friends) indefinitely – it’s likely to get damaged or lost over time, or people will just forget it belongs to me. I need to make some final disposition of most of it – liquidate, import or leave on long-term loan.
Though I could do this from here in theory, selling out remotely is just not very practical. My drummer Kurt Medlin’s been holding a Wurlitzer electric piano of mine for nine months and despite its obvious value we’ve never managed to sell it. It’s just too much of a hassle to line up a buyer and get them to a third party to make the transaction, especially when you’re in a completely different time zone from everybody. It really requires somebody driving the process in person.
Therefore I need to go home and make some final determination about what I’m going to sell, what I’m going to try to bring to Asia, and what I’m going to keep in the possession of my friends. This is going to be an excruciating process. I’m going to have to sell off some things I really love having and will miss. But it has to be done – and the money I realize should replenish my coffers for awhile as I make the transition.
There’s one huge danger for me though – going back to L.A. is going to be enormously expensive – plane ticket, new car, rent, insurance – and though I plan to reopen the studio for a period of time, there’s no guarantee I will have any business. There are plenty of other small studios in L.A. (other pop guys in Reseda even) that are doing perfectly competent work, and though I have confidence that I bring something individual to the table, I simply don’t know if I reopen Karma Frog for a time anyone will show up.
Thus I have to make a very careful calculation – I have to be home long enough to sell off my stuff and do whatever work there is (and record whatever tracks I need to bring with me to work on later), but short enough so that if there isn’t any work, I don’t just sell off my stuff and wind up using that to pay for an expensive vacation back to California, and come back to Asia empty-handed. That would really be a bad outcome.
At the moment, two months seems about right. If there turns out to be more work or a compelling reason to stick around, I can always pay a little extra money to postpone the ticket. But even if the bottom completely fell out and there was zero work, I should still be able to absorb two months in L.A. and be ahead on selling off much of my gear.
And then, if all goes well, I should be heading back to Asia with a little more money in my pocket, and a plan to make a go of it here. And here’s what (again barring some game-changing opportunity coming my way that I can’t anticipate now) I plan to do:
1. Karma Frog Studio-Asia
Setting up Karma Frog to record remotely was part of the original plan. The idea was that I would continue to work on projects while I was floating around the world and I set up a working studio, that I’ve been carting around with me, wherever I went.
This plan has not worked out very well. I have been able, with a few glitches, to record out here and do a little mixing, so that part of the concept has proved out….but the work hasn’t been there. The only recording I’ve been doing is overdubs and working mixes on Rob Martinez’ third album. It’s going well, but no other work has really come in.
This is not all that surprising. I haven’t pushed the recording business very hard and in general people would rather work with somebody who they can have a consistent relationship with, in person or online. There are reasons I haven’t really pursued this much. To do this regularly on the level I was doing it at before, I really need a bit more equipment than I can put in a suitcase on a plane, and a stable place to work from. (Also, honestly, I was burnt out from working eight months straight in 2017 and needed time away from it entirely)
Looking ahead, though, I think I’d be foolish to not reboot Karma Frog. Recording is something I’m really good at, and relative to other things I might do, it pays well. It would have to be a different kind of business, but there’s lots of things I can do – mixing, editing, overdubbing instruments onto other peoples’ projects, maybe even scoring, and I could still do tracks for people – provided I have a good set of speakers and a few more instruments to work with than I have now. And there would always be the option of coming back to L.A. periodically to do a “pop up studio” if there was a reason to – but I suspect other people will pick up my old workflow (they already have) and though I hope I’ll regain some of my old clients I’ll probably have to find a lot of new ones. And that’s fine.
Right now I’m looking for a place where I could rent a cheap, but safe, long-term housing unit to set up a working studio to use as a base. I could still go to other countries (I could even rent the unit out on Air B’n’B while I was gone for extra income, though I have to look into the tax implications of this), and I could do so more cheaply if I have a place to leave my stuff, because I won’t be paying hefty baggage overages. I’ll also have to think carefully about what equipment I would bring over from L.A., since it is at increased risk of being damaged and also if I bring over too much stuff I’ll have exposure to customs duties. Some things, like monitor speakers and keyboard controllers, can be bought here without too much trouble. But it wouldn’t take much to get back to about 80-90% of where I was at before. I need a few more tools and a stable work environment.
Once I reconstitute the studio in some form, and have a decent handle on the new setup, I’ll be in a position to actively advertise and compete for work again. I think I’ll be able to find some, once I put it out there. It won’t take much to make it worth doing.
But I have other musical plans, too…
2. Expand Karma Frog’s Music Promotion Wing
Music promotion has been a minor part of the Karma Frog business, but we’ve had some decent luck getting our artists on the radio, particularly Mod Hippie and Rob Martinez. Because it’s secondary to the recording business it’s been limited by necessity…but I think the model is sound. Instead of trying to market to Rolling Stone, you seek out the writers and stations that are most likely to be receptive to what your artists are doing, and scale the cost accordingly.
Now the shoe is on the other foot – the recording business is not doing very much, but we have a number of new releases for the label in the pipeline (and I’m hoping we’ll finish a few more when I go back to L.A., though that depends on the clients’ interest in that), and starting this week I’m going to be completely rebuilding our promotional contacts. I’ll have a lot of time, then, to focus on promotion…and that’s a really interesting area to get into, because I think it could fill a huge void.
There are people all over the U.S. and elsewhere recording music, but the biggest problem for anybody in today’s fragmented market is to be heard and find an audience. Radio promotion and publicity is enormously expensive and its reach is tenuous.
My idea is to put together a promotion plan (or, really, a number of plans) that are specifically targeted and scaled so that they would be affordable to most bands and would get them to the most receptive outlets – the most possible bang for one’s buck. This is similar to what Karma Frog is already doing but for the first time we would open it up to outside artists.
Another thing that could make this unique is that I’m in a position now to really develop, and focus, on international markets.
Getting further into promotion is a really exciting idea for me because it offers me a way to stay social and connected to the music world, while still branching into new areas.
3. Expat Consulting
The idea that I could coach other people to interface with overseas cultures, whether it’s something as simple as dating, or medical tourism, or as complex as a complete move to another country, has been in the back of my head for awhile, but recently it’s really come to the forefront of my thinking.
With recent political developments in the U.S., there has been an sharp uptick in people that are seriously considering a move out of the country. Many are waiting to see the outcome of the elections in November. No one knows what will happen, least of all me, but regardless of outcome I strongly suspect the United States is in for some rough times, probably rougher than most people have really processed yet.
If it becomes attractive for Americans to seek better lives outside the country, I’ll be in a good position at that point – having just done it myself – to act as a go-between, assistant, or consultant for people that want to make the jump. It will also be a good experience for me, because in doing research for other people I’ll increase my own well of knowledge for how to live better here.
I did this for years, working for Becker CPA Review, Devry and then for various law firms around Los Angeles. It’s something I’m very good at and very fast at, and I have (obviously) strong skills in English. If I compete for this work, I will get it – it’s just the least enjoyable thing I might do so I’d prefer to find a few steady clients rather than make this my main focus.
One thing I plan to do in the next few months is reach out to some of my old contacts and see if they have any opportunities, but there are also online work sites like upwork.com that I can look into. I know from experience that it’s better to freelance without middlemen taking a cut – I’ve already gotten some good leads from friends – but I will probably register for some of these sites anyway so I can learn how it works and pass on that knowledge here on the blog and also for potential expat consultees who want to know how they can make a living as digital nomads.
5. This Blog
While it’s not a huge amount of money, the income from subscriptions and donations to I Just Disappear has made a noticeable difference to my monthly bottom line. It’s more than, say, my investment income…and the nice thing is the longer I continue the blog, and the more useful content I add to it, the more opportunities there are to find new subscribers and a new audience. Unlike, say, selling an album, it’s a gradual process. The longer I do it, and the better I make it, the more it will hopefully grow…and the blog feeds into all the other options above quite nicely.
6. Miscellaneous Stuff
Those are the five things that I plan to focus on, but there’s more stuff I could conceivably do. Playing gigs and teaching English locally. Copy editing. Translation….who knows what else. And that’s the key. If you’re ballparking this kind of move, think about all the talents you have, and how many of them you can make location-independent.
The great thing is you will not need nearly as much money as you do in the U.S., so you can get creative and try things that might not be worth your while if you had to make a western income. You can do that fun thing you always wanted to do but couldn’t because it didn’t pay the bills. Well, now maybe it can!
The monthly nut I have to get to to be stable long-term is $1,500 USD. If I’m working for western clients, this is not much. There’s a bunch of different ways to get to that number. I am going to have some room to experiment and try things out to see what’s going to be the most fun and effective way to make that nut. I’ve already been working hard on making these things happen, and June has an outside shot to be the first month since I left the U.S. when I break even. I probably won’t make it, but even getting in spitting distance is progress.
Everything takes time. Sustained effort, coupled with good planning, brings the win.