TRAVERSE CITY — Don Julin and Billy Strings display their musical talents by belting out bluegrass tunes, but their music also is a business.
“The skills you need to be a full-time musician are very different than the skills you need to be a successful business person,” Julin said. “But whether you are a musician, an artist or a writer, you need to look at it as a business.”
Julin stresses diversification for artists looking to make a living. He’s worked in the music field since 1988, balancing performing and touring with composing, recording, workshops, audio production and writing. He recently was hired to update his 2013 book, Mandolin for Dummies, after it sold more than 10,000 copies. He also sells CDs and has music carried on Sirius and Spotify. In the past year he’s focused on his collaboration with Strings.
“If you can balance the art with the business, you can do this the rest of your life,” Julin said. “If you are driven to be an artist, you figure out how to make it work … and do it.”
Julin and Strings are among countless artists looking to “make it work” in northern Michigan. Todd McMillan at McMillan’s Custom Framing applied his art background to retail framing when he went into business in 1988. He’s often adding his creative vision to framing projects.
“I’ve been so lucky to be able to make a living doing what I love for the past 25 years,” he said, noting his shop shifted focus as consumer demand for custom framing and original artwork increased. McMillan also is an advocate for art promotion and enterprise among his Front Street colleagues with the downtown art walks and art fair.
Musician Jeff Haas earned half his income last year through major composing commissions. He also performs with ensembles at large main stage concerts, as well as local venues like Chateau Chantal and Cambria Suites; hosts and co-produces the New Jazz Archive carried on Michigan public radio stations; and leads Building Bridges with music school programs.