Making a Successful Living as a Musician: Jon McLaughlin

How do you make a living as a musician? Is it true that there’s no money in music anymore? Can I make money off my art today? Join me as I sit down with one of my favorite musicians and explore these questions.

Making a Successful Living as a Musician

Jon McLaughlin is arguably the best piano player I have ever seen perform live. In fact, my wife and I had one of his songs played at our wedding. So I when I had the chance to sit down with him and talk music, it was a no-brainer.

Growing up in a musical family, Jon grew up playing classical piano. One day after church, the four year-old boy sat down at the piano and started playing around. To his parents’ surprise, they soon realized he was playing the melody to Amazing Grace!

After that, he began taking piano lessons. Jon was great at playing by ear but terrible at reading music, which led to a love/hate relationship with the piano that led to him eventually putting down the instrument for a few years. By the end of high school, however, he was back into music and heading to college to continue his education.

After college, he signed a record deal with Island DefJam Records, started touring, and launched a career that eventually led to pop star Sara Bareilles singing one of his songs. Today, Jon makes a living as a full-time musician.

On this episode of The Portfolio Life, we talk with Jon about why he doesn’t listen to his music once it’s recorded, how he got so good at playing piano when he doesn’t love practicing, and what it takes to succeed as a musician.

Listen to the podcast

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Show highlights

In this episode, Jon tells us:

  • What role his parents played in his decision to make it as a musician.
  • Why talent is a double-edged sword.
  • How he reached out to Sara Bareilles.
  • Why he and his family moved to Nashville.

You’ve got to shake things up every now and again.

Jon McLaughlin

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On being a parent and a musician

  • Who is his hero and why?
  • How does he want to parent his own kids?
  • Were the arts a big part of his home life as a kid?
  • Is there such a thing as a natural-born talent?
  • How does his own parents’ recognition of his talent influence his own parenting now?

Good creative things come out of tough times.

Jon McLaughlin

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Making music his career

  • What would’ve happened if his parents hadn’t supported his musical interest?
  • How being surrounded by music and musicians influenced his career trajectory.
  • Was there ever a point when he thought he would have to get a real job?
  • What was the conversation like when his label dropped him?
  • What choices have helped him sustain his career as a musician?


How have your early influences impacted your artistic career? Let us know in the comments.