Building Your Portfolio Career Part 1: Imagining the Mix

Portfolio career is the term used to describe a professional path involving multiple streams of income. This profile is commonly adopted by artists of all stripes. I, for one, have developed a portfolio career, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Advantages of a portfolio career include:

  • The opportunity to control your own activities and schedule
  • A flexible framework for reaching earning objectives
  • A variety of activities and challenges
  • A structure that enables you to pursue passion projects
  • Interaction with multiple communities, allowing for great networking
  • Freedom from corporate politics
  • If you don’t get a full-time job, this may be your only option

Assuming you enjoy variety, the primary disadvantage of a portfolio career is that most of this most work is self-employed. You’ve got to hustle, market effectively, and create a solid career model. After all, no one else will do it for you. You must also be extremely good at time management.

This series of posts will help you design a blueprint for a portfolio career that reaches your earning objectives.


With your skills, interests, attributes, and connections, begin by determining major income stream categories where time and energy might be divided. Limit this list to seven entries. Here are the large-scale categories of my career:

    1. Composing
    2. Performing
    3. Teaching
    4. “Expert services”

Expert services refer to activities built around a particular platform, or what I call a Powerhouse Topic. For more information, click here. My powerhouse topic is built around arts careers/entrepreneurship. 

  1. Merchandise sales
  2. Writing
  3. Miscellaneous

Please note that there may be more than one way to group income streams. For example, composing and performing might be combined under the single heading Musician Services. The important thing is to organize categories in a way that makes sense to you.


Within each large-scale category, go into more detail. What specific types of activities might you do? Since we’re just at the brainstorming phase, feel free to list as many options as imaginable, even if all don’t wind up being part of your eventual plan. Again, here is my list, with comments in boxes.

    1. Composing/arranging
      • Commissions 
      • Royalties 
      • Prizes & grants 

While competitive awards like prizes and grants can certainly provide income, it’s usually unwise to depend on them as reliable revenue. 

    1. Performing
      • Concerts (headlining) 
      • Gigs (background music)
      • Accompanying
      • Other playing work

Notice that concerts and gigs are separated here. Someone else might lump them into a single sub-category, which is fine. To me, they feel like very different activities, and require unique marketing to acquire.

    1. Teaching
      • College teaching
      • Private lessons
      • Teaching artistry
      • Festivals & camps

I actually have a full-time college teaching position. Just because you have a job (with an external employer) doesn’t mean that a varied portfolio career isn’t possible or desirable for you.

    1. “Expert services”
      • Speaking engagements
      • Consulting
      • Private mentoring

If your powerhouse topic is something people care about, a number of professional opportunities become available. Better yet, being known as an expert often leads to additional work in other categories.

    1. Merchandise sales
      • Book sales (through distributors/wholesalers/dealers)
      • Book sales (through website/back of the room)
      • Musical score sales
      • Recording sales

Two categories of book sales are listed here.  That’s because the earning structure is quite different depending on where and how it sells.

Notice that score sales are listed under Merchandise. They could just as easily have been placed under Composing/Arranging. In your blueprint, place streams where they make the most sense to you.

    1. Writing
      • Books
      • Blogs
      • Articles

It’s only the rare occasion when I get paid for writing blogs or articles. (The financial benefits are indirect.) But they play an significant role in my schedule. In a portfolio career, think not only about what will earn income, but also where time must be spent.

  1. Miscellaneous
    • Investment income
    • Conducting
    • Other

We will discuss passive income sources, such as that produced by investments, later in this series. If this money is generated specifically for a long-term purpose such as retirement, you may not want to include it in your income model.


Here are a few observations when reflecting on the model above:

  • Quantity. My Portfolio Career Blueprint includes seven large-scale work categories and 24 sub-categories.  Don’t feel pressured to have that many streams. A portfolio career may have as few as two to four focuses. On the other hand, some people do much more than I do.
  • Variety. Most of my entries have at least something to do with music or the arts. But they don’t need to. Many artists pursue a much wider array of activities: playing music, cooking, website development, day care, painting, dog walking, etc.
  • Brainstorm. Remember, at the brainstorming phase, you only need to determine areas where you might earn income. In the eventual model, some of these paths may ultimately disappear.

Stay tuned for part 2…


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