How to Make Money as a Musician

Some Reality Advice for Guitar Players

Many musicians dream of the day that they can make some kind of money off their musical skill. Times have definitely changed and finding a record contract just isn't what it once was.

And the chances of that happening now in the streaming era are slim. While some methods of money making are gone, new technology has given us more options. The Internet can help you a lot in getting clients: there are platforms like this that help match demand and supply for audio related services.

Below are some of the best ways to make some money as a musician in these times.

In most cases you will be mixing a variety of the ideas below to come up with some form of income. Regardless of the job details or materials needed they all require hustle and lots of motivation.

Unlike other careers music doesn't need a degree if you have the talent which means lots of competition!

The Reality

Like any business or job position you enter in life you need to be aware of the risk and reward. Many of the ideas below require investment of time and money.

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Don't think your talent will carry you to a paycheck, some of the most horrible musicians in the world become famous for silly reasons. And if you don't come from money or know famous people, you're going to be living in a dreamworld.

And that's not a grand statement on socioeconomic inequality, just the reality of the world we live in.

One of the main reasons it is hard to make a living with music is you need money to pay bills on a constant basis. Even those who have a higher education in music find themselves on the same playing field of having to work in other industries to earn a living.

In a culture that loves music but doesn't want to pay for it, those with discipline, talent, and LUCK will divide the few spoils!

It really is a dog eat dog world in some cases. Look at how many cheap instruments and bad lessons are sold to a world of naive music lovers. Beginners told they can easily play something, when we all know it was horrible at times to practice so much.

And look how many musicians spend so much time just trying to get people to listen to their songs. The students and the audience are inundated with ok, average, and crap. You have to stand out above all the nonsense.

Here are some general suggestions:

Do's

  • Learn everything you can about your instrument and music. Don't ignore theory, embrace it!
  • Play as many instruments as you can. Of course if you want to excel in one you need to spend lots of time practicing it, but having a broad understanding helps.
  • Having a skill in common is ok but learn how to put your own stamp on it. A million young kids have 6+ string guitars that they can play warp speed minor scales on. Find a way to tweak it and stand apart.
  • Keep the creativity flowing. It is part of the job and not easy. Whether you play, teach, or sell; music is better when you're getting new ideas.
  • Be aware of terms, agreements, and contracts you sign. NDA's are pretty standard and you are bound by the agreements of most sites.

Don'ts

  • Don't work for free! Seriously stop that exposure nonsense. Yeah we all do it at some point in our careers. But what other job do you work for free!
  • And you can't ask others to work for free. Broke artists coming together for a common goal is fine, but don't play the exposure game with others.
  • Be careful how much you invest. Will the home studio pay for itself with the audio you produce?
  • Bad decisions are a bigger deal with this lifestyle. You are responsible for a lot more and rude Rockstar behavior doesn't fly if you aren't famous.

Playing

This covers a lot of ground and is the normal way people think about making money as a musician. But now with the Covid pandemic this way of life has been overturned. And that's putting it lightly, that virus has been a hurricane of destruction to live music.

Even before, playing live music has never been easy, depending on the style you choose can involve a great initial expense.

Busking

When you see folks playing on the street for money they are busking. This one is the cheapest and easiest way to make money. Ha! That's a joke.

Granted you can save money on equipment in some cases, but do you have the guts to just play in front of strangers? Especially in a foreign state or land? You better know the laws and be prepared to fend off drunks or jerks who wish to harass you.

Study the musical styles of cantastorie, troubadour, and other storytelling in song form. Watch famous YouTube street performers for ideas.

You aren't just a musician on the street corner you are a performer and need to get people to open those wallets. If you are a great one man band, street playing may be suitable and you will also meet other artists.

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Venues

Whether you are playing college bars or outdoor festivals live music has some potential for making a buck. But it also has its downsides.

You may need to purchase and transport pedals, amps, cords, mixers, and all the gear for the instrument you play. God forbid you play the drums! You also need to deal with venues paying in exposure or beer. In most cases playing live music is more a labor of love for those who love the live music life.

As mentioned Covid has turned this on its head. Now many musicians use live streaming with links to their PayPal or Venmo. In the beginning this worked well and garnered many tips, now it seems to have worn out its welcome. It's simply not the same for most people watching a concert on Zoom.

As things get back to normal focus on live venues like corporate entertainment, children's parties, and senior communities where you stand a better chance of pay.

Play covers and originals. "He who pays the piper calls the tune". If you want their money, play the tune they ask for.

Music Therapy

This one usually requires a music degree, unless you can show a history and previous skill use. One way to get started at this is to find a job at a large senior community or company for assisted living.

This will allow you to talk with the recreation department and you will see other concerts, entertainment, and therapy examples. In this case a little low pay/free initial work may be necessary to build a portfolio.

Volunteering for seniors or those with health issues is a cause worthy of free work!

If you take some simple local course on counseling or social work this can increase your chances as music therapy is more than just playing music.

If you have a soothing voice and calming demeanor this job is perfect for you. While there are specific genres and scales suited to therapy it is mostly just finding ways to connect musically with a patient to bring them some relief and joy.

Session

If you have put the time and effort into professional mastery of your instrument then go and be a session player.

Many famous bands and artists are not that great at playing music so they hire the best to record their albums.

Not only do you need to be incredible at playing music you need to know how to musically interpret what a producer or other player needs.

Years ago this would require you to move to a big city and check out the studios, now with home recording equipment you can potentially contact direct clients from around the world. But then of course you need to learn proper recording methods so your capabilities sound as great as they should.

Having the equipment and skill to record puts you into a whole new realm of money making. But you will need to really pound the digital pavement to find buyers willing to pay for quality.

Home Studio Production

Which brings us to the modern bedroom music production. This had already been huge but now with the rise of Billie Eilish it has exploded. With a decent computer and Digital Audio Workstation like Pro Tools or Logic Pro X you can record your own music and voice.

Whether you want to do voice overs, singing, jingles, stock audio for films and video, or turning other people's ideas into music it is now possible with your own little home studio.

You can use specific stock audio and film sites to look for work or you can try the freelancing sites out. Some are better than others in the pay you can make.

Keep in mind your recording skills have to be up to the standards of the sites you sell on.

And if you work as a freelancer make sure to charge enough to make the job worth it. This method has the best potential for a payday if you aren't the live music type.

Streaming

Whether you record your tune in your home studio or pay someone else, many people think getting their music on a streaming site is the ticket to a paycheck. Well time to have your bubble burst as streaming isn't a great way to make money.

Some people boycott places like Spotify and Pandora over the pay. It's awesome to have a song selected for your ego, and that's usually all.

Pay close attention to where this one goes, as this will decide a lot of what happens in music over the next few years.

If the money in radio consolidates in the hands of the streamers and top musicians, you will eventually see a severe void of fresh talent and new ideas. Just the same old algorithms pushing the same beats.

Contests

Not technically a way to get money, but at least prizes. In many cases contests are publicity stunts concocted by a company to get you to do their advertising. You have to go out and get votes for your song or jingle. Honestly these are good places to start to hone your skills.

It's good to get to see what others are doing and you can learn some lessons in promoting yourself. If you want to write a jingle create a portfolio of music ideas and go to a freelancing site. That way you can find a paid gig at least.

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Teaching

They say those that cannot "do" teach, a mean way of saying the failures of music are the ones that end up as teachers. In reality people often teach because they have the skill.

Being a teacher isn't knowing everything, it's simply knowing how to find the answer. If you are good at sharing your playing skills with others then teaching is a great way to make a buck. In some cases it is better money than playing.

Lessons

It is very easy to start giving lessons, even if you don't have a location you can always go to the student. Be sure to charge fair prices, being too cheap is a warning sign that you don't know what you are doing. And keep in mind that you will have work like lesson planning outside of the actual lesson.

Teaching multiple students at once is one way to make more, but then you need to juggle all the students and different abilities.

There are a ton of guitar lesson sites online and it may be wise to try contacting them. You will be working for lower fees but it's a great way to get experience. Of course you have to have a good internet connection and video conferencing equipment to make sure you can adequately handle digital learning for music students.

Writing

Everyone wants to learn to play music and many don't bother with real or video lessons, some just love to read and learn on their own.

There are plenty of gigs out there for writing about lessons, current events, or history. Music theory is especially a topic many sites love as not many students study it.

You find writing projects the same way you do the stock audio by searching the freelancing and odd job sites and apps.

Having a portfolio helps and it needs to show your command of music and the language you are writing in!

Content writers are no good if they can't form a coherent article that is fun, interesting, and explains the topic correctly.

Self Help

This is a little niche of the music industry that has blossomed thanks to social media. It likely comes from the idea of a muse.

Many famous musicians and artists are known for being inspired by particularly creative people. Often these people weren't super famous themselves they just were in the right place at the right time and they sparked a song.

The self-help producers are the ones who are always telling other musicians that they can make it big if they just keep at the hustle.

It seems a little hokey at times but clearly some musicians need the boost as the motivators are quite popular. If you are a whizz with social media and inspiring others then start a page or video blog to cash in on advertising from lesson and freelancing sites.

Service

Not the aspect of music that many of us dream of, but we are here to make money right? Many of these are great ways to supplement other musical income.

Merchandise

Many live bands use this exact approach to make a lot of money. You can have products made or if possible use a 3D printer.

Trinkets, bumper stickers, T-shirts, anything to get your audience to give you more money while they advertise you to new listeners. It is also helpful to have a small Shopify type website created to help sell merchandise online. Even if all you care about is the music don't overlook potential money making aspects like this.

Retail

Working as a guitar salesperson at a major music store is often an entry level gig and not the same with places like Amazon. But if you are young or desperate to meet other local players it's not the worst job to have.

In fact this actually allows you to have a paycheck in music while pursuing other avenues. Just be sure you don't jump on the bandwagon of selling unplayable garbage. If you have the means a small local music store can survive as long as you mix lessons and repairs in.

Instrument Build and Design

If you have a knack for woodworking try building guitars, ukuleles, or more for other musicians. Being a player yourself will give you a better idea of what the customer wants. And this goes for more than just stringed instruments.

Synthesizers are huge right now with cheaper synths being released on the market. Knowing how to build and use electronic music devices can help you get a job with a big music maker.

Many of these building type jobs are advertised directly on social media. And it's not always physical instruments being built; software music creators are also in high demand.

If you are the engineering/tech type and you love music this is a great thing to get into.

Transcribing

Stuff like this is more of a niche, but sometimes that's how you make money. If you know how to read sheet music then you stand a good chance of finding some side gigs or even regular work with a sheet music company.

This is a job that will definitely be easier if you have a music degree to show. In some cases you will need an incredible ear and solid music theory skills which means you should be paid well.

We can also include ways to make money off of music in a business sense. There is always the management of another band or artist and the promotion of shows and festivals.

If you have tried these ways and failed you can always try your fortunes with another artist.

Peter Grant didn't play with Led Zeppelin but it was his managerial genius that helped them achieve all they did.

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Links: Popular Sites to Find Music Related Work

The websites listed below are all in different stages of ebb and flow, it is up to you to gauge a company and find whether they are worthy. Many places use membership fees and credits to keep you paying to submit or look for jobs.

Some actually work and you find the work to make the fees worth it. Other places are not the greatest, it really is a grind.

Selling Your Music

Of course basic music distribution sites, digital stores, and streaming sites will be the place to start if you are selling your music or your bands. Even if your music is good, without proper marketing you will find many dead ends and no sales.

Licensing, Stock Audio, and Compositions

These are sites focusing on film, streaming, and commercial stock audio music. Your audio quality will matter as much as your ability to play or compose.

If you have a knack for stock audio you also have to have a knack for marketing. Research great keywords and terms so that people will find YOUR music in a sea of the same sounds!

Freelancing

Here you can find the quite the variety of projects, the key is to sell yourself and keep looking for work. If you want a few extra bucks on the side Fiverr isn’t horrible. But if you need to pay real bills, a more serious site and portfolio are necessary.

Gig Work

Since Covid has brought this all crashing down, now is the time to find your own way. Promote your band on social media with great content and be able to play affordable shows with songs for everyone.

How To Make Money as a Musician: The Bottom Line

The key point to all of these methods is fighting for what you want. If you want to record music at home then you need to focus on audio engineering and songcraft.

Playing live you need the will to move the equipment and play a good show. And teaching means you will be going over the same lessons over and over. It's a grind just making it work let alone getting paid.

Making money off of music is not easy and probably leads to more failures than success. And if you want to quit that's ok, the more gold for the rest of us to split.

Ok maybe not gold, but at least a few bills worth! And when the day comes that you get your first paying job it will give you confidence to keep going.

If you dream of celebrity and fame, good luck.

Otherwise making some money with musical talent isn't that far out of reach.

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