11 Ways To Make Money
As a Musician
Learning to play an instrument can be a wonderfully rewarding experience on its own. You gain the satisfaction of learning a new skill, the ability to express yourself, and a great deal of other benefits, one of which is the ability to make money.
At a certain point in your musical journey, you will acquire enough knowledge and skill to start earning back some of the money and time you have put in.
Below I have created a list of 11 things I have done over the years to earn money using my musical skills and knowledge. I tried to keep each suggestion brief so if you would like to know more about any one topic leave me a comment and I will write an article specific to that topic. I hope this list inspires you to go out and earn a little extra cash doing something you love.
In no particular order, here is the list of ideas on how to make money as a musician:
Offering private music lessons is a great way to earn some extra money, it’s also an amazing way to speed up your own learning process. When you teach something to someone else it causes you to know it on a deeper level.
Teaching music lessons is something I have been doing since I was in high school. In fact, over the last 20 years, I can’t think of a time when I did not have at least one student.
Having 1-5 students is the sweet spot if you also have a full-time job or are in school. It’s not a huge time commitment, easy to remember what each student is working on, and gives you enough extra money to really put a dent in something.
Teaching is a great option if you are looking to make some extra fun money or saving up for your next piece of gear. If you work hard at acquiring students, you can even do this full time.
Expect to make anywhere from $10-$200 per hour depending on your skill level and the area you live in. I typically charge $20 per half hour; this is very much on the low side for my area and skill level, but I mostly teach friends and people from the church.
So what do you need to get started?
You will need to be able to play an instrument at a semi-proficient level. I’d say if you have been practicing your instrument for 1-2 years you should be more than capable of teaching the basics. You only have to be a little bit better than the people you are teaching.
Once you are confident in your skills, you will need a place to teach.
Here you really have three options:
In your own Home
In the Homes of Students
At a Music Studio
Finally, you will need students. Your best option to start is with the children of your friends and family. From there you can make a flyer or throw an add up on craigslist.
Busking can be a lot of fun if you are a decent player and if the crowds are friendly, It can also be a real downer if you get heckled, or runoff. I tend to look at busking as a way to get paid to practice. I don’t mean you should go practice your scales on the street corner. You will be practicing a different set of skills: Entertaining, keeping the audience’s attention, stage presence, confidence, and playing “that song” with energy the 100th time you play it.
You really only need two things:
- A populated area, preferably one where lots of different people pass by often.
- Be able to play at least 15 mins worth of music before you repeat yourself. This should be plenty of time as long as people are not sitting down to watch you.
Depending on how large of a crowd you want to draw, you may need some kind of portable, battery-powered PA.
Where should you busk? Bus stops, train stations, subways, parks, outdoor malls, free tourist attractions, beaches, farmers markets, and street corners of the world.
When I was in college, I had a jazz trio and these types of gigs were our bread and butter. We did pretty well with weddings and parties, but playing coffee shops, wineries, upscale restaurants, and corporate events were what kept the bills paid. You can pick up these types of gigs as a band, or as a solo player. Corporations have parties all the time and they are always looking for bands.
The key to landing these gigs is: Being on time and super easy to work with, you also have to be good. If you can build some good relationships, show up on time, be professional, and bring a real value to the client, you will get callbacks. We were able to play the same events and parties year after year because we did all the aforementioned things.
Getting your foot in the door can be the hard part. Start by creating some kind of press package. It can be simple, a short bio of the band or person, CD or website with a sample of your playing, list of places you have played, and a price breakdown. Then hit the streets, send emails, make phone calls, network! Getting gigs is tough, but worth it when you use them to build relationships.
Session playing is one of the more difficult suggestions on this list. In order to play sessions, you need to have a few things together.
First and foremost you need to be easy to work with (are you noticing a theme here?). Playing sessions is all about giving the client what they want, it’s not about you or your “best” licks. Communication is key.
Secondly, you need to have your timing together. Most tracks these days are recorded with a click track. If you can’t play naturally with a click, you are probably not going to have a great time trying to record with one.
Thirdly, you need to be consistent, meaning you should be able to play a groove or lick exactly the same a few times in a row. In the studio, you may have to play a take several times, and it needs to be great every time.
Finally, you will need clients. This can be at a studio, or if you have access to some basic recording equipment, you can just do tracks over the net. This is the hardest part; most of the studio work I have done came after someone heard me playing at a gig. Getting out and playing with people as much as possible will increase your chances of getting hired…If you are good and easy to work with.
Instrument repair was something that I fell into accidentally. It started with me trying to help students, on a very tight budget, buy instruments. I would look for broken drums and guitars on craigslist, buy them super cheap, repair them and then sell them to students for ten or so dollars more. At first, I had no idea what I was doing, but over time I learned how to fix common problems. Eventually, I got into restoring old drums and building guitars.
I have not made tons of money doing this, but the skills I learned along the way are priceless.
To get started run an ad on craigslist offering to pick up or buy broken “your instrument of choice here”. Look for adds selling broken instruments, check yard sales and thrift stores. Over time you will begin to collect all kinds of parts that you can use for future projects.
Selling DIY guitar effects pedals was also something that I found out about by accident. When I first got into stomp boxes I was newly married and was barely making ends meet. I really wanted some effects pedals for my guitar, but knew I could not afford any. Then I discovered build your own clone, a website devoted to selling effects pedal kits. I learned that I could build my own pedals for a fraction of the price of buying a name brand pedal, and they sound just as good if not better. I did not know anything about electronics, but I do love a good challenge. After having built about 25 pedals and selling a few I have learned a few things.
- Building pedals is super fun if you like sitting in a chair for hours staring at tiny little numbers and burning your fingers on a soldering iron.
- You will build more pedals than you need, so in the long run, you really don’t save any money.
- People will pay the same or more for a hand built boutique pedal.
Selling these pedals is not too hard. If you play enough gigs with them on your pedal board eventually someone will offer you some money for one.
Here are some BYOC Kits on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2paroOR
This Kit is way cheaper but does not come with very good instructions: https://amzn.to/2MCQyiz
Here are a few of the Pedals I have made:
The most obvious instrument under this category would be piano. Pianos need special tools and skills to be tuned and worked on, but drums and guitars need regular maintenance as well. If you know how to change heads or guitar strings, you might be able to drum up a little money.
Find a local school or church and offer to change and tune all their drum heads. Run an add in the local paper offering to change guitar strings, you could go to their house.
This one is pretty obvious, put in an application at Guitar Center, Sam Ash, or a local mom and pop shop. Not the most glamorous job, but it is a great place to meet musicians and maybe get yourself into a good band. You will learn sales skills, people skills, and a lot about gear. If you work hard you can work yourself up to a management position, or move up to an individual company, like Fender or Line6. I have several friends who took this track and now work for the companies of the products they used to sell.
Music writing is a really creative way to make some money. The cool part about writing is, once you have written a piece and set up a sales funnel it can make you money 24/7. You can do transcriptions of solos or classic pieces of music. Write original music for school bands, create a method book, or etudes and sell it online. The more you write the better you will get. I wrote a lot of music when I was a band director. I could never find stuff out there for the instrumentation that I was directing so I just wrote it myself.
For all instruments I recommend Musescore, It is free and does quite a bit
For drum notation, you can’t beat Aered, The creator allows you to pay what you think it is worth.
I have been both a worship leader and a paid church musician. This one only works if you are a Christian, which I am so I have included it.
Many, many churches are looking for part-time worship leaders. Most of these churches will be small, 40-200 people. If you play guitar, or piano, and can sing well you have a good chance of getting the position. It will mean joining a new church and giving up some of the programs that a larger church has to offer, but you will be able to use your gifts to serve the Lord. You can check out websites like https://www.churchstaffing.com/ for churches in your area.
On the other side of this coin are larger churches looking for musicians. A lot of larger churches pay the members of the band. Many times these jobs are not really advertised so they can be a little hard find. I would suggest checking out the larger local churches in your area and asking if they are looking for musicians. You can also ask to talk to the music pastor. If there are no positions open, at least give them your card or contact number, you may get a call if someone gets sick.
Also be sure to check out what the church believes and make sure you agree with their statement of faith. You don’t just want to chase money here, but find a way to serve the church and get compensated.
Depending on the style of music you choose, this can be a long road before you make any money. Payment for bands is a strange animal.
I have made the most money playing Jazz and top 40 (cover band) gigs.
Starting a jazz or a top 40 band will give you access to playing: weddings, corporate events, restaurants, upscale parties etc. These types of gigs pay well. $20-150 per hour, per person in the band.
Rock bands tend to not make money unless they make it pretty big. To start, most rock bands play at parties, bars, and pay to play at clubs. Once you get a big enough following you can make money on ticket sales, and merch. Soon you will be able to read my article on how to start a band here.
There are many more ways to earn money in the music industry, but these 11 are the ones that I had the most success with. Leave a comment and let me know how you are earning money with your musical skills.
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