The Working Musician: Money In Your Own Backyard

In a recent blog post, I tackled the issue of being too old to be a musician. The answer to that one really boils down to one’s own definition of success, and some see success as constantly being on tour and promoting your CD. But there are plenty of ways to be a successful musician without going on tour, and in this article I’ll discuss a few ways you can make money as a musician while staying relatively close to home.

Vinnie Ribas of Indie Connect Magazine has come up with quite a hefty list in “Making Money as a Singer or Musician Without Touring.” He notes that touring may not be a viable option for some musicians because of impossible-to-leave day jobs, family issues, health, and so on. It’s an excellent read, and I’ll just touch on a few ways of making money locally here, while adding a few of my own.

  1. Play in clubs, bars, restaurants.
  2. Record your music and sell it on iTunes and other distribution sites. Promote it with YouTube videos.
  3. Learn how to write for film, TV, and documentaries.
  4. Write and sell jingles.
  5. Become an Amazon affiliate. Create an online store and sell gear.
  6. Play concerts for local civic organizations.
  7. Become a music engraver. A friend of mine makes over half his music income making handwritten notation look great.
  8. Play at house parties.
  9. Play for weddings.
  10. Write and perform (or record) custom songs for anniversaries, birthdays, engagements, and other special occasions. (The poet laureates and court composers of the 17th and 18th centuries did this very thing.)
  11. Teach lessons. Find schools that don’t have music programs and offer to teach on-site after school.
  12. Become a church music director or musician.
  13. Learn how to take pictures. Go to gigs and open mic nights, take pictures of the bands, and sell prints.
  14. Learn how to provide live sound reinforcement. Invest in some good gear and run sound for local bands.
  15. Learn how to record. Invest in some good recording gear and record demos for local musicians.
  16. Handle bookings for other bands (those not in your genre, of course).
  17. Handle social media for other bands.
  18. Design and manage websites for other bands.

It’s important to understand that you are highly unlikely to make a living from any single one of these revenue streams; good money comes from combining several of them. You may only net around $200 for an evening at a club, but you can walk away with more if you sell a few CD’s and you land a new student, who not only saw your video on YouTube but also bought a guitar from your Amazon store.

And it’s possible to actually make a good living this way. David J. Hahn, who posted this article on his Musicians Wages website, insists that the following numbers are not only possible, he’s actually made them:

1. Get a church job (3 services a week @ $100/service) = $15,600
2. Start a teaching studio (12 students @ $50/lesson) = $31,200
3. Play background music once a month (@ $250/gig) = $3,000
4. Play in a band twice a month (@ $50/gig) = $1,200
That’s $51k a year. That’s how it’s really done.
Start with the annual salary you want to earn from music and work backwards. Figure out how many club dates, weddings, and lessons you need to have booked per month to get there, then work on getting those numbers. (The first time I did this I was amazed at how close I was to the numbers I wanted.) You might not achieve international fame, but you will be doing what most only dream about: making a living making music.
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