How to Make Money as a Musician

It's not impossible to earn a living and possibly create a business from your talent.

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How to Make Money as a Musician
Image credit: yanyong | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Business Consultant and a Freelance Writer
8 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Making a living from your passion and transforming a hobby into a lucrative enterprise is a tremendous achievement. But while it’s easy to dream of being the next Springsteen, Nicki Minaj, Drake or other leading names in the music industry, actually making your dream a reality takes considerable work. 

The good news is that it can be done. The average income earned by musicians is around $35,000 per year, and with more ways to monetize your art than ever, yours could far exceed this. Easier said than done, though. So here are some practical ways you can make a living from your musical talent.

Teaching Music Lessons

Teaching music lessons is a simple way to earn money from your skills and passion, but you must be incredibly proficient at any instrument you plan to focus on. There’s no use trying to pass on your knowledge to others if you’ve only played for a few months. 

It can be hard to find students when you’re starting out, but keep your rates low and target the local community with ads at public libraries, community centers, malls, etc. Austin-based songwriter Caleb J. Murphy offers music lessons through Musika Lesson, for instance, so he can pull in enough money to make his songwriting passion possible.

You can expect to earn between $30 and $120 per hour, but teachers with more experience and credentials to their name are likely to secure payment at the higher end of that range.

Related: How My Life as a Musician Helped Me Close the Biggest Deal of My Career

 

Playing Small Gigs

Book any gig you can, no matter how tiny your audience may be. And you may have to accept that you’ll struggle to earn anything close to what you think you’re worth for some time. That’s part of the journey toward making a living from your music.

Research on small gigs shows that buskers can earn between $50 and $100 per day, so you might be able to pull in a little more for gigs in bars or at weddings. Session players typically receive anywhere from $100 to $2,500 daily, too.

Freelance Music Writing

Another way to earn as a musician is making a few bucks writing about music on a freelance basis. One way to capture attention and earn valuable experience is to launch your own blog. Gather as many readers as you can, and use this as a platform to demonstrate your talent when applying for freelance gigs. Freelance writers can generate as much as $42,000 per year, but it takes time to build a name and a quality portfolio. Just like with playing gigs, getting to the sweet spot with writing about music takes time.

Launch Your Own YouTube Channel

YouTube has helped a growing roster of musicians launch their careers, including Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, James Bay and Charlie Puth. Want to be like them? You can start your own YouTube channel for free, but you actually need to secure 1,000 subscriptions before you can monetize your videos. So, invite viewers to subscribe, share your videos across social media and keep them longer than 10 minutes (because these are shown to rank higher than shorter ones in the search that gives your videos an audience). 

YouTube works for more than just the likes of Korean pop stars such as Psy, who reportedly made $2 million from two billion YouTube views on the song “Gangnam Style” alone. More workaday musicians, like Maria Z, still are able to collect 50,000 subscribers on the platform and use it for a nice side revenue stream.

Search Upwork for Odd Music Jobs

Upwork is an online platform dedicated to bringing freelancers and clients together. Advertise yourself as a music writer, a musician for hire or even a tutor. You sometimes can find small gigs here and there through Upwork and other freelance platforms. Focus on building a solid profile based on great client feedback, and keep your rates competitive at first.

Taking it to the Next Level

You may already be playing gigs on a regular basis and perhaps writing about music, but your earnings aren’t quite high enough. As you start to gain experience and build a following, you can start exploring ways to make more money from your talent. Try the following ideas to take your income to the next level:

  • Set up your own Patreon account. Patreon has become an invaluable platform for creators looking to earn money from their art and build their own following. You can set up a page and accept contributions from a group of patrons with various tiers. You can build trust and foster loyalty from your fans on Patreon, but it takes work to keep your audience happy. Interact with followers and gather feedback to make sure you’re rewarding their commitment fairly. Offer incentives to motivate followers and secure their donations. Rock band Future Sunsets, for instance, gives patrons behind-the-scenes access. They post band photos and updates that only patrons get to see. Consider offering free tickets, merchandise (see below), early access to new tracks, behind-the-scenes insights and more to contributors at different tiers.
  • Take part in video meetings with followers. Live video platforms empower musicians with the means to interact with followers in a direct way. Chatting face-to-face is a more personal experience than social media conversations and offers deeper connections than a brief meeting after live gigs. You can offer video hangouts to Patreon contributors to mark certain milestones (such as earning a specific amount) or as a regular incentive. For example, followers who pledge $15 per month could receive an invitation to take part in video hangouts on set dates. You can even welcome fans to grab their own instruments and play together to reward Patreon members donating a higher amount. Take the time to make them feel valued.
  • Selling merchandise. Buying merchandise is a simple, affordable way for fans to support their favorite musicians or bands, which is why it's such a common approach among musicians. You can offer a huge range of merch, from T-shirts and baseball caps to exclusive vinyl (back in vogue now among collectors) and tote bags. Custom printing companies are easy to come by, or you can try producing your own if you’re willing to invest in printing equipment. (Be warned: It’s not cheap.) There are many sites out there that you can use to distribute your merch, such as Dizzyjam, Shopify and Bandzoogle. You should offer merch at your live gigs, too, not just online. Always make sure your merch is of a high standard, though, and be willing to sacrifice quantity for quality when your budget is stretched tight. 
  • Becoming a music producer. As a producer, you can help different musicians create albums and discover their own sound by adding a professional flourish to their tracks and helping them explore fresh ideas. As part of this, you also can get paid to oversee the production and recording of their music and possibly arrange session players for solo artists. Music producer Jordan Bolch explains the role, “Working with a music producer is a crucial step forward for any musician or band aspiring to breakthrough success. They’re impartial and focused on helping artists unlock their potential for the good of the music. Being a music producer is the kind of career that keeps giving, however, you need to have vision and the ability to feel the zeitgeist of the moment. It's key. Ask the greats, without it, music production may not be in your wheelhouse."
  • Not every musician should go the producer route, and it takes a little work to build the credibility necessary to sell your services, but once the ball is rolling, producing can be a great way to earn a living from your musical passion.
  • Invite fans to choose their own rate. It’s become increasingly common for musicians to invite their fans to pay what they want for their work. In some cases, the artist will set a limit but accept higher rates. For example, synth-artist Carpenter Brut stipulates a minimum for his albums but still allows for more from fans. You may want to keep your minimum payment low, perhaps even just a $1. This might seem like a risk, but it increases the chances of newcomers taking a gamble on your material. It also provides your followers with the opportunity to show their appreciation for your work, even on a small scale. Never underestimate the generosity of a devoted fan. Adding additional content to a pay-what-you-want package offers greater value and can incentivize buyers to put a little extra on top of their payment, too.

Related: How to Learn Music Entrepreneurship

Making money as a musician can be a real challenge, especially when you’re only at the beginning of your journey, but drive, determination and a willingness to keep honing your skills can take you where you want to go. You just need to take the work seriously and commit to a regular process of creativity. Nobody’s going to bestow fandom, fame and fortune upon you if they don’t know you exist. Follow the steps discussed above to grow your audience, raise awareness of your skills and ultimately boost your income. 

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