It’s never been easy for musicians to make a living off of their music. No matter how talented you are, finding ways to use your art to put food on the table is always a challenge. In the world of music, success is as elusive as it is enticing, and many musicians never achieve their goal of subsisting entirely off of their music.
In spite of the level of difficulty most musicians face in the pursuit of this goal, the goal itself is no less attractive. Almost every musician dreams of one day becoming a commercial success and being able to pay the bills from their music alone. But what can you, as a musician, do before you reach that point? How can you earn money as a musician before you properly “make it”? That’s what we’re going to be discussing today.
Making ends meet as a musician is a tough goal, but it’s not at all out of reach. You’ll have to sacrifice some of your creature comforts to get there, and you might have to take work that doesn’t line up with your personal creative vision. Nevertheless, if you keep your eyes on the prize, you’ve got a good shot at making a name for yourself.
Finding a balance
In following this pursuit, there are a number of things that you’ll quickly realize. You’ll quickly see how difficult it is to make money without sacrificing your artistic vision. You’ll be confronted by barriers put in your way that have nothing to do with your talent or your level of technical skill. The bottom line? The music business is rough.
Once you confront these obstacles, you might feel like giving up. What’s the point, if the only kind of music that seems to be in demand is shallow, crowd-pleasing nonsense that sounds nothing like what you want to make? Once you get to this junction, don’t be discouraged: there are ways to achieve financial stability and even commercial and critical success without sacrificing your vision.
The most important thing to keep in mind is being able to recognize the importance of flexibility without giving up on the music you want to make. Working on musical projects that don’t necessarily reflect your artistic vision isn’t a bad thing; these kinds of projects can fund your personal development and musical journey, while still being preferable to a desk job or some other related employment. You just have to find a balance between the two!
Money-making opportunities for musicians
That being said, it’s time to look at some of the best ways you can turn your passion for music into a way to support yourself. There’s a good chance you’re familiar with most of, if not all of these methods, but just in case you didn’t, we’ll be telling you how to best utilize these techniques to make a living off of your art. Let’s get started!
Busking & street performances
One of the easiest and simplest ways to make money off of your music is to start busking and performing on the streets, sidewalks and public squares of your city. This won’t net you huge amounts of cash, but it’s a great way to gauge how people react to your music and start seeing some financial results from your music.
In concept, busking is simple. Just bring your instruments and gear to a place with a lot of foot traffic, set up shop and start performing. If your setup requires amplification (mics, guitars, synths, etc) you may need to obtain a permit from your town hall, but these are usually fairly easy to obtain. Find a place that works for you such as a metro station, street corner or public park, and get to it. Just be sure to set down a milk crate or guitar case for donations!
Busking is all about finding your stride and getting into a rhythm that pleases both you and your audience. You’ll attract a bigger crowd by playing well known covers, but you can also slip one or two originals into your setlist. Another tip from experienced buskers is to keep your sets brief, at no more than 15-20 minutes. This will allow a standing audience to disperse and a new one to form, and will also keep your sets short and easy to remember.
If you’ve got a reasonable amount of technical skill and proficiency with your instrument or vocals, you might want to try getting session work. As a session musician, you’ll provide instrumentals or backing vocals for studio recordings or live performances of more mainstream musicians. While it may not net you a whole lot of recognition, good session musicians are paid handsomely by the artists and studios they work with.
Session musicians are a time-honored part of the music industry. They’ve been around since the earliest days of music recording, providing the basis for some of the best music of each generation. While this kind of work is not likely to result in you getting famous, it will give you a fairly reliable way to sustain yourself.
To start working as a session musician, you’ll need to forge some ties with studios and/or producers who you can rely on to call on you when they need you. You might also want to find solo artists who could potentially add you to their call list for upcoming projects and gigs. Relationships like these will put you on the map as a session musician and open a lot of doors if you decide to pursue projects with yourself in the spotlight.
In the music industry, live gigs are a bit of a mixed bag. Unless you or your band or project have a lot of name recognition, drawing a crowd can be tough. Until you reach that point, live gigs will most likely consist of shows played in bars, restaurants or clubs. They won’t pay particularly well, but they will net you more and more recognition with each one you play.
Getting live gigs isn’t particularly difficult. Live gigs that pay well are a different story, but at this point that’s not what you should be focused on. The most important thing is to just get up on stage and play. Put your all into it, and give people a reason to look your music up when they get home. Even if you don’t go home flush with cash, you’ll have beer money and a little bit more name recognition. Keep doing it, and you’ll soon be earning a lot more than that!
Once you get yourself off of the ground, you should see a shift in the people in the audience. As you gain more recognition, you’ll realize that there are people coming to your shows to see you play, not just those who happened to be there when you performed. You’ll start picking up bigger gigs and in turn gaining even more recognition and financial compensation. Keep at it, and before you know it you might just be Billboard’s newest chart topper!
The music business is rough, no doubt about it. Turning your passion or pastime into a full fledged career can be daunting, and there are many who will never achieve this dream, in spite of their undeniable talent. Should this stop you? No! Get out there and start making the music that you want to make. Ignore the demagogues and the naysayers, and stay true to yourself and your artistic vision. In time, it will pay off.