7 Tested Ways to Make Money as a Musician (Not in a Bar)

Are you looking for ways to make money as a musician that aren’t just your typical bar gig?

We all know that unless you’re an extreme hustler, know a zillion folks, and work every night (and day) of the week, it’s not exactly easy to make a living just playing bar gigs. Sure, some can be lucrative and sometimes you have a really great week, but is that sustainable every. Single. Week?

What do you do when the gigs aren’t so heavy? What do you do when you want to have a life in addition to playing music?

In this post, I’ll show you my 7 favorite ways to make money as a musician that aren’t bar gigs. I won’t be talking about the super obvious ones like teaching or playing on cruise ships. We all know these. We’ve all done these or have friends that have done these. They are generally excellent sources of income and fantastic ways to keep growing as a musician while still getting paid.

But, again, we all know that. I’m thinking a little more creatively with this list. Here it goes…

make money as a music

Theatre Gigs

If you’ve been following my blog for any time, you know that my main flow as a musician has always been theatre gigs. Playing in orchestra pits is one of my favorite ways to make money as a musician.

A lot of musicians don’t realize that playing in pits is even a thing. It can actually be one of the more lucrative ways to make money as a musician, though. These gigs are remunerative in a couple different respects:

  1. Sometimes they just flat out pay well.
  2. You can land some long runs. This means very steady work. Even if a particular show doesn’t pay the best, holding on to it for a while and having the piece of mind of a steady paycheck is great.

What you’ll need:

  • Good reading skills
  • Massive amounts of versatility
  • Patience (Sometimes, there are long rehearsals not focused on musicians. Also, you’re playing the same thing night-in and night-out, which drives some musicians crazy.)

Teaching

Ok, I said I wasn’t going to talk about teaching. But – here’s the thing – I am. Ha!

I’m not going to talk about the teaching you’re thinking of, though. I’m betting that’s private lessons, no? There’s actually a ton of other teaching opportunities out there!

You could get a gig as a coach for a local high school band. You could work in an after-school program at an elementary school or junior high/middle school. You can even work for summer camps or in one of those “Rock ’n Roll” schools where you teach full bands (instead of individuals) how to be rockers.

Additionally, there are often extracurricular music programs that are outside of schools that kids get into. Examples of this are youth symphonies, youth jazz bands, or youth orchestras.

It doesn’t have to be youth, even! There are continuing education courses all over and even classes offered at senior citizen centers.

What you’ll need:

  • Patience – teaching one-on-one is one thing. Teaching multiple people is a completely different ballgame. Just always remember that what is second nature to you is usually completely foreign to your students.
  • This isn’t a skill, necessarily, but you’ll occasionally need a credential/certificate, or at least need to pass a background check to work in schools and other youth organizations.

make money as a musician

Produce for a Library

Write a lot? Sell that music! There are music libraries all over constantly looking for new music and it’s just another way you can make money as a musician. These libraries license out tracks to TV, Film, YouTube, and plenty of other commercial uses and you get paid. Sometimes it’s one-time, sometimes it’s royalties. With many of these, you can pick your terms.

Don’t want to work with someone else or want to have multiple streams of income (multiple streams is a must!)? Create a website for yourself and post your tunes up there. A model that I’m seeing more and more of – and really dig – is this:

  1. Post all of your music and give it away under the Creative Commons Licesne. Ask for donations, but don’t demand anything. No matter what, if someone’s using your track (make sure you require attribution), you’re getting your name out there.
  2. Post all of your music as .mp3’s for free (with the same rules above), but sell high-quality versions for a price. If you’re really into arranging and mixing, you can even give different versions of your tunes to people who make a purchase – faster or slower tempos, with or without vocals, etc.

With our content world shifting so hard towards YouTube, musicians are in a fantastic place now more than ever. Video creators are constantly looking for new, quality tracks to feature in their videos. I should know – I started a daily vlog at the end of June.

What you’ll need:

  • Recording equipment
  • DAW, or Digital Audio Workstation (recording software)
  • Good Internet speed

Start a YouTube Channel

make money as a musicianAlright, this one is more of an honorable mention because it’s probably the toughest to go from starting to pulling an actual income out compared to everything else on this list.

That being said, if you’ve got a passion for sharing your craft, video is where it’s AT right now! It’ll take awhile to get to the point of earning decent money from YouTube, though. You’ve got to have regular content, grow your subscribers, and make sure every video is engaging enough to keep that watch time high.

Downside? You can EASILY get sucked into it and do it all the time. All. The. TIME.

But that’s ok, if you have the patience and dedication. Eventually, it will become at least a little stream of income.

You can do anything from playing tunes you write or playing cover tunes, teaching lessons, writing parody tunes, or giving fun tips. Really, the sky’s the limit here!

Ways to supplement within YouTube, if you’re not making dough from ads yet, would be to throw some affiliate links to your favorite gear in your video descriptions. You can also drive people to your website where you may already be selling music or other products (like Guitar Chord Kick-Start). It’s all about building a brand here, people! But, that’s an in-depth conversation for another day.

What you’ll need:

  • A camera – a good one is super nice to have, but you can start out with your phone or tablet if you’re on a budget. It’s more about…
  • A good microphone! This may sound backwards, but audio is key to video, especially when it comes to music videos.

Engraving

make money as a musician

Any musician who’s spent any time in college or has spent any time arranging music for bands has undoubtedly familiarized him or herself with an engraving/notation program such as Finale or Sibelius. Why not put all those skills you acquired to good use?

You can start by offering to help friends or other local bands get their scores into good shape. Then build yourself a website and promote yourself on some freelancing sites. Fiverr and UpWork (formerly Elance) are just two sites you can use to find engraving work (or any other kind of work, music-related or not) and sell yourself.

Yes it’s true that most musicians these days know how to use these programs themselves, but you can be the person that cleans up their scores and organizes them into parts. Plus, there’s always going to be some old-school cats out there who still use pencil and paper.

What you’ll need:

  • Notation software – Finale (my favorite) and Sibelius are the industry standards.
  • Filesharing account (Dropbox, Box, etc.) – to pass files back and forth with clients.
  • Access to a printer – local clients may want you to do the printing. Awesome! You can charge more for this. It doesn’t even have to be your own. Go to Kinkos!

Church Gigs

make money as a musicianA lot of musicians, especially ones that aren’t religious or didn’t grow up going to church, don’t realize that playing in a church is a thing. Yes, it’s true that many congregation members donate their time to play in churches and, believe me, churches LOVE the free help.

The thing is, though, that churches often hire “ringers” to beef up the sound of the band/orchestra. While landing a weekly gig is killer and certainly does happen, it’s not super common if you’re not a keyboard player. Where you might have better luck, though, – and this is where I’ve found myself a lot – is getting in with a few different churches. They call on you for big services (Easter, Christmas, etc.) and whenever they need a sub. Plus, subbing and big services, especially, tend to pay pretty well.

With the handful of churches and music directors I know, I’d say I average a church gig every 3-5 weeks.

What you’ll need:

  • Good sight reading.
  • Good improvising/jamming/interpreting skills. You’ll see a lot of music in lead sheet form, so you’ve got to know the style and figure out something good (and believable) on the fly.

Work for a publisher

I may be a little biased at how “easy” these gigs are to come by since I landed one when I was 21 and stuck around for 6 years. While you may not land a full-time gig yourself, or even want one, music publishers are constantly looking for freelancers.

Here are just a few of the jobs my former employer used to contract out:

  1. Engraving
  2. Editing (music, text, recording)
  3. Videos (editing, starring in as an instructor)
  4. Recording (as a musician or engineer)/mixing/mastering

What you’ll need:

  • Similar tools to other items on this list
  • The ability to market yourself
  • Good bookkeeping and communication skills

Uber/Postmates

drive for UberOk, ok, ok … this is the last resort, all-else-fails method for making some dough as a musician. And it’s perfectly fine to go this route! The beauty of these types of jobs is that they allow you to focus on your craft and your art, but still survive.

What’s more is that they’re not nearly as soul-sucking or draining as your typical restaurant job or something in retail. Additionally, it is completely up to you when and how much you work. That way, you never have to worry about getting time off if you’ve got a gig. Maybe you have some engraving work that needs to get done or whatever other freelancing type job you might land from ideas on this list. It doesn’t matter since you set your own schedule.

Have a bunch of engraving work, a recording session at a music publisher, 4 theatre shows, and a church gig this week? Don’t do any Uber or Postmates. Use it as a supplement when you need it. Ditch it when you don’t.

There’s no shame in having a “regular” job when you’re trying to make it as a musician. You’ll get there. These are all just stops along the way.

What you’ll need:

  • I explain all of that in this other post right here.

Want to sign up to drive for Uber? I’ve got a code for that and we BOTH benefit from you using it: 9v3kys

Thinking about delivering for Postmates? I’ve got a code for that, too (actually, it’s an email): pjbovee@gmail.com . You can also use my code IC7BP to get a free delivery (up to $10) as a new customer!

If you’ve been feeling down about surviving as a musician, I hope this list inspired you and gave you some ideas. There’s so much work out there to be done in the field, you just have to know where to look! Over my career, I’ve done all of these and continue to do some to this day.

Have any other ideas or have some fun experiences (or bragging) to share? Let me know in the comments below!

 

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