In the last few years, I've worked with many bands and musicians that make career decisions based on unstable assumptions that occur within the industry. Some musicians work their butt off trying to get their music out there, understanding the ups and downs of the industry; recording albums, getting representation, playing out every night, etc., while others sometimes just sit at home hoping for something to fall into their laps. Other musicians might not even care about the fame and fortune of becoming a high end celebrity musician and just want to make a living doing what they love. Either way, one question remains the same for all groups, "how can I make a living playing music."
Before we look at some ways, I need to make something clear. Many musicians confuse the idea of making money in music and the idea of becoming famous in music. I see this confusion happen with the bands I work with all the time and it seems to hinder the process that makes the most sense for them. This article focuses on the first, simply making money in music.
Now, if you live at home, or your spouse/significant other works full time or you're in some kind of situation that allows you to devote more time to your music than average musician, this article may not be for you. But for the majority of us, music is not just a way of life, it also needs to be our source of income. With whatever situation you're in, try taking some or all of these practices into consideration. Here are three of the easiest ways to make money playing music.
I know this could sound lame or maybe you think you're too good for Youtube, but let me remind you, in your career, every cent counts. If you ask anyone if they've heard "that song" or seen "that video", more often than not, they'll say, "Yes, I saw it on YouTube last night." Having a video (or multiple) will give you the chance to earn something if you decide to invest time into it. At one point last year, I was bringing in between $500 and $600 per month on YouTube alone because I took the time to post drum covers, how-to's, practicing habits, just about anything I could think of. Regular subscribers become regular fans, and regular fans become regular viewers. In the end, more views equals more money. Set up a somewhat nice camera, get an okay sound and use some creativity. Don't forget to set up your google adsense account in order to get paid and get going. If you have the talent you think you have, people will watch.
Play Out Often
This is a little easier for the singer-songwriter type. But, this does work for all musicians. If you think that posting craigslist ads and connecting on music Facebook pages are going to book you gigs, sorry, but you've been mistaken. You HAVE TO get out and network for yourself. Your music is your business. A lawyer doesn't get new clients by sitting at home posting craigslist ads. A businessman (or woman) is out networking often. It is no different for a musician. Get out a few nights a week to some local venues, order a coke and network with the musicians on stage. If you're personable, good at playing music and not drunk, those bands remember you. Well if you're drunk, they'll remember you, but not for the reason you want. Who knows, the next time they see you, they'll ask you to jump in. And in networking one thing always leads to the next.
For the singer-songwriter. Book shows! Last year, I worked with an artist that played out three nights a week at local bars, brewery's and opening for any bands that would take her. To give you some numbers, she made between $75 and $128 per show with the venues pay + tips. Between the venues pay and tips, it doesn't seem like a lot for one night... but for three nights a week, it all adds up. For three nights a week, she was making between $900 and $1536 per month! That's not half bad. Take the time, network, and book shows.
Musicians come up with so many excuses when it comes to the idea of giving private music lessons. The reality is that many parents want their kids to take private lessons. It is a common practice and it is highly competitive. Some of the excuses I've heard go from, "what if I run out of material," to "what if they're better than me." If a 6 year old kid is better than you, than you probably shouldn't take on the teaching portion. Just kidding ... but really. Learning music (if you can remember) is like learning a new language. There are fundamentals and rudiments, there are riffs, beats, chords and songs. Spend 5-20 minutes before each lesson and plan it out. It will become natural and become an easy source of income. But what to charge? This all depends. Will they be traveling to you or will you be driving to them? Are you teaching for 30 minutes or an hour? Are they paying per month or lesson by lesson? Each of these questions could determine the price you decide to charge. Depending on where you are in the United States, one hour lessons typically range from $35 per hour to $75 per hour. This also depends on your history, skill and teaching ability. If you are between intermediate and expert yourself and have not played "the big stages" before, your price will be a bit lower than those that are a bit more experienced. Still lost on what to charge? Call a local lesson facility in your area to see what they charge and then charge a little bit less.
Now, imagine if you put all three of these practices into place. And not only that, say you took the minimum payment for each of these practices, $100 per month from youtube, $75 a night playing out, and got paid $35 per hour giving lessons. If you worked hard at a full schedule, there is no reason you can't make a living off of doing music full time. For some last numbers, the artist I talked about in the practice of playing out, she does all three. She takes in about $200-300 per month from YouTube, posting roughly two videos a week. She regularly plays out as we've said before getting between $900-$1500 per month. And she has seven students that take weekly lessons at $45 per hour bringing in $1260 per month. This means she brings in between $2,300 and $3,000 a month. Not bad for about 20 hours of work a week. Now if she worked the normal 40 hours a week, she could make that much more. But, she has decided to use the other 20 hours a week to focus on her career within the industry by songwriting and performing in front of potential representation.
It's not impossible to make a living doing what you love, you just need to think through all of your options. There were only three practical examples in this article, what else could you do to make money playing music?