Charles Carpenter and Steve Newbrough
1) Strengthen your music skills.
2) Launch your music business.
3) Teach music lessons.
4) Seek out opportunities to make passive income.
5) Utilize Patreon.
6) Develop your own unique brand.
7) Stick with it!
Earning a living as a musician isn’t as impossible as many people make it out to be. The reason it’s so hard for musicians to make good money is that many rely on a single revenue stream, whether it’s playing live gigs, selling albums, or releasing music on popular streaming platforms. Putting all your eggs in one basket severely limits your earning potential—and leaves you vulnerable to major unexpected events like a global pandemic. If you want to make more money, diversification is essential!
Try to treat your musical career like a business rather than a side gig. Look for ways to build multiple streams of income and balance passive and active ventures to get the most out of your work. Ready to get started? Here are some ideas and tips to inspire your next move!
Because there are few full-time jobs in the music industry, many musicians make money through freelance work. Like any freelance job, advancing your skills is the key to boosting your earning potential! Learning new skills will improve your marketability and help you land a greater variety of gigs, increasing your client base and positioning yourself as a well-rounded musician. For example, learning how to DJ can help you book more gigs at weddings while learning how to jam with other musicians can open the door to collaborative work.
There are several online resources that can help you boost your skills. Video Guitar Glossary, for example, offers quick and straightforward video answers to all of your music-related questions. You can also sign up for online lessons or take a virtual course to learn anything you want to know, whether it’s how to record music from home or improvise during your performances.
Since live shows are still on hold as a result of the pandemic, many musicians are looking for alternative ways to make money right now. This could be a great time to start a music business! Need a business idea? You can offer any number of musical services and products to your customers. Become a music promoter, organize festivals, start a teaching academy, or launch a band management company. Pick something you really enjoy about the music industry and try to start a business in this niche!
Making the leap from freelance musician to business owner will require a lot of hard work. You will need to navigate a number of financial, legal, and operational challenges as you prepare to launch. For example, you will need to obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) so that you can hire employees, open a business bank account, and pay taxes. Don’t cut any corners unless you want to deal with legal headaches in the future!
Teaching music lessons is a great way to earn money as a business owner or freelance musician. The beauty of teaching music online is that it doesn’t require much up-front work or monetary investment. You can teach lessons on the side, according to your availability, so you can still dedicate plenty of time to your other musical pursuits. As LearnWorlds explains, there are three main routes to teaching music online—through a music education website, freelance job platform, or your own business website. Once you choose a platform, assemble your equipment and start building a curriculum complete with lesson plans, assignments, quizzes, and music scores.
Passive income is money that requires minimal ongoing work to maintain. You create something once and it continues to earn money for the foreseeable future. For example, generating royalties is one way for musicians to earn passive income since royalty checks continue to come in long after you finish recording the music. But this isn’t the only way to earn passive income! Affiliate marketing is another viable avenue for earning money while you sleep. If you have a loyal following on YouTube, Twitch, Instagram, or your personal music blog, work with businesses to promote their products and services for a small commission. Selling merchandise is another great way to earn passive income. You could sell T-shirts, mugs, posters, stickers, buttons, hats, tote bags, and even vinyl records. Work with a printing and design platform that lets you place direct orders for your merch, so you don’t have to purchase and store inventory. This is a great way to test out different designs and find out what your fans
Subscription-based services like Patreon can also help you meet your passive income goals. Artists and musicians use Patreon to offer exclusive content to their subscribers. The platform allows fans to get closer to their favorite artists and offer their support in the form of monthly subscription fees. To get the most out of Patreon, it helps to have a following of loyal fans and a means to reach these people, like an Instagram account or YouTube channel. DIY Musician recommends waiting until you have at least 11,000 fans on one social media platform before starting a Patreon campaign.
Whatever your business model, branding is key to creating a following of loyal fans. Great branding will differentiate you from others in the music industry and help you connect with your followers on a deeper level. The most important thing to remember about branding is that it should be genuine. Don’t try to mimic what someone else is doing. Be authentic, let your personality shine through, and don’t be afraid to get venerable in front of your fans. Use your website and social media accounts to create a cohesive experience around your brand so your followers know what to expect no matter where they find you.
I have often told aspiring freelance musicians that starting up a successful music career takes about two years. Getting through this make or break period takes some serious strategy.
First off, you may need to build a side hustle. There are many ways to make money besides working in the music industry. Consider building a side gig out of an entirely different niche. You could find work as a freelance writer, drive for ride-sharing services like Uber, join a pet sitting platform, tutor students online, or work as a bartender at a local pub. Finding work in a non-musical role will help you survive and potentially provide creative energy for your craft!
After completing grad school back in 2008, I had the opportunity to take on a property management position for the company that owned my apartment building. This paid my rent and groceries each month and allowed me to survive. I completed most of the work for that job in the mornings and then I would teach guitar lessons in the afternoons and tour on the weekends. After two years I was able to drop the management position and work in music full-time.
If you’re having a hard time paying the bills as a musician, you’re not alone. Musicians often struggle to earn a comfortable living with their craft. The good news is that if you’re willing to put in the work, you can build several profitable income streams that will pay the bills and help you build the music career of your dreams!