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How to make money as a musician even if you don't hit the elusive 'big time'

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It seems to be that most every musician's dream is to hit the elusive 'big time' and get paid a lot of money to play huge shows and make hit records in amazing studios. The truth is that before this happens most of us spend a lot of our time simply trying to survive as working musicians any way we can. Here is a list of ways to put your unique musician skills to work and make money on the side while on your way to fulfilling your dream.

Teaching Music Lessons

You can make an impressive hourly income teaching private music lessons and you don't need to have a university degree in music in order to teach. You can teach lessons for playing an instrument, give voice, composition and songwriting lessons, and DAW production software (for example here is a crash course for Ableton Live) and mixing/production lessons. You should create a simple and organized program that you can take your students through step by step. Here is a article to check out about how to set up your own music teaching business.

Instrument and Amp Repair Technician

The more you know about how instruments and amplifiers work the easier it is to fix them yourself and then you can easily offer your services as a repair technician. Working on guitars, basses, and amplifiers is not as difficult as one may think but it takes time, patience and knowledge. Most repair jobs are fairly straight forward and can pay well. There are countless videos on YouTube and endless threads online about both general and specific reparation procedures, equipment and parts. For example here is the legendary Roy Blankenship's Amp Repair Guide Part One and another for fixing crackly pots in a bass.

Live Sound Engineer

An excellent way to improve your overall mixing, production and microphone placement skills and make money is to find work at a local venue as the live sound engineer. Often venues will pay a set fee per night of mixing which usually comes out of the entry fee. It's also a perfect way to network with touring bands, see different kinds of live shows and make new contacts. Usually successful professionally touring bands will have their own live sound engineer (Coldplay) who they take on the road to be certain they will have exactly the live sound that they want.

Studio Session Work

If you are exceptionally capable with an instrument or your voice then you can get work at recording studios as a session player. To increase your chances of getting good work you should go and live in the city where recording studios are flourishing. Often times session musicians will also get live concert performance work if the recording artist loves what they do. Here is a video about how to become a session musician. 

Studio Engineering

Again, to get studio work it's best to be in a city where studios are plentiful and busy. Usually sound engineering jobs start out as internships in which you will be doing most of the mic placement and cable wrapping. Typically as an intern you will also be the coffee making person in the morning and the trash emptying clean up person late at night. Eventually though being a studio engineer can become a full time job and with enough experience you could open your own studio. Check out this video about 'a day in the life of an audio engineer.'

Open  Stage and Concert Host

If you have managerial contacts at a local venue you can ask to create your own open stage or host your own concert night. This will entail making promotion, booking artists and working out a regular fee with the venue. Most open stages are in smaller venues and they are usually the most crowded events of the week.  Open stage has become a vital part of keeping smaller venues alive. Here is a list of open stages around the world.

Play In Various Projects

The more projects you perform in the more possibilities there are to make money playing music.

If you aren't already involved in a music scene you can always find opportunities to join other projects on craigslist, your local city paper classifieds, or at your local music shop.

Make Music Videos For Other Bands

I've made money making music videos for other bands that I like and that I'm friends with. It's a great way to support your local music scene and the artists that you appreciate. Check out this article about how to make DIY music videos.

Write Music Blog Articles, Concert and Album Reviews

There are a plethora of jobs online for writing about music. Most of them don't want to pay and companies often try and hire interns under the pretense of eventually hiring them but usually they will rotate out an intern with new interns every three months or so. It's highly recommended that if you are interested in writing for a music publication that you do research them first. Here is a great NPR article about breaking into music journalism.

Booking for Other Bands

If you have booked your own tours then you can certainly book tours for other bands. You should count on making at least 20 percent of the money that the band makes at each concert or you can make a fixed fee per gig booked depending on what seems most fair for both you and the band. It's a tedious and time consuming job but you can do it from the comfort of your home computer.


I know many musicians who when they need a bit of extra cash in hand they just go out to their favorite busking spot and can make 50 bucks in an hour of playing. To not waste your time, you must know your busking territory and strategies for being a successful busker.

Sync Deals

Obviously getting a sync deal is a decent way to make money and get some exposure. Remember though that you want to be certain about what you want your music to be used with. For instance if you aren't really interested in promoting automobiles with your musical persona than maybe it's not worth the money to get your song into a car commercial. It all depends on what you are comfortable with. I have had my songs synced for an Australian TV drama love scene that got played to millions of Australians and they paid me well for it, but I don't think I would let a car company use my songs simply because I don't want to be associated with them. It's always a matter of personal artistic integrity. If you do get a sync deal make sure your songs are properly registered with a performance rights society.

Digital and Physical Music and Merchandise Sales

The truth is that your music and merchandise sales will trickle in depending on how hard you work on getting your music exposed to an audience. It's an accumulative effort that will supply you with an income from music sales. It probably won't come all at once unless your song goes viral and getting a song to go viral is as mysterious as the internet itself.

Special Events

Performing at special events is not just for cover bands and you can make substantial money playing your own music at them. I've played weddings, birthday parties, art gallery exhibition openings, theatrical readings, and even funerals. Live music is an excellent way to not only entertain people but also to bring them together into a particular frame of mind. Usually I find gigs playing special events on craigslist, meeting people after an open stage, or fans just write me an email or message me on Facebook. Just be sure you don't perform for free unless you are doing someone a favor because if there is a special event than there is a budget.

Remember that the music industry is made up of a multitude of specialized jobs and the more you understand them the better your chances are of actually becoming successful as a musician.

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