In today’s music industry, you don’t have any excuses to not be making money as a musician. And neither do I.
Whether you prefer to play live shows or stay in the studio, there are ways moola can come streaming in.
So here’s how to make money as a musician in 2019 (16 ways!).
Real quick: are you on Instagram? You can follow MWADJ to get even more encouragement and music-related tips.
16 Ways To Make Money As A Musician
I’ve made money from most of these methods, so I know you can too.
(Each thing has a “Get Started” tip that should point you in the right direction).
Music streaming platforms notoriously don’t pay a ton of money. But that’s not a good enough reason to not take advantage of this income stream.
It’s passive income. It requires little to no maintenance. And it’s money you’d be leaving on the table.
I use CD Baby to distribute my music to Spotify, Apple Music, and elsewhere. But you can also check out Tunecore and Ditto for distribution.
Get started: read CD Baby, Tunecore, Distrokid, Awal, Ditto…Who Is The Best Digital Distribution Company For Music and pick a distributor
Teach music lessons
Whatever instrument you play, you can bring in some money by teaching others how to play it (you’ll have to be exceptional on that instrument).
You can get paid $20-40 per hour, depending on how good you are and where you live.
It can be difficult to get your first students, but once you do, you’ll retain more students mainly by word of mouth. I work with Musika Lessons, a company that connects teachers with students in their area.
Be a session musician
If you’re good enough on your instrument to give music lessons, then you’re probably good enough to be a session musician.
This job requires that you live in or near a music town, like Nashville, Austin, New York, or New Orleans. You can make $40-60 an hour or $75-100 per song, according to Sonicbids.
Get started: get the word out about your services. Mention it to your friends and family, contact local recording studios, reach out to any musicians or producers you know.
Play house shows
House shows are my favorite kind of show.
As an introvert who loves people, I do better with smaller crowds. It’s not as intimidating and I get to meet everyone there.
And you can be sure everyone in attendance wants to be there, as opposed to playing songs in a bar for people who don’t even know who you are.
This means house-show attendees are more likely to support you financially.
Plus, you don’t have to deal with setting up and tearing down a sound system.
Get started: ask a friend to host your house show and offer to give them a percentage of the ticket sales and/or donations.
Play live-streamed shows
Artists make money by live-streaming their concerts. I’m not saying it’s a huge guaranteed money-maker, but there’s potential.
You can hop on Facebook Live and/or Instagram Live, hold a concert, and mention that people can donate via the link in the top comment (for Facebook) or in your bio link (for Instagram).
But most importantly, it’s a fun way to connect with your fans.
Get started: schedule a live-streamed concert, announce it to your fans, list it on your website with your other shows, get the word out, practice for it. Just treat it like any other show.
Play corporate gigs
Corporate gigs seem to be the secret sauce to making a living as a performing musician, as long as you’re willing to get rid of the fantasy idea that every show you play will be a sold-out theater.
I have friends who make a living from this type of thing.
These gigs would include private parties, business get-togethers, performances at senior living communities, and weddings. If you’re also a DJ, that’s a huge plus.
And, like any other type of public performance, you can earn performance royalties on top of what the client pays you.
Get started: if you know a friend who plays corporate gigs, talk with them about getting in on this niche industry. Otherwise, you can contact local senior living homes, businesses, or event organizers to sniff out any leads. There are also websites like GigMasters and GigSalad to get you started.
Whenever you play your original songs in a public place, you are owed a royalty. In my experience, it ends up being about $1-2 per song per performance. This can vary depending on what PRO you’re with (I’m with BMI).
With BMI, I simply upload my setlist to their website and get paid every quarter. Oh, and this whole process is free.
A “public place” has to be anywhere open to the public, so house shows are not considered a “public place.” So don’t try to file for royalties from a house concert.
Get started: if you’re not already registered with a PRO, check out BMI, ASCAP, and SOCAN (Canada). With BMI, it’s free to sign up, free to register your songs, and free to upload setlists (the venue has to be one of their licensed venues).
Any shows you play, you should be selling merchandise, whether it’s in a house, at a bar, or for a corporate event (but check with the client first).
For a lot of performing artists, merch sales are their biggest income stream.
You can use any number of custom T-shirt companies, or you can go the DIY approach by buying T-shirts from a thrift store and ironing on letters or painting on designs with a stencil.
If you’re looking for recycled custom paper products, you can check out Guided.
Get started: if you don’t have a huge budget, try buying blank shirts and hats from a thrift store and ironing or painting on letters or design. If you do have some money, check out T-shirt companies like Print Natural or Merchly.
Sync licensing is when your song is synced with a moving image — in other words, a TV ad, show, or film.
You’re getting paid a lump sum of cash in exchange for allowing a filmmaker to use that song in their project. Depending on the project, you can earn anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars per song used. And you can license the same song multiple times.
It’s a hard market to get into, but once you do, it can make you some moola.
Get started: start pitching yourself to music licensing companies, music supervisors, and music libraries. Here are a few to get you started:
- Audiosocket (music library – I have a contract with them)
- Crucial Music (music licensing company – I have a contract with them)
- Musicbed (music library)
- Songtradr (music library)
Produce and mix other artists
To produce or mix other artists, you’ll first need to show people what you can do. This is why it’s important to have music of your own that you can send to potential clients.
Just record a song or two for starters. Then you can send those songs to fellow musicians to whom you pitch your services.
And, if you’re new to this, it’s best to offer to mix 1-2 songs for free. Then you’ll have more portfolio items to show other clients.
Get started: if you haven’t recorded any music yet, do that first. Then email musicians you know and offer to mix/produce 1-2 songs for free. Then take those songs and pitch yourself to other musicians for pay.
Start a Patreon page
Patreon is a great invention. It allows super fans to connect with their favorite artists while financially supporting those artists (you).
By giving away exclusive content, early access, and just being yourself, you can run a successful Patreon page.
Get started: to see how it’s done, you can explore the top Patreon creators.
RELATED: Is My Patreon Page Just A Cash Grab?
This may not sound like a glamorous line of work, but it can pay well. Even though businesses are using sync licensing more and more, there are still companies that want a good ol’ custom jingle.
I’ve written a few jingles for companies and, to be honest, it was fun. And the pay wasn’t bad either.
Get started: I’ve had success finding jingle-writing work via Upwork. You’ll also need the equipment and skills to record the song yourself.
Get odd jobs through Upwork
Speaking of Upwork, it’s a good way to find other odd jobs that are music-related.
I’ve seen a bunch of “produce my song” jobs or “need an audio editor” posts. If you know how to record and edit audio, you can apply for podcast-editing jobs too.
Again, it may not sound like something a rockstar would do, but it’s an often overlooked way to make money as a musician.
Get started: sign up for Upwork, build your profile, and start applying for jobs.
Freelance music writing
This is a huge part of my day job. I get to write about what I love (music) and get paid for it.
I’ve written for Sonicbids, CD Baby’s DIY Musician blog, Bandzoogle, and others. Granted, it took me a few years of writing before I got their attention.
You can also just pitch post ideas to the music blogs you already love reading.
Get started: start a WordPress blog for free, figure out your niche angle, and start writing. Then start pitching ideas to music blogs. Also, this online writing course was super helpful for getting into freelance writing.
Launch and grow a YouTube channel
This one is tough. I’ve not done it, but I’m a big consumer of YouTube and I’ve seen plenty of musicians do it.
The trick is figuring out how to grow. To do so, you first need to have irresistible content. You’ll also need to post frequently, be a part of the community, and know how to add effective tags to your video.
Then, as you grow your audience, you can earn money from sponsors and YouTube’s ad revenue program.
YouTube actually put together a free course on how to succeed on their platform. Looks like it covers everything you need to know.
Get started: after going through YouTube’s free course, sign up for a YouTube account, plan out your videos, and film several videos before you start posting. Then post once every 1-2 weeks.
Displaying your lyrics
It’s a little-known fact among musicians that you are owed royalties whenever your lyrics are displayed in public.
It’s called a print royalty, and you should be paid any time your lyrics, sheet music, or chord charts are displayed on a website, T-shirt, in a book, or elsewhere.
To collect these royalties, get with a publishing company. I use CD Baby as my Pro Publishing Admin. So, theoretically, they should be collecting my royalties for when my music is displayed.
Get started: sign up with CD Baby Pro Publishing for your next music release so they can collect these royalties for you.
Success Is Subjective
The way you make money is up to you. I’m just letting you know there are plenty of options.
In the same way, what success looks like is up to you (this is something I talk a lot about in The Successful Part-Time Musician course).
And that’s the beautiful thing about today’s music industry. You can pick one, two, four, or seven of these money-making methods and make a living or supplemental income from music.
Whatever goals you set you can reach.
And hopefully, the above ways to make money from music will really help you reach your picture of success.
Want more simple tips on how to make it as a musician? Check out the free PDF guide How To Be A Musician With A Day Job below.