Many of us musicians have spent thousands of hours practicing and studying our instruments. We have an incredible amount of knowledge and skills at our disposal. We can leverage those skills to earn some supplemental income and keep us in the music game.
In my early years of college I had the opportunity to perform at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Two weeks of amazing music in every direction you step. We needed to raise over two grand per person to make the trip happen. That’s over $50,000!
My big band director, Kris Berg, asked, “why would we have a bake sale to raise money to go on this tour? We’re musicians. Let’s use our music skills to earn that money.”
Of course, we did a ton of gigging. This lead me to think of alternate ways to sell my musical skills beyond the realm of my drumming. In what ways could I provide a service to others using all the training and education I’ve acquired over the past two decades of musical study?
Here are 10 ways I’ve discovered that can generate an alternate income source for you.
- Teaching. This is a pretty obvious choice. Many professional musicians teach in addition to performing and recording. Running your own teaching studio out of your home has the benefit of control. You set the hours and rates. However, keeping up with all the administrative duties turns many musicians off. However, teaching at a music school like the Frisco School of Music and Performing Arts can outsource those duties to a sales and support staff plus, give you access to better facilities.
Over the years, I have learned that 20-25 hours of lesson teaching for me is my max. Any more than that, my other projects suffer and I don’t deliver my best self to my students. I also don’t teach on the weekends in order to make room for my wife, gigs and church. I’ll share more specific thoughts on teaching in another article soon.
2. Clinics and Camps. Musicians love learning more about their craft. If you have a knack for presenting information then, clinics and camps can be quite lucrative. You can work up presentations for young children at schools or churches, music students at high schools or universities, or professionals at music conventions. I’ve often struggled with thinking what I can offer isn’t that special. The truth is, we all have a very unique perspective on music and not everyone learns the same way. Your point of view might be what many other musicians want/need to hear – even if it is material that many others have spoken of before.
3. Coaching. This is similar to teaching but less on the instrument side and more on the business/mentor side. We all need mentors and coaches in our lives. We had them in school why not in our careers. In fact, professional athletes have coaches, even CEOs and entrepreneurs. You could charge a young musician private lesson rates in exchange for your knowledge on getting more gigs, studio work and more. My current business model is built on this idea. You can start small with individuals and work up to classes and workshops.
4. Transcribing. Through my teaching experience I’ve had to transcribe lots of songs for my students and their recitals. There are places online to buy transcriptions but they don’t always have the songs you need. If you are particularly skilled at transcribing and have the tools, you can earn some cash by selling these transcriptions to online sheet music databases. They’re always in need of more charts. Jennifer Thomas wrote a helpful article on this featured on Music Teacher’s Helper blog. Some bands out there also have large song books but incomplete charts and will gladly pay for your services.
5. Arranging. I know a few guys that will arrange popular tunes for big bands or choirs. Put all those arranging and composition classes to work by selling charts to Hal Leonard or Alfred Publishing. You can also work out contracts with them where they tell you the tunes they need and you arrange them for different ensembles.
6. Refurbishing. I stumbled upon this recently. People are willing to pay money to tune up and fix their drums. Guitarists sometimes take their axes in to get tweaked. We take our vehicles to a mechanic. If you have some skill tuning up you drums or making reeds for wind instruments or tuning pianos then, create a small business around that. Or, you could buy used gear, fix them up and re-sell them for a profit.
7. Booking. If you have a good relationship with a music venue, sometimes you can book bands for them. The venue might have a special event and trusts you to curate the perfect mix of bands for that show. Or, you may become the regular booking agent for that venue. You then can control the payout to the bands a bit more. Make sure you’re doing the bands justice. A good booking agent will focus on what’s best for the bands and the venue and not on his/her own profits. Still, earning a little cash from your expertise on creating the perfect blend of music for the venue and listeners can be a great thing.
8. Production Music Writer. If, you have a great home studio and enjoy composing, then submitting music to a production music library can earn you some decent royalties. Advertising agencies, film, television and video game studios all need music and usually pull from a production music library. This isn’t the type of work to get noticed. Instead, it’s a great way to get paid for being prolific. In fact, your creative work could benefit by writing such a large volume of music. Jerry Seinfeld claims his success is due to writing every day. Sounds like a good way to get paid for something you do often.
9. Music/Program Director. Radio stations employ program and/or music directors to find the best music for the audience they’re targeting. Program Directors are in charge of the sound of the radio station. They manage the station’s programming and oversee the different departments and staff at the station to ensure that the station always sounds its best and suits the needs of its listeners. The main job of a radio station’s Music Director is to find the right music for the station that engages the audience and drives sales. If you have a passion for researching music and can notice trends, working in radio could be a great career for you. However, this industry is a challenge to navigate. It usually takes getting any job available in the building and working hard before anyone notices your skills.
10. Patreon. Jack Conte of the music duo, Pomplamoose created Patreon as a way to fund all his many music videos and creative art. He thought other artists could benefit from this approach to crowdfunding and built a business around it.
“Patreon is a way to get paid for creating the things you’re already creating (webcomics, videos, songs, whatevs). Fans pledge a few bucks per month OR per thing you release, and then you get paid every month, or every time you release something new (whether it’s on SoundCloud, YouTube, your own website, or anywhere).”
This is a great alternative to generating cash flow if you’re into creating a large, recurring body of work. I know many musicians who write and record new arrangements of popular tunes and display them on the web. Patreon allows that work to receive tips from fans to keep that creative outlet flowing. It’s like asking for grocery money in exchange for a song, or busking on a busy street.
There are many more ways of generating income using your skills as a musician. These are just a few other than the obvious ways of gigs and recording sessions. I love playing live however, it can be draining on my relationships and my physical and mental health to gig 5 nights per week. In lieu of getting a part-time job to supplement my income from gigs, I teach private and group lessons, host a podcast show, facilitate workshops and clinics, and provide professional coaching to musicians wanting to turn pro or build on their music careers.
It’s up to you to find the balance of multiple income streams that is right for you and the lifestyle you want.
What ways are you using your music skills to generate an income and support your lifestyle? What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered in balancing your music and personal life?
Leave a comment or question below.