Times are Tough. Wages are Small. Play your Music and F*ck ‘em All!:
Make Money Making Music.
~ Quinton Sheer ~
“I have a band. I’m a singer. I play guitar. We’re going on tour next year.” Those are all things you might hear an indie musician say when the question, “So what do you do?” inevitably comes up. Dig deeper and you’ll find a source of shame for many an aspiring musician – the dreaded Day Job.
Day jobs are often a necessary evil for emerging artists. They can fall into one of two categories – a career that competes with the music or a job that bestows the title of ‘Artist’ and then places the word ‘Sandwich’ in front of it. It can take a long time to make it making music. A looooooong time. Years. A shitty day job can make that time almost intolerable.
Making over $50K a year playing music is very possible. All it takes is perseverance and hard work! Notice talent was not on the list? Save that talent for arranging tomatoes. But if a day job must be had, my one wish is that musicians stop selling themselves short on experience. I’ve heard over and over “But I’m a musician. I don’t have any real skills.” EVERY musician should have these five skills and be able to explain them in an interview:
- Punctuality: unless you’re Snoop Dog, J-Lo or just lazy, musicians are required to show up on time for sound check and their set. They have to fit their performance into an allotted time frame. This translates into TRUST. If you are ready to go when required and deliver on what you promise that means you’re trustworthy. It’s not just a buzz word when you demonstrate how it applies to you.
- Flexibility: Not every show goes as planned. Being able to roll with the punches without being a giant complainer is a skill many workers just don’t possess.
- Quick Learners: Musicians know that when recording, time is money. In addition to understanding the level of preparation needed before recording; knowing how to quickly get things back on track is a very desirable skill in the workplace.
- Musicians are Fun to be Around: Hiring managers have stacks of qualified applicants. Sometimes the decision is made based on which one they liked more. The social skills musicians use to get new fans and build their business relationships are the very same ones that can get them a day job.
- Consistency: It’s called the daily grind for a reason. Most businesses need to expect a certain level of productivity from their employees. Delivering a consistent performance with the same energy and accuracy each time can be a valuable skill that should be brought up in an interview.
So if you must, go out and get a day job to support your habit of gigging with your band once a month. But if you want to make money playing music and devote the time to make it happen – it’s extremely possible. Most musicians already have 2-3 businesses. The band is a business. That home studio you made to record your demo – is a business. Your solo career is a business. And to get money from a business takes hard work, patience, and a little luck.
Here’s How: Make playing music your job. Like any job there are dream jobs and tasks we’d rather not do, but I’d rather play a bar mitzvah than lose a fight with a toner cartridge any day. This list doesn’t include revenue from renting your studio and producing other musicians’ recordings or the potential revenue from song writing and licensing your originals. (If you write songs, register with ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC!) It also leaves out revenue from the sale of music and merchandise from your band.
- Background Musician at a Restaurant: $250/gig twice a month = $6k/yr.
- Teacher/Music Lessons: Get 12 students at $50 a lesson for 50 weeks (gotta have some time off!) = $30K/yr.
- Church Service Musician: Singers and choir members are mostly volunteers but the band gets paid. Three services a week at $100/service for 50 weeks = $15K/yr.
- Band Gigs: Twice a month at $50/gig= $1200/yr.
Getting each of those gigs is certainly harder than landing one day job with 1-2 interviews. We’re talking cold calls, interviews, auditions, and networking, but for those willing to put in the work and time they can be making over $50K a year just playing music. Think about that next time your latest project drops…into the deep fryer.
(Parts Stolen and enhanced from David J Hahn @ Musicianswages.com)