If you’ve been working hard to promote your music, you know success doesn’t happen overnight.
But that doesn’t mean you have to put your dreams of making money with your music on hold. There are many ways musicians can earn extra income off their talent as they grow their fan base.
Most of these options still require some hard work and planning, but you may identify one or two methods that suit your skillset, personality, and goals.
First steps to maximize your profits
Before we dive into the methods for how to make money with music, there are a few essential things you should be doing already to make sure you can make the most out of your efforts.
If you are hoping to eventually live off performing and recording your music full time, you must have a promotion strategy in place for your music.
The side gigs on this list take time, but ultimately, they should be a means to an end—these additional jobs will help you earn revenue while simultaneously carrying out your promotion strategy.
To get started on both your own promotion strategy and many of the jobs for musicians we’ve listed below, here’s what you’ll need:
- A website for your music. You’ll need a home for your fans to visit when they want to buy merch, hear your music, or get updates on your band. Bonus: A website will also allow you to build an email list for further promotion tactics.
- Social Media Profiles. Similarly, you should get set up on the main social media platforms—Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube for starters.
- Basic equipment. Renting your own equipment for every job can get expensive. For many of these jobs, you will want to invest in basic equipment (instruments, microphones, amps, mixing software, etc.)
21 ways to make money as a musician
1. Digital Distribution
One of the most obvious ways to make money off your music is by selling it through the multiple digital platforms available today. We have a guide here on how to upload your music to Spotify for starters, and we’ll be following up soon with more guides to other platforms, like Soundcloud, Amazon, and iTunes. Once you upload your music, you can begin collecting royalties—and the more work you put into your promotion strategy, the bigger the benefits will be.
Another no-brainer—selling merch to your fans is a great way to make some extra income, especially if you are performing regularly. You can use both your website and social media to hawk your wares—anything from t-shirts and tote bags to pins and signed memorabilia. Companies like Threadless and Merchly can help you get started.
3. Book a live gig
If you like the idea of performing for a living, you can get started by focusing on booking live gigs. Performing at local bars, clubs, and smaller venues can be a great way to make money (and a fantastic stepping stone for your musical career). The best way to get started is by researching your area, looking for local businesses that might be open to hiring new talent as part of their entertainment. Reach out to them with some samples of your music, and don’t be afraid to politely chase them up if they don’t get back to you.
4. Work as a DJ
DJing is a great way to engage with music while making money. Bars and clubs are often looking for local DJs to curate music for their customers. You’ll need to have some basic mixing skills to beat out the competition, and you can get started by creating some playlists to showcase your vibe to potential employers.
Also check out: WHABBY Music’s interview with DJ TINC
5. Teaching lessons
Why not use your skills to help foster a new generation of musicians? There is high demand for music instructors of all kinds, particularly guitarists, keyboardists, vocalists, and drummers. If you have the space or are willing to travel, you can work independently, or you can align with a school or institute that will help you find customers.
6. Songwriting/composition for other artists
Are you a prolific songwriter or composer? If so, you can lend your talents to other artists looking for help with their next piece. If you’ve written extra tunes or compositions that you don’t plan to use yourself, you can offer them to other artists whose style meshes well with your own. Start small, and as you grow your network and build a reputation, you can fetch higher prices on your songs.
7. Enter competitions
While this may not be the most consistent way to bring in revenue, winning a competition can give you a quick cash injection. There are songwriting competitions, singing competitions, and even Battle of the Bands events that offer cash prizes. If you’ve got a competitive spirit, this could be a great opportunity for you.
8. Performing at events
Weddings, bar mitzvahs, corporate Christmas parties, awards shows… there are many events that need a good musician. Once again, you’ll need to do some direct selling to get booked. Use a website like Eventbrite to find upcoming events in your area, or start reaching out to venues that are likely to host these kinds of events and see if they’ll pass on referrals to you. Once you’ve booked a few gigs, make sure to get testimonials to show future clients.
9. Monetize Your YouTube Channel
If you have an active following on YouTube, you can leverage your channel to bring in extra revenue. There are steps you can take to prepare your channel for monetization, but you’ll need to be engaged with your audience to make this a worthwhile endeavor. Consider doing more than just uploading footage of your band performing, and enhance your channel with interviews, advice, lessons and more to bring in a wider audience.
10. Jingle writing
Ever hear a song on a TV commercial that you just couldn’t get out of your head? Someone wrote that tune, and was paid to do so. If you think you could write simple little tunes that could be used in marketing campaigns, try pitching some of your tunes to marketing agencies and brands.
11. Busking or street performing
For centuries, musicians have made money performing their music for the general public. Busking or street performing is one of the best ways to practice your craft while also bringing in a bit of side income. You’ll need to research the laws around busking in your city, and figure out where the best location is for you to perform. Remember that you may also be able to sell recordings of your music or even some of your merchandise, in addition to collecting tips.
Check out an interview we did with a Singaporean busker who makes a living playing music for the public.
12. Perform in live theater
If you’ve got a playhouse in your town, then you may have an untapped revenue stream as well. Theaters need musicians to play in their orchestra, or even just help them create sound effects during their performances. This is a great way to diversify your background, and maybe get some free theater tickets to boot.
13. Start a Patreon
More than 100,000 creators use the Patreon platform to connect with their fans while making money off their craft. Essentially, you can use the platform to provide a subscription service to your audience. They can pay to download exclusive content, such as new releases, interviews, or merchandise, as a way to support you. You’ll need to create content in order for this to work, but many artists find Patreon to be a valuable way to earn income.
14. Movie/TV licensing (sync licensing)
Movie and television studios are frequently in need of good compositions to use as background music. Sync licensing is the process of creating and copyrighting your own music to then license it out to these studios. There are sync agencies that can help you navigate this often complex process, and while they may take a cut of your earnings, you will still gain if your work is sold.
15. Session musicians
Working as a session musician is another way to make money with music, but for this to work well, you may need to be in a city like Nashville, Los Angeles, or New York, where there are plenty of music studios. As a session musician, you’ll work with these studios to help round out musical performances, such as providing instrumentals to a solo artist’s tracks.
16. Create and sell unique sound files
In a similar vein, you may be able to license and sell sound files of your instrument for others to use in their musical compositions. This works particularly well if you can play a less common instrument, as more bands will need to outsource these sounds for their work.
You can also write genre or mood tracks for other content creators to use in their videos (e.g. YouTubers, Twitch streamers, etc.). AudioJungle is a good place to start if you plan to earn money with your music in this way.
17. Stand-In for other bands
Bands frequently need musicians to step in when they have a member that’s unable to perform, or they need a new sound for certain tracks. If you are able to mimic the sounds of other bands, and your schedule is flexible to meet demand, then you can earn extra gigs by filling in or working with solo artists.
18. Freelancer platforms
The gig economy has opened the door for musicians who want to make money as freelancers. Platforms like Fiverr and Upwork post jobs looking for all sorts of specialists, including musicians. You’ll have to do some sorting and sifting to find the jobs that are worth it, but these platforms could be a good place to find an odd job or two.
19. Production and mixing for other artists
Just as artists sometimes need musicians to lend their talent for tracks or performances, they also need help with their production and sound mixing. If you’re experienced with this and have the tools to help out, you can bill yourself as a freelance producer/mixer, and make a side income working alongside talented musicians.
20. Book yourself as an Opening Act
Performing as an opening act is an excellent way to leverage the audience of an artist who may be further along their career track. Many artists have a single opening act they travel with, or they’ll partner with local musicians in the cities they’re visiting on a tour. Either way, landing a gig as an opener can bring in extra revenue while also reaching new potential fans.
21. Sign with a record label
Last but not least, you can take what is often perceived as the traditional route and try to sign with a record label. We’ve left this to the last point on our list, because it’s not exactly a way to start pulling in revenue now, if you’re not signed yet. Finding and signing with a label is a lengthy process, and while in many cases it can be a great thing, it’s important to remember that record labels will take part of your income in fees and profit shares.
Conclusion: There are many ways to earn money as a musician
Though signing with a label may be your ultimate goal, the other items on this list will help you grow your income as a musician much sooner, and potentially with greater success rates.
Remember, you can choose which of these strategies works best for you and your goals. Making money as a musician should not only help you stay financially sound, but also engage you and nurture your music.