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How to Make Money as a Musician: Paying for Your Music Career


Hispanic musician carrying bass on city street
Jeremy Woodhouse / Blend Images / Getty Images

If you're going to go full time as a musician, you're clearly going to need to make some cash. How can you make money as a musician without resorting to heading back to your day job? It can take a little creativity as your getting your music career off the ground. These ideas will get you started.

Time Required: Ongoing

Here's How:

  1. Play Live:

    Playing live is an obvious choice when it comes to making money as a musician. You can make money through show guarantees, door split deals or even passing around a tip jar. Of course, if you don't have much a proven track record when it comes to pulling in an audience, you're not in a great position to demand large fees. Building up to this will take time. Every little bit helps, though, and even if you go home with $15, take the long term view and treat each low paying gig as a step towards increasing your earning potential.

    Selling merch can help a lot, which brings up to our next point...

  2. Sell Your Music:

    Well, duh, you think. Of course you should sell your music, but the trick here is to make sure your fans don't have to look far to find it. Digital distribution is a must, whether you go through an aggregator that places your music all over the net for you or if you approach services on your own, one by one. Selling music at shows is also important. You can sell CD-Rs at shows, as long as you price them accordingly and make it clear that they are CD-Rs when you sell them. If you're pressing physical copies, check out your local record shops to get them in on consignment (some shops also accept CD-Rs).

  3. Sell Merch:

    Diversifying what you have to sell will boost your earning potential. This doesn't mean get 5000 t-shirts made at some price that will make your credit card weep. Make your own t-shirts, buttons/badges, stickers and so on and sell them at your shows and on your website. Merch does especially well at shows, after your fans have just seen you play and are all caught up in the spirit, and as long as you keep your overhead down, merch can give your income a nice little boost.

  4. Play Other People's Music:

    The talents that you hope will allow you to make a career out of playing music can help you make ends meet until the day you get to play your songs exclusively. Session musician work for other musicians can help you bridge the financial gap and make some extra money. As a bonus, you'll be honing your own skills and meeting people who can create opportunities for you.

  5. Musical Odd Jobs:

    OK, so the point here is to move away from your day job, but if you need to make some extra money, doing something music related - even if it doesn't specifically involve YOUR music - is a good choice. Much like working as a session music, the idea here is to use your knowledge and talents to help other musicians (and get paid for it). Are you a great producer? Get some studio work. Are you a pro at booking shows? Do it for other musicians. Got design skills? Do cover art or websites for musicians or music related businesses. Tap into your music skills to put some extra money in your pocket.


  1. Promotion, Promotion, Promotion:

    Your ability to make a living as musician depends A LOT on your ability to promote your music. You've to make sure people know about your music, where they can get it, when you are playing and so on. Not sure where to begin? These tips will help:

  2. Protect Your Assets:

    It's pretty easy to get taken for a ride in the music industry, so it's always a good idea to get things in writing. If you don't understand a particular deal, seek advice before putting pen to paper. Putting things in writing doesn't have to involve huge lawyer bills. Learn more:

  3. Learn More About Going Full Time as a Musician:

    Everyone's situation and goals are different, and ultimately, the only one who can really decide if it is time to go full time as a musician is you. These articles will help you weigh up your options:

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