Ways Make Money as a Musician

This is a guest post from Philip Taylor, editor-in-chief at PT Money, where the focus is on fixing your finances so you can build the life you want. His podcast features interviews with successful part-time entrepreneurs. Here’s Philip…

There are a ton of different ways to make money as a musician. I’m not suggesting that everyone can make moneyr with each of these ways. But I can promise that you can make money using at least one of these ways.

I present to you 101 ways to make money as a musician. Help add to the list by leaving a comment below.

  1. Teach Live In-Person Lessons for a Record/Music Store – The Bounty Music store in Maui, Hawaii employs music teachers who teach lessons in-store. Have you inquired about teaching positions in your local music store? If it’s something they’ve never done before, let your entrepreneurial mind go to work and negotiate a possible partnership.
  2. Speak/Teach About Music – Attend a conference and earn a speaking fee by performing and teaching others about music or other creative subject. Check out Mike Rayburn’s TEDx talk for a little inspiration.
  3. Land an Endorsement Deal – If you have enough influence among other musicians (e.g. music instructor) or simply have a huge following, you should be able to land an endorsement deal with a music industry company.
  4. Build a Referral Relationship with Your Local Music Store – Get friendly with the staff and owners of your neighborhood music store . When people are looking for music teachers, they will refer potential students to you. Provide a commission and they’ll really be motivated to recommend you.
  5. Join the Military Band – Would you love to serve your country and play music? Combine the two by signing up for the military and auditioning for the band. Uncle Sam just might want you. Ryan Guina played in an Air Force entertainment group and was able to see the world. His group traveled to over 20 countries and all across the U.S., and he even managed to meet his wife, who was also in the group.
  6. Write for a Music Publication – If you’re in the industry already, you’ve got an insider’s perspective to share with the publication’s readers. If you’re a good writer, you could get consistent, albeit low-paying work in this area. Marilyn Manson actually started his career as a writer for the music publication 25th Parallel.
  7. Win an ASCAP Plus Award – The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) gave away more than $1.8 million in cash awards last year. If you qualify, why not give this a shot?
  8. Become an Affiliate for Other Musicians’ Books/Guides – If you have a website for your music business or band, become an affiliate and make money by referring your traffic to music books or other helpful guides. A great example is the guides from Cyber PR.
  9. Perform as a Stand-In for Other Bands – It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Get to know the other bands in your scene. When one of their band members can’t make a gig, you’ll be a person that comes to mind–and you’ll be the person that makes a few extra bucks as a result.
  10. Sell Video Recordings of Your Live Performances – Capture your next live performance on video and package it up to sell to fans who couldn’t attend. Offer it for free to those who attended as part of a paid insiders’ club. Package it up into a DVD for further distribution.
  11. Produce Music Recordings for Other Musicians – Producing and recording your own music is getting easier everyday. You can use this skill to help other musicians and charge them for your time.
  12. Transcribe Music for OthersTranscribing music typically involves either notating music that’s never been noted (like an original or improv recording), or taking music intended for one instrument and tabbing it out for another. If you’ve got a great ear and a lot of patience, you might be well suited for this work.
  13. Offer Sounds for Sampling Licensing – Other musicians may want to use a beat or riff from your music. You can get paid to license just a sample of your music.
  14. Enter Sweepstakes for Musicians – There’s always a sweepstakes going on for musicians. In fact, right now you can enter to win over $15,000 in prizes from this Indie Musician Sweepstakes that CD Baby is partnered with.
  15. Try to Win Video Contests – Music videos typically do well in video contests. Most of these contests require you to use royalty-free music anyway. Why not use your music and creativity to enter a contest?
  16. Create a YouTube Channel and Share a Link to Buy Your Music – Greg Skalak, pianist and artist here at CD Baby, who performs under the name TalkWithYourFingers, recorded himself covering Everlong by the Foo Fighters. He posted the video to his YouTube channel, which contains a link in the description to buy the song on CD Baby. Dave Grohl spots it and posts it to his Facebook page. Thousands watch the video and share it with their friends. Almost a million views later, Greg’s YouTube channel has 15,000 subscribers, all waiting for his next song.
  17. Play a Gig – So you’re ready to book your first gig? There’s an art to securing your first show according to DIY Musician. An art that includes networking with other bands, finding the right venue, and crafting the perfect inquiry.
  18. Act as a Spokesperson – You don’t have to be a famous musician to become a spokesman. If you have an interesting story, like buskers Mr. Reed and Tom Larsen, you can work for a major music company testifying about their products or services.
  19. Earn Neighboring Rights Royalties – Neighboring rights royalties are paid to performers who played or sang the music that was broadcast and earned a performance royalty. As far as I know these aren’t paid in the U.S., but Canada and other countries pay them.
  20. Become an Impersonator and Sell Originals – Have a lot of people told you that you look like Dolly Parton or that you sound like Mel Torme? There’s good money to be had in impersonating singers. And since people will need a place to contact you, why not create a website for your impersonation business, as well as including an online store like this one from an Elvis Impersonator, where you sell some of your original work?
  21. Sell Your CDs at a Local Store – Have a connecting with a cool local music store? See if they will carry your CD and sell it to their hip customers.
  22. Offer Your Music for Direct Sync Licensing – Make connections in the film industry and work out a direct deal to license some of your music. Here’s a great interview with independent musician, Mr. Robotic about his direct licensing.
  23. Crowdfund Your Next Album or Single – Tell the world about your music project and let them help you make it monetarily possible. It’s all possible with today’s crowdfunding technology. It certainly helps to have an audience already established, but even an upstart can reach a bigger audience using these platforms. Singer-songwriter John Mark McMillan recently successfully funded his next album to the tune of $69,000 through Kickstarter.
  24. Work as a DJ and Mix-in Your Music – You know music and you know how to have fun, right? Start djing for events, and while you’re there, throw a couple of your own songs into the mix. It’s a great way to get exposure for your music. Well, unless you’re producing hip-hop and you’re djing a polka party.
  25. Create Music for Video GamesDanny Baranowsky got fed up trying to make a living composing music for films, and his shift into the musical world of video games paid off. Someone has to write the music and sound effects you hear when you play the Wii, Xbox, or PlayStation. Why can’t it be you?
  26. Create a YouTube Channel and Display Advertising – No executive at MTV can prevent you from making a hit music video. YouTube has long since leveled the playing field. Grab a camera, record yourself, and take advantage of YouTube’s advertising program to make some extra money.
  27. Publish a Book – You’ve seen the yellow For Dummies book series, haven’t you? You know, Bass Guitar for Dummies, Songwriting for Dummies, Violin for Dummies? Someone has to write niche music books for…dummies.
  28. Substitute for a Music Teacher – It doesn’t matter if you’re old or young, you can sign-up to be a substitute teacher. And some school districts will even let you choose the type of classes you want to substitute for. Once you get your foot in the door, you could be the sub they call upon to fill a long-term music teaching position. And then you could make the news like Rick Yeakle.
  29. Create a Blog to Promote Your Music – At a minimum a good blog (or tumblr blog) will help market you or your band by giving followers insight into what life is like backstage. But if you really have something interesting to say, a blog with great content can be a huge source of press for you and your music.
  30. Start a Summer Music School – School’s out for summer. Many parents are looking for people and places to entertain their bored children. Consider starting a summer music school highlighting your musical areas of expertise. You’ll need a location to house it, as well as some serious word of mouth. It could provide a good income stream during the hottest months of the year.
  31. Create a Music Education or Appreciation App – Is your specialty an area of music that others might not know as much about? You can create an app that not only educates others, but also allows them to listen to music within that genre. A great example is Blue Note Records’ latest app that helps people discover jazz music.
  32. Perform on a Street Corner with a Tip Jar (Busking) – There’s a misconception that street musicians are homeless (or near-homeless) people who are trying to make a buck or two for dinner. When Max Judelson was a student at the Boston Conservatory, he found the right day, time, location that worked for him, along with 10 other pieces of advice for anyone wanting to make some extra money.
  33. Teach Live Music Lessons Online – The traditional classroom is evolving. Teach music online by joining an online teaching community like Zoen and show up “virtually” in homes hundreds of miles away. Or, if you’re like Kristin Shoemaker, teach students in another state or even continent.
  34. Be Awarded a Grant from a Government or Non-Profit Group – If you’re creating music that needs preserving (because it’s rare or tied to a specific culture) you can usually find support from governments or non-profits. These grants can be quite large, like the $45,000 grant received by Australian musician Richard Frankland.
  35. Record Backing Tracks and Sell Them Online – If you have a studio or access to more audio and sound equipment than other people, you could create an online business that sells backing tracks. Go to bed at night knowing your music is making money even while you sleep.
  36. Perform in Restaurants, Hotels, or Department Stores – While department stores like Nordstrom are cutting back on piano players, there are plenty of other upscale stores, restaurants, and hotels that need musicians (more specifically, piano players) to set the mood for their patrons. According to Musicians’ Wages, the first gig is the most difficult one to get, but once your reputation is established, you should be able to find them more easily.
  37. Create Sound Files (i.e. Virtual Instruments) – Here’s a unique business idea. For those who play an array of instruments, especially the more unique ones, composers often need your help when creating their music. And since you can’t be everywhere all at one, recording those sound files and creating an online database where they can purchase them (like the one at Impact Soundworks) is good for them and for your pocketbook.
  38. Compose Music for a Theatrical ProductionComposer Stephen Lias says that if you like to collaborate with others and you are willing to start off small (meaning make less money at the beginning), then the opportunities for creating music for theatrical productions are endless. A great jumping off point is your local theatre, he says.
  39. Become an Affiliate for Music Companies – If you can’t land an endorsement deal, you can at least signup to receive a commission. Sign up with Musician’s Friend and receive a commission every time someone makes an instrument or sheetmusic purchase because of you.
  40. Join the CD Baby, Amazon, and iTunes Affiliate Programs – If you are selling your music through these channels already (which you probably are if you’re using CD Baby), you might as well make a little commission for your efforts. The affiliate links will need to be placed from your own website though. Join CD Baby’s affiliate program.
  41. Build Your Own Website and Sell Your Music There – CD Baby is a great marketplace, but don’t rely on them for all of your promotion. Create your own website using a free service like WordPress, or something more involved like what Bandzoogle can offer.
  42. Gig at Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and Other Events – You won’t become a rockstar playing weddings. But the pay can be pretty good. And if you do well, word will spread and you’ll soon have a bonafide business on your hands. One way to help get your name out there is to sign-up with a site like Gig Masters.
  43. Offer Your Single as a Ringtone – Don’t forget that your fans might want to place your songs on their phones as a ringtone. Make this easy for them by creating and selling your own ringtones and making them available in iTunes.
  44. Create an App That Makes Music Sound Better – Record producer and second cousin of Jon Bon Jovi, Tony Bongiovi, created an app called a Digital Power Station. It makes the music on your iPhone sound better in real-time.
  45. Sell Merch – Sell t-shirts, posters, etc. after each live show.
  46. Re-sell Your Old Instruments Online – Ebay and Craigslist provide easy opportunities to clean out your closet. If you’re hard-pressed for some money, it might be time to let go of old instruments that you have replaced or no longer work. Michael Carlini uses Craigslist to both buy and sell old instruments and offers tips for people who are looking to do the same.
  47. Sell Sheet Music – Skilled at a rare musical instrument? This money-maker is for you. Ted Yoder, hammered dulcimer musician, creates specific sheet music for the dulcimer and sells it through his website.
  48. Provide Music for Corporate Videos – Corporate video creation is on the rise, which also means there’s a niche for people like Claire Batchelor who can create and edit music for those videos. Break into this market by teaming up with a videographer to make a few initial videos for free in order to develop your portfolio.
  49. Sell Your Single Online with CD Baby – You don’t have to have a full album to start selling music these days. Simply sign up with CD Baby and upload your first single. You’ll be in business in no time.
  50. Start a Music Blog and Help Other Musicians – Dave Hahn started a blog to share his experience as a musician in the cruise industry. His blog attracted a lot of attention from wanna-be cruise musicians. Dave eventually packaged his information up into 3 guides, which he sells online.
  51. Manage Other Musicians – Been around your particular industry long enough to make all the right connections and pick up a few business and marketing skills? You can parlay your expertise into a management service.
  52. Sell Vinyl – Offer your music in vinyl and attract a whole new audience. If you haven’t heard, vinyl is making a comeback.
  53. Play Music on a Cruise Ship – You don’t have to be Kathie Lee Gifford to get a job on Carnival Cruise Lines. But if you’re up for the challenge, Josh Greenberg, who has worked on a cruise line before, says they are looking for people who know how to read music and can play music in various genres.
  54. Create an App That Incorporates Your MusicM. Ward is a folk musician who saw a need–a need for an app that would stream non-commercial local radio programming. He created A Wasteland Companion, which is the same title as his album. Smart phone users can download the Wasteland app, stream public radio stations across the country, and also find other content about M. Ward, such as news and tour schedule.
  55. Consider a Career in Music Therapy – To be sure, a career in music therapy doesn’t just happen overnight. There are college courses to be taken and a diploma to be received. But in the end, it is a solid career path to using your love of music to help others.
  56. Host a Summer Concert Series in a Local Park – If a festival is too much to pull off, create a simple summer concert series where you, along with other musicians, each take a weekend day to perform. The local community may offer to support you financially.
  57. Fill in for a Band Member – Everyone gets sick every now and then or has a scheduling conflict. Do your bandmates know you’re willing to step in if there is a need in one of their other bands? Maybe it’s time you let them know.
  58. Give Away Your Music for Free – Seems counterproductive, right? Not necessarily. Check into sites like NoiseTrade, which offer full albums or samplers for free but they also leave patrons with the option to tip. You’d be surprise how well people tip when they are given the option instead of being told how much to pay. It’s worked for both indie artists, as well as big named ones.
  59. Earn Performance Royalties – “A performance royalty is owed to the songwriter and publisher of a particular song whenever that composition is broadcast or performed in public.”
  60. Send Out a Sponsored Tweet – Pop Star Kimberly Cole has over a million fans on Twitter. She uses a service called Sponsored Tweets and makes $1,300 for each sponsored tweet she sends out. Visit SponsoredTweets.com to find out how much you could make from your tweets.
  61. Crowdfund Your Next Song or Video – Not ready to fund an entire album, but still need a small community to support your craft? Consider a service like Patreon, which allows people to become subscribers to your work (often pledging just a single dollar for your next song or music video). For example, Lauren O’Connell is currently creating music on Patreon and 132 “patrons” are signed up to pay her a total of $570 for her next song.
  62. Record Lessons and Sell Them Online – David Walliman took his guitar playing expertise to YouTube and eventually created Guitar Playback, a website with a store where he sells high-quality video lessons among other things.
  63. Sell Instruments After Live Performances – This idea is perfect for hand drummers who may perform in tourist spots. Get a drum circle going and then allow the participants to purchase a drum to remember their experience and take the music with them.
  64. Act Like a Musician – The film and theater industry need real musicians to fill certain roles. If you’re a musician who can also act you should definitely promote yourself like Mark Morgan, a freelance trumpet player, who works for a NYC tourism company as an actor on the side.
  65. Sell Your CDs in Person – People still buy CDs in person from a performing musician. When you’re performing, don’t miss the chance to sell your music to fans after the show.
  66. Earn Print Rights for Your Sheet Music – Just like your recordings, when a composition of your recording is reproduced, you should earn some money.
  67. Sell Your Album Online with CD Baby – This list wouldn’t be complete without the idea that’s made the CD Baby blog possible. Long live the independent musician!
  68. Create a Premium Fan Club – Sell premium monthly or annual subscriptions to be in your fan club. Make the fan club worthy of the subscription by providing plenty of freebies and behind the scenes access.
  69. Get In the Shazam Database – Being in Shazam is a must if you expect to be featured on a TV show or commercial. CD Baby can help you get into the Shazam database.
  70. Produce Music for Commercials – A lot of musicians think that composing music for commercials means quenching their creative side, but Gabe Sokoloff says that isn’t the case. He says it can even help make you a better musician, give you an appreciation for the diversity in music, and advance your music career. Don’t know where to start? Begin with local businesses who might need music for television ads.
  71. Sell Your Merchandise Online with Your Own Website – You never know when someone is looking for a goodie for themselves or a special gift idea for their friends and family, who might be fans. Street Drum Corps sells swag supplied and sold through their free online store CafePress.com.
  72. Sign Up for All Media Sync Licensing with a Library – All Media sync licensing will extend your license to all forms of media, like commercials, TV shows, and more. CD Baby makes this possible through a partnership with Rumblefish.
  73. Go on a Summer House Concert Tour – If you have friends in other states or connections in different cities within the same state, consider creating a house concert tour. Charge admission; pay the homeowner a fee, and pay yourself. Set up a recording in one of the houses and then sell albums later when the tour has ended, like Shannon Curtis did.
  74. Earn Mechanical Royalties – “Every time a song you’ve written is manufactured to be sold in a CD, downloaded on a digital music retail site, or streamed through services like Spotify and Rdio, you are owed a mechanical royalty.”
  75. Organize a Niche Music Conference – As a musician it’s natural for you to want to be around others musicians. Why not organize a conference where you can talk shop with all of your musician friends, improve your skills, and advance your industry? Ian Crombie, successful songwriter, serves as executive director of the West Coast Songwriters, who get together once a year for a conference.
  76. Become a Music Librarian – It’s a highly-competitive field, but if you have a degree in music theory or library science or other related fields, and you know music better than others, then a career as a music librarian might be a good option for you. While public libraries often have these positions, there are many at radio and tv stations, colleges and universities, and conservatories, among other locations.
  77. Sign Up for MicroSync Licensing with YouTube – By allowing this form of licensing, you could get paid when someone uses your music as background on one of their home videos posted to YouTube. CD Baby can make this possible for you.
  78. Work as a Studio Musician – Connect with local studios and become their regular stand-in session musician.
  79. Create a Fun App for Your FansFollow Dan Deacon’s lead and create an app that your fans can use in the audience at your live show. The Dan Deacon app allows users to participate in an audience-wide light that is synchronized with his on-stage performance.
  80. Rent Your Studio to Other Musicians – Have your own recording space? Odds are there are other musicians in your area looking for a place to record their music. Make some extra money by renting out your studio. Neal Morse, progressive rock musician, rents out his personal studio.
  81. Create an Instructional Digital Guide – If you don’t have video capabilities, another idea for making money with your music is to create an eBook teaching people how to play an instrument, like this one from guitarist Justin Sandercoe. Your customer gets the information they need immediately and it requires little overhead to produce for you.
  82. Play Some Gigs for Free – Create exposure and get your name out there. Do the hard work up front and reap the benefits (especially the monetary ones) later.
  83. Offer Acoustic Versions of Your Music – Offer your fans a different version of your music. Go acoustic and record it. Then promote it just like new music.
  84. Record a Cover Song – First, acquire the mechanical license for the song you want to cover. Then record it and share it with the world. Learn the three distinct ways you can make money from this.
  85. Become a Music Teacher – In many schools, funding for the arts are among the first cuts made when budgets are reduced, so full-time music teaching positions are becoming fewer and fewer. However, when that happens, many schools still offer part-time teaching positions and it is possible to piece together more than one of those in order to make a living, like Koen Guedens does. And if you can’t find a job teaching in a school, teaching private lessons in students’ homes can be quite lucrative if you price your lessons wisely.
  86. Send out a Tweet – In 2009, independent musician Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls made $19,000 in 10 hours through Twitter. Seriously. Maybe it would be a good idea for all of us to sharpen our social media skills.
  87. Build Out a Tour – Before you decide to just take your band on the road and make a living out of it, it would be wise to consult other bands who have toured and seek their expertise. Lucky for you, the band Marbin recently shared on the DIY Musician blog how they made their tour financially sustainable.
  88. Open Your Home for Music Lessons – Gas isn’t cheap these days, and your time is valuable. Instead of traveling to the students to teach them your musical craft, have them come to you, to your home. Set up a space in the living room or in a music room and let your home help you make more money.
  89. Submit Your Music to a Record Club – If you’ve got the right sound a service like Feedbands.com will stream your music to their listeners, and if the listeners like it enough, they’ll create a vinyl record for you and write you a check.
  90. Start a Music Festival and Perform with Others – If you’re having trouble generating ticket sales on your own, partner up with several other music groups and have a festival.
  91. Find a Sponsor for Your Tour – If you want to go on tour with your band or on a solo tour, Simon Tam of Last Stop Booking says there’s no way of knowing if someone will sponsor you until you ask. But no one likes a diva and you need to be unique in your approach.
  92. Get Paid to Review and Demo Instruments – If you’ve got a large enough audience on YouTube, you can mix in the occasional product review and demonstration. Reach out to companies who produce the products you like and see if they’re willing to compensate you for a review.
  93. Write and Produce Jingles – If you’re lyrically gifted and have a tendency for the quirky and fun, like ShiftyPop, consider writing jingles. Use a site like Fiverr to market your services globally and undercut the competition.
  94. Land an Advance and/or Sign-on Bonus from a Record Label – Easier said than done, right? But this does happen and you just have to remember that the advance portion is only an advance. You still have to produce revenue from the album to actually earn that money. A smart move might be to spend the bonus, but stash the advance away in a savings account until you start making sales.
  95. Provide Educational Concerts (i.e. Performance Workshops) – Mix your love of performing with your abilities as a teacher. Offer up performance workshops to budding musicians or other groups.
  96. Create a Digital Guide for Marketing Yourself as a Musician – If you’ve seen success in the music industry, especially when it comes to marketing, you can create an eBook or a digital guide to help others who are just getting their feet wet or who are looking to take their career to the next level.
  97. Perform in Someone’s Living Room – If you’re not seeking the fame and spotlight, but you’d just rather play your music in a smaller, more intimate setting, consider a living room concert. Have someone you know (a fan, maybe?) open their home and sell tickets to the event.
  98. Lead Worship at a Church – Isn’t it a sin for a church to pay for musicians? Well, a lot of churches don’t have a problem with it. And if you can find one that’ll pay you to show up each Sunday morning and play, that’s not a bad gig.
  99. Play for an Orchestra or Ensemble – Douglas Yeo plays with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and says there are many benefits of seeking an orchestral career–good pay, an appealing schedule, and lots of travel being just a few. He also offers questions to ask yourself as you consider this career path.
  100. Enter a Songwriting Contest – Dallas based singer-songwriter Larry G(ee) recently won gear and other prizes by being selected as a grand prize winner in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Another contest to enter is the International Songwriting Competition.
  101. Use Your Studio to Teach Music Lessons – You’ve spent money creating a studio that is a top-notch place for you to make music. But you can also get that studio to make money for you by using it as the location where you teach lessons to others. Or rent it out to other teachers.

I hope you discovered a new way to make money as a musician. Leave your ideas in the comments below.

[For more tips from Philip, check out his popular article 52 Ways to Make Extra Money, all about how people can fix their finances in a short amount of time.]