Are you hoping to forge a money-making career in the music industry? While it can be a challenging and competitive world, making a viable living is certainly possible.
If you know how to make a living as a freelance musician, you’ll be able to do what you love, full time. Follow our essential tips for making a living with your music and you’ll discover ways to earn from online platforms, live events, composing and teaching.
In this article, we’ll cover the mainstream and more alternative methods of making money.
Essential Tips for Making a Living with Your Music
As much as we’d all love to do what we do for free, the reality is, if you want to invest large amounts of time (and possibly cash) into your music, you’ll need to make a living from it. Not every method of earning will suit every musician though. So we’ll be covering a variety of options you can consider, whether you’re an instrumentalist, singer, band or songwriter.
#1 Put in the work
This may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how many musicians expect work to magically appear and come to them. Some musicians can be notoriously lazy when it comes to promotion, marketing, networking and being proactive. Being musically talented is not enough in a hugely competitive industry. Most successful freelancers work their socks off. It requires commitment, effort and determination. And this doesn’t just apply to securing work. Once you get it, you’ll need to harness the opportunity, so you have a chance of repeat custom.
#2 Play small gigs
Play any gig you can. However small the audience may be, it’s all part of the journey. Buskers can earn considerable sums in a busy spot. Bars, community centres, weddings, parties are good choices too. Even open mic nights, although unpaid, offer a chance to meet and connect and be seen, and usually lead to paid gigs. Be friendly, open and approachable at all times. This will make it easier for others to connect and for you to network with them.
How to make a living as a musician
#3 Grow your fanbase
Building your fan base as well as retaining and engaging with them is essential. If no-one knows about you, or follows your gigs, or knows when and where you’re playing, where is your audience? A loyal fanbase is a valuable asset to be nurtured.
Use social media, network, get your music on platforms and playlists such as Spotify, do regular lives, reply to fan mail, keep everything updated. Another useful way is to support and follow other artists, if you can get a support slot with a bigger name their fans will get to see you. Work to get radio play, local radio and introducing shows are very supportive. Get on music discovery websites.
#4 Get session work
A session musician performs in a recording session, hired by producers, bands or film and video production companies. They look for musical excellence so it’s worth honing your skills to become the best. Session work can come in the form of instrumentals, backing singing and lead vocals. Once you’ve landed a session contract, you’ll likely get more and more offers from the same label or studio. So be sure not to burn your bridges with anyone while recording. Always be a consummate professional.
How to make money in the music industry
#5 Manage your finances
Once you earn the money, you need to maximise it. If you’re not financially savvy and organised it may help to take a course in tax matters, bookkeeping, budgeting and investing. Not every artist is wired for numbers and spreadsheets and forward projections can be tricky. But remember this is your business and you need to be on the ball with money. A small business course is a good start, saving money to cover a quiet spell is sensible. And learn to live within your means. Your pay will be erratic. However, this is very manageable with a bit of forward planning.
How to make a living as a freelance musician
#6 Sign up for a cruise ship contract
While this might not suit every artist, a regular contract on a cruise ship or with holiday parks and resorts can be well remunerated, often with free food and accommodation, making it possible to save. Tribute acts, cover bands and singing waiters are popular and many famous names started out in this way. You need a good level of musical ability and it can be an advantage if you know how to read music. If you’re lucky enough to land a job on a cruise ship, either as a guest solo artist or part of the theatre company or resident band you have a chance to see many parts of the world for free.
#7 Work at holiday parks
Holiday parks are always busy in summer but also tend to become extremely busy during the festive period, with Christmas and New Year parties. Events and bands are booked months in advance. Some will book directly through the parks and some through entertainment agencies. This gives you two options – either approach the park directly, well in advance with a proposal. Or apply to booking agencies.
How do independent musicians make money?
#8 Enter competitions
Some people consider competitions are beneath them or diminish their “artistic integrity”, after all, music tastes differ so why should they be judged? But so many artists have been spotted, given new opportunities, a step up the ladder and made superb contacts through entering competitions – see One Direction! There are chances to win money, studio time, development help and more. But through the various stages and processes of a competition, many artists have been selected for future paid gigs and management and even picked up by labels.
How to make money on Fiverr as a musician
#9 Offer services on freelancing sites
This is a novel new way to make money using your talents. Sites like Fiverr enable you to offer services at a set fee of your choosing. The possibilities are endless here. But some options are to write a bespoke jingle, record a specific personalised song, add elements to an existing track or create brand new arrangements to the hirer’s specification. There are loads of musicians already doing this. So consider your USP, try to be niche and ensure your pricing is as competitive as possible (which also means not selling yourself short).
How to make money from your music
#10 Find a music lawyer
As soon as you start to make a living in the music industry you will need advice and help with unfamiliar issues. Contracts and litigation can be a minefield, and a music lawyer can review and check terms and conditions of record deals, publishing and copyrights. Professional advice is very valuable. An experienced media lawyer such as english-media.com can steer you through any pitfalls and deliver practical advice. Before signing anything, consulting a lawyer is a must and can prevent ongoing problems. A good music lawyer will have useful contacts in the business and will guide and protect your interests.
Earn money by uploading songs
#11 Upload your songs for downloading
Another mainstream and obvious way to make money from music is to upload it to a streaming platform. You won’t make the big bucks until you’re raking in millions of downloads, but it will put a little into your wallet if you do well. To increase your takings, be mindful of where you choose to upload your music and spend some time researching the options.
How to make money composing music
#12 Write music for sync licensing
Freelance music writing can be very lucrative, especially once you delve into the realm of sync licensing. Writing lyrics and/or music can generate a full-time income. But it can take time to build a portfolio and enough customers. So persistent application will grow the list of people needing your skills. In addition to toplines, melodies and words, you might like to consider making beats or backing tracks.
How to make money in the music industry in 2021
#13 Promote yourself online
Most musicians know that establishing yourself online is extremely important. But in the current and post-COVID 19 eras it’s more vital than ever. Being active on social media, having a website and a profile on an entertainment directory will allow potential bookers and customers to learn about you and listen to your music.
Post links to live footage or promotional videos. Include as much information as possible, experience, history, photos, repertoire, gig calendar, any notable gigs, venues and support slots. And keep it updated. You can also earn cash from your social accounts – once you have enough followers to be eligible as an influencer or viable marketing avenue.
How can a musician make money from home?
#14 Teach music
Teaching music is a good way for freelancers to earn money from their skills. At first, finding students can take a while. But by keeping rates low and advertising in local community groups and pages, libraries and music shops, word soon gets around. If you have music qualifications schools and academies may offer work opportunities. Or if you want to, you can offer lessons from home, as well as over video calling platforms.
#15 Sell merchandise
This is now profitable and popular. Your fans can support and promote you at the same time by wearing and using your merch. Look out for Bandcamp Fridays where the site foregoes its cut of the takings (meaning you take all of the profit). These have been taking place on the first Friday of each month and look set to do so throughout 2021 at least.
How to make money as a musician online
#16 Start a YouTube channel
This is a no-brainer for any serious musician. Countless careers have launched over the years with the help of YouTube – think Justin Bieber, James Bay, Shawn Mendes and many more. You can start a channel for free, but you need to secure enough subscriptions if you want to monetise your videos.
#17 Edit, mix and master
Perhaps you’ve already produced some of your own tracks and have a top-notch home studio or quality DIY setup. Many engineers and musicians provide remote editing, mixing and mastering services. You’ll need a website with examples of tunes you’ve worked on. And with more and more artists recording themselves at home at the moment, this is a growing area of opportunity within the industry.
Be versatile and adaptable above all. When starting out or when work is not plentiful it helps to think outside the box and have the right mindset. Whatever your ambition, be it as a singer, guitarist, songwriter, beatmaker or producer, it’s important to not limit yourself to one thing. Work hard as a freelancer in the music industry. And don’t be too precious about what you do to move up the ladder.
- How do I become a freelance musician?
Hone your craft and get some experience. Play free gigs and open mic nights until you’re good enough to ask for money. At this stage, you can follow the tips in this article. You should consider joining the Musicians’ Union, which has a good deal of helpful insight into making this your career.
- Where do musicians make the most money?
Touring and live shows remain the biggest source of revenue for musicians. However, this is increasingly being overtaken by sites like TikTok and YouTube that offer artists a more direct form of income (as opposed to via labels and management who take large cuts and incur big expenses).
- What are the odds of making a living as a musician?
Lots of people want to do it. Relatively few make it. But your personal odds will more likely rest in your talent, how committed you are, how much effort you put it and your expectations. Instead of simply dreaming of fame and fortune, make your day to goals realistic, achievable and measurable.
Do you have any top tips for making a living with your music? How do you make a living as a freelance musician? Let us know about your successes and challenges, in the comments below.