Self employed musicians

18 posts / 0 new
Last post

I really love the business angle Motern Records and Viper the Rapper have.. and it got me wondering...

How possible is it to make a living from being a musician doing such things as self employed??

In all honesty I wonder if I'm made out for the traditional job path.. I've never been able to hold a paid job down without noping out and going 'all work no play makes nerdjealous something something...'

And since no buggers wanna date such an amazing fine specimen as above, and how I am so sad and depressed stacking shelves, it makes me sometimes want to pursue music or art as a means of income to at least do something I can stick at and enjoy.

Now I'm not talking fame, or riches. I mean as making income to provide for a family, enough to live.

I'm half expecting reality check replies, half my reaction being well, time to take up drinking!

I taught private guitar lessons for 25 years. Way better than a job. The pay angle may be changing in stores now so it might not be as good. Depends on where you are. A major requirement is patience.

It is a lot like any other profession. You need to take a look at supply and demand. Are there a lot of places trying to find musicians or a lot of musicians trying to find a venue? In my experience there are far more musicians than there are decent opportunities where you can earn a living.

If you are an excellent musician you could move to Nashville and try to make a living as a studio musician. Or as @JWHanberry said you could teach others but you need to be pretty good to do that.

I hate to be cynical but I think the only people making money in the music business these days are those few top artists and then a whole lot of people selling dreams to wannabes. During the 1849 Gold Rush I suspect more money was made selling shovels and treasure maps than was made in mining gold!

As an upfront disclaimer @nerdjealous I music for fun as a hobby. As a quick reflection, the amount of money I have made from years of gig tips and music sales is prolly less than the price of my small PA system, which I specifically bought for gigs. At one time I had the same thoughts of making significant earnings. At the time I subscribed to Acoustic Guitar magazine and one of the then editors (Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers) wrote a book called The Complete Singer Songwriter, which I read and was a real eye-opener. My takeaways were that even in the best of times, it's a small business with wildly variable income that takes a lot of skill, determination, passion, and energy. A DIY living takes most waking hours spent on the business side, not the making of music. I joke with my self-employed music friends (and none have disagreed yet) that, even when I work full time, I have more time to write (and write way more) songs than they do.

The answer in my view is yes possibly as long as you are entrepreneurial but its not easy. It also depends on how much money is enough.very few will make lots. There are many so different ways to make money in the music industry (the industry covers a lot of stuff) and you have to look outside the square and do whatever you have to make money.

-'s picture

I can show you the path to making money with music and being able to support yourself. I'm on that path right now...while I haven't made it yet, I do know the moves to make. costs money. A lot of it.

What my pal @AndyGetch said about more time on business than music - I've been there.
And what @coolparadiso said - how much money do you want/need?
Back in 2007 or so, I had put together a good side gig doing folk music for kids and families. And my wife was making amazing jewelry. Meanwhile, we both had decent teaching jobs. We crunched some numbers and thought maybe we could ditch our regular jobs.
But we spent more time business-ing and less time creating, and burned out. Good thing we didn't quit teaching.
In 2013 we opened a yoga studio. She quit her teaching job and a year later I quit mine. But only in 2019 did we finally make as much from the studio as we did when we both were teaching.
And being a good yogi looks a lot different when you're not just meditating but also accounting and marketing and hiring and firing.
And then, coronavirus. We still have the studio, but barely.
Point is, be wary of trying to turn what you love into what you do for a living. (Oh, and I'm still doing cool music endeavors beyond FAWM and 50/90, and occasionally even getting paid.)

I've had music featured on the cover CDs of music magazines. You can find my stuff on Spotify, and Tidal, and iTunes, and a bunch of other platforms. And yet most of my income from music comes from Bandcamp - by several orders of magnitude. If you're going to start anywhere, start there.

But I continue to spend far more money on the means to make music than I make from selling it. I don't expect that to change any time soon. And to be honest, I don't care; making music is something that I *have* to do. It's not part of a strategy for becoming insanely wealthy, and it never has been. I'm lucky enough to be at the point in my life where I can afford to do that - if I don't splurge too often. Don't fool yourself into thinking that getting into debt buying good-quality gear or getting a buy-on gig on someone else's tour will make all your dreams come true, because all it will make you is poor.

If you're already well off as a result of other interests, and you have the spare cash to pay for promotion as [@NuJ4X] suggests, then you *might* stand a chance of hitting the big time. But the odds are that all you will end up doing is making the promoters that you work with even richer. I've got a lot of friends in the business and it's merch sales that tend to keep them afloat. With Covid-19 killing off live events, they're hurting. Right now? Probably spend your time honing your craft. Then when some form of sanity returns to the music industry, you'll be ready.

There are several routes you could go. I've listened to Matt F's (Modern) talk a couple of times and he is absolutely brilliant. He and folks like Jonathan Coulton seem like unicorns... like they had a brilliant idea and then it just happened for them magically. That's not how it works though. They both put a butt load of work in and they found a route that other people hadn't used before. That's really it for those of us that aren't destined to be mega stars. We have to find a way to connect with our audience, which is really hard. Especially if you're not planning to be in a cover band. So I guess if you go the route of Modern and Coulton, you've got to figure out who your audience is, how to write for them so that you stand out, and how you're going to get your music to them... how to reach them (and how to pay the bills while you're working that all out). I work at renaissance festivals. That's the majority of my paid gigging work. I don't even work at the big ones. I work at the little ones. And I play at steampunk events and things like that. Glamorous life.

Of course, I'm lucky. I'm a music teacher. I wanted to be a music teacher since I was a kid. It's challenging (especially now) and rewarding, and allows me time for other musical pursuits. It's not for the faint of heart. I would highly recommend researching alternative careers in music. I have a lot of friends who have music careers who don't make most of their money performing or writing. Sound recording, instrument repair and building, publishing and sales, archiving/library work, music therapy, stage managing... there's lots of options. Any career that's rewarding though, takes grit. So whatever you decide, you've kind of got to prepare yourself for a long haul. There's some good books that I would recommend, starting with "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle.

I do make money from my music, and it is increasing every year. However I am not a performer really (rarely), I am a songwriter working mainly in the sync license business for film, tv and online media etc. That's how I make the money. It's not enough to say I am earning my full living at it, but it is heading that way now (9 years after I started seriously at it). I have a small disability pension which keeps me afloat, but my songwriting/music biz income will one day be enough to live on. It seriously takes time to build up (unless you can give lessons 1 to 1 where you live).
Not sure how much help this is, but it is a different or an extra direction that could be considered by some.

@Amanda West If you don't mind my asking, how did you get into that? Did you have to network extensively with content providers and music supervisors, or did you do it through music libraries or publishers or something? I've read a ton about it but still confused about where to actually begin, heard so much conflicting advice and honestly don't know anyone in real life who has actually done it.

dzd's picture

@Amanda Rose Riley not to answer for @Amanda West but as with most things in life, it tends to boil down to getting really really really lucky, or who you know. Hard work determination talent, blah blah blah yeah plays a part, but not as large of a piece as it should Wink Not to deter anybody, but it is a business, lots of backstabbing and stepping on others to get to the top involved Smile but I know nothing, and wish everyone the best of luck!

@Amanda Rose Riley I am more than happy to chat to you about the sync business and how I got into it. Would you be able to voice chat on facebook or some way similar ? I am in Ireland and can call UK landlines for free, if that helps.
I did network, but not fanatically, more organically. I had enormous help with advice etc from a few people already in the business who were paying it forward, so to speak.
And yes, it is very confusing and complicated. But not impossibly so Smile
My email is on my profile page Smile

@dzd I was not really really lucky, I worked very very hard to educate myself, do years of research and get involved organically where sync was happening, without being pushy. And if I had had to back stab anyone or step on anyone, I wouldn't be doing what I am doing now. I wouldn't even consider doing any of those things Sad Be trustworthy, honest, kind and thoughtful, and the sync industry remembers, as do individuals. The sync world in the USA is a small world Smile Even internationally to a much lesser degree.

Yes, it is very hard to get any success at all in sync, but it is possible if someone has the talent, can lay ego aside a bit, is very patient (it's a long term game) and is prepared to put a lot of work in via research and education.

I am happy to voice chat to anyone about it Smile I say voice chat, as there is a lot of info and there is no way I am typing it all (would be a book or two Wink )

@dzd that's not to say that there aren't unpleasant folks in sync. I have met a few along the way. But in all honesty the ones I can think of have lost out a lot because of their attitude, and I know of at least 2 that have been 'blacklisted' unofficially (it's a small world, esp in sync in LA).

dzd's picture

@Amanda West then all the more kudos to you....and why I said not to answer for you Wink best wishes with continued success

@dzd I have a long way to go yet Smile But I am way further on that I ever expected, so am a very happy bunny Smile


Sadly there is not correct, or incorrect answer or functional "advice", just one-off "my experience was", and then..., the choice made.

Question #01 may be, -- do you need to be paid to play?

Lets go with 50% of the answer, - no.

Then, just play.

See what happens, you are going to do that anyway Smile So, that's one definite and to be done anyway.

What I have found is, it seems anyway..., the less I care about or want anything the more, more-better Wink things show up. There's so many analogies which I love, but, -- I will spare you.

The thing that "movies" are made of is, -- careful what you wish for, it ain't what you think.

The only way to get what [you] think this all to be, -- is as I comment. When I play, or any of my art, when it is at a "point" in it's development I really don't care who sees it or hears it or what anyone had to say or drop in the hat $, -- nothing, or allot. If you can be in the moment of the song, the music, the performance, then..., sometimes, that is what is the connection in that "art". People pay for that.

You're asking a quesiton in a way as if folks, some folks have this secret classifieds paper for which there are listings for krappey music jobs. There are, -- take a krappey job you could not possibly care about, loosing, and make it musical. What would happen if at the beginning of a lunch rush, -- you stand there looking at the first three people in line and sing with all blood and guts, "and, how are you", [ta da tah dah...] sing it well. What could happen next? Construction worker, [battery] amp, and during lunch break, shred, busk from the center of that empty no window open building (amazing reverb). Kennels-man, make up and sing a song to each of the hounds... they really do apprerciate it. Astronaut, - imagine any one of those folks (go ahead fire'em for doing it Wink ) grabbing a Uke they smuggled in pieces to the space-station and next "NASA" moment, "did a little song" for them. Hahhh! We have a naked cowboy in Time Square, -- he does okay I hear. The thing is none do something they hate to "do it", they'd do it anyway.

It's kinda why I turn many opportunites down, stuff I would have loved to have offered at one time. Now, hahhh, I really don't care. Always be ready since one day, someone may take you on your terms.

But, if all you are is just another [... ...] musician. Don't complain for being engaged that way. There are plenty of house painters and only one da Vinci. But, how pleasant was his life? And, he'd've done it, anyway. So, then, so what.

There's a reason, [one of them, one of many is... ], there are so many homeless in some cities. A free warm spot, and water tap, and food, -- freedom. But, freedom without the "Toys", -- is that enough for most folks? They usually want the toys with it, -- that's the real math problem.

Hahhh..., I better end this TLTR "rambling..." ... Wink I've experienced total, total real freedom in my life. And?

I was the only one there.

No one to share it with. Total freedom is for the strength of character, possibly 99.9999% of "people" do not possess. It's a nice dream, but it takes real, guts.

Careful what you wish for.

And, compromised freedom that you negotiated, if unconventional, can be pretty foul. So, then, see the Mc Donalds singing cashiers job Smile

-- Well, once you read all of the above's... you'll be exactly where you are now. Well, unless this was a research question Wink and you're a PhD seeking data. Then, well, you did well!! And, good luck with your article, paper, book Smile [Leave a link]