Self employed musicians

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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.

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


I’ve mostly made money from licensing deals (as A.Eye and my solo stuff as DJ Kenneth A). Most of that has been more for fun money and it’s resulted in some cool licensing deals. (Music for retail stores, Red Bull, Toyota, mtv, tv shows etc).
I’ve also made money from prizes from one or two remix contests (Queen) and DJing bar gigs. My music is up for streaming (as DJ Kenneth A) and on bandcamp but those aren’t really doing anything in terms of making money. People listen and buy but for me the licensing was where it’s at. In the end I’m sure it’s possible to make it with hard work.
For licensing I have noticed that it’s getting harder to have it happen as they seem to be moving to a smaller number of companies that require more connections to get in. My licensing contract ends at the end of this month. I’ve been looking around and trying other companies but it’s mostly rejections so it is what it is. I’m not planning to quit my day job for it as I enjoy what I do and it’s a good gig. But making it is possible, you just have to be prepared to work your butt off, make music constantly and at depending on what avenue you go, even give up control to a lot of your process. However where there is a will there is definitely a way. Best of luck to everyone on their journeys!

@Amanda West thank you for sharing your personal details about your experiences in the music biz! It is difficult to get real, honest feedback! You have obviously put in the work to get where you are.

I didn't stick with it for 9 years but I did make significant money selling royalty-free instrumentals over a one year period a few years back. Like you, I did not make enough to earn my living. So I decided to focus my efforts on my primary career and mostly abandoned the royalty-free market (at least for now.)

I have made more money as an accompanist, than any other endeavor. But it is highly inconsistent. And now with COVID, almost gone. Nevertheless it is one of many income streams.

Traitor over here. Although, the war was lost long before I came along and became a wedding DJ.

@johnstaples I only have 1 song on anywhere royalty free. I think that game is more for folks who can turn out hundreds and hundreds of instrumentals over a period of time. I only write songs (although the instrumental beds get licensed too), and they are in libraires where you always get the back end writer's share.
I supplement the sync income by work for hire lyric writing and editing, and I also have a side gig where I do music business admin for clients (tagging, collating metadata, uploading tracks to libraires and platforms etc).
It all adds up, and my music biz services gig is the equivalant to music lessons I suppose Smile

dzd's picture

@JūS not a bad gig if you get to help yourself to the open bar/buffets haha @JamKar that has been the only avenue that's been somewhat profitable for me, equal or greater than a job job at least, but yeah it's iffy and inconsistent and a massive headache usually at the best of times and can feel very prostitutey, depending on who you're lucky or unlucky enough to work for.

Well personally I've only ever made enough from performing music to barely cover the gas money to get to and from the gigs.

But a question for those of you who do rely on it for income; has making music as a "job" changed your relationship to making music in general?
I mean, I make it for fun, but I'm imagining that I would feel differently if I needed to make it for the cash.

dzd's picture

@Fuzzy personally, every bit of joy gets sucked out of it Biggrin Even if you try to not care (are people going to like this) well you kind of have to.....and cater to the crowd and the "norms" and care, no matter how much people say they love stuff "outside the box" they? really? no, not the majority, or even a big enough chunk of any weirdo minority, to pay any bills as those folks are usually broke ass musicians themselves lol. I mean as always there's exceptions, great groups to play with that are just having fun, etc.... but for me as soon as it's do that one thing I liked and was "successful" over and over and over thanks. Correlates directly for me why so many "original" artists have such high suicide/dependency issues Wink