There is no end to the reasons why amateur musicians have second thoughts about turning their passion into a single-minded career.
Almost all their time will be devoted to music—practicing, traveling, networking and connecting, managing contracts and booking dates, to say nothing of time it takes to set up for a performance and check the sound before actually going on stage.
And time is money, which can be a huge stumbling block, especially for those who will have to give up full-time jobs to play professionally.
If you don’t have ample cash on hand to ride out the initial storm—many new ventures don’t turn profitable for two or three years—here are some ways to help supplement your income while staying within the music world.
Who knows better the challenges and rewards associated with teaching music than musicians who took lessons for years to master their art. Talent and insight are qualities that make aspiring professionals excellent candidates for teaching on the side.
It can provide a steady revenue stream that you can schedule to fit your music-business schedule. If it’s sufficient, the income can let you be more selective about the dates you take, but don’t be too picky. You’re trying to build a reputation, and you don’t have to give booking agents and talent scouts a reason to think you’re a dilettante.
Moreover, the miracle of the internet and videoconferencing enables you to lead lessons from anywhere—while you’re on the road, for instance, or during slack times in your schedule—or connect with learners on their schedules. Don’t forget to archive those lessons behind a paywall on your website.
Do not neglect—or get over whatever bias you might have about—taking a part-time job in a music store. As an up-and-coming professional, your fans may be new customers for the store, which gives you leverage when negotiating wages and scheduling. If there’s room in the store, you might be able to work out a side hustle for teaching there.
Here’s another potentially huge benefit of working in a music store. Your growing reputation as a drawing card in the music scene gives you leverage to negotiate an arrangement for the store owner to host your workshops. Split the proceeds of the workshop, ask for a percentage of purchases your students make—you’re an entrepreneur; be entrepreneurial!
Instruments need service, and students can be hard on them. You’ve probably gained enough experience through your amateur years to do some work. And this is another hack you can do on your own time, provided you meet the promised deadline.
There also are resources, such as woodwind repair from Lisa’s Clarinet Shop, to add to your expertise. The investment in learning how to repair instruments could produce good income over time as you grow your intended full-time performance career.
Make Money While Sleeping
Through streaming services, you could earn extra income through royalties and the beauty of it is you don’t have to spend any more time past the original recording, editing, and set up.
People love to wear musicians’ billboards—correction, t-shirts—and other branded paraphernalia. If you’re not selling merch, you’re not only missing out on free advertising and word-of-mouth marketing, you are leaving money on the table. Anything that fits on a table in a venue lobby can be sold on your website’s ecommerce page. It takes a bit to set one up, keep it current, and fulfill orders, but there are vendors who will manage all of that. It’s an investment, but as the saying goes, it takes money to make money.
A piece of every dollar you earn will disappear to taxes. But you can whittle down your tax liability by knowing the expenses you can write off. Instruments and cases, music stands, rosin, and concert tickets are just a handful of potential write-offs. Even if you perform pro bono, you may be able to write off transportation, parking, and accommodations.
Keep all your receipts, organize them, and consult a tax professional when working out your taxes. Software like TurboTax can also walk you through relevant write-offs and offer a consulting service—for a fee, which may qualify as a write-off—to ensure you’re maximizing legitimate deductions.
A career as a professional musician or singer can be extremely rewarding. With talent, business acumen, tenacity, and a little good fortune, there’s no reason why you can’t prosper and significantly increase your income over time. You were probably driven to music as a career from a place of passion, but don’t let that cloud the reality of music as a business—and don’t be afraid of a few low notes when getting started. Expand your repertoire as you scale your career path upward!