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Make a Living Playing Music

The truth is there are easier careers than music, but none as fulfilling. Music is our passion and deciding to go pro means making some changes. But if you do your due diligence, you can anticipate some of what the future may hold and plan accordingly.

Here are steps you can take to make the smart move.


Know Your Value

When it comes to money—and that’s what turning your passion into a career is all about—you have to run the numbers. Over and over again.

And when you’re done, if you’re uncomfortable asking for what you’re worth, you should seriously consider another career. You’re not playing for fun anymore. You have bills to pay and at least one mouth.


Like any major decision in your life, you need to crunch the numbers. Ask yourself:

  • How much money do I need to live conservatively, abundantly, or somewhere in between?

  • How much do I need to save for retirement?

  • How many performances can I realistically secure in a given week or month?

Working backwards, figure out how much you will need to charge for each performance to cover your expenses. Research whether the market will support that amount.

The truth is in the numbers and knowing—instead of guessing, wishing, or hoping—what your earnings will be and how they will square up against your expenses will help relieve the stress that may arise from pursuing a creative career path such as music.

Research

You love music and want to make a living playing it. What else do you need to know? First, playing because you love is not the same as playing to get paid. If you think that’s wrong, talk to career performers and ask them about what their “job” is like day in and day out, pros and cons, etc.

There’s more to the career of performing than just performing, which takes us to the next point.

Plan B

What’s not to love about standing in front of a full house playing the music they’ve paid to hear? Hello? Reality check.


Beyonce doesn’t have to worry about how she’s getting from one performance to the next. You do.

She doesn’t have to keep her financial records straight and taxes paid. You do.

She doesn’t have to manage her Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. You do.

She doesn’t have to negotiate with venues or agents. You do.

Performing is fun; all the baggage, not so much. So have a Plan B.


If the rigamarole of going pro costs more than it’s worth, you may decide altogether that your passion is best served when done for pleasure, not profit.


There are accomplished pianists who are also mortgage brokers, flutists who are accountants, and singers who are HVAC repair technicians. Sometimes, making a living at something else provides the freedom to perform when, where, how, and how often you want.

Profit Channels

There’s nothing quite like the thrill of performing live to a receptive audience, but touring can take the stuffing out of you. It’s physically and mentally demanding, so figure out ways to earn when you’re not performing.

The internet and social media have opened up all kinds of opportunities to make money. Sell your music (within the bounds of copyright law) on your website, online music stores, music download sites, streaming platforms, or via online distributors. You will want to develop and invest in a marketing plan and there will often be fees associated with your sales efforts. On the other hand, these channels could provide substantial revenue streams without you having to perform 24/7.

Play to the Audience

When you make a career performing, your audience isn’t just the people watching and listening to you. Your most important audience member is always the person who hires you. In essence, you need to be a musical megaphone - the emphasis on projecting your message, not high volume.

Talk to people, socialize, and share what you do. As a performer, you won’t always know where your next gig is coming from. It may be the person you strike up a conversation with at the dry cleaners or your brother’s best friend’s aunt’s cousin at the birthday party for your niece. Always be aware of your surroundings and behaviors. Word to the wise: You are always performing. Act accordingly.

Pay It Forward

The first days are the hardest days. Launching a music career is a challenge. So, remember the people who gave you a boost when you are first starting. Maybe it was a booking agent who gave you your first chance. Maybe a stage manager gave you a better slot. Maybe your cousin hired you for her wedding even though she had her heart set on a polka quartet.


If your career smooths out and unfolds the way you hoped it would remember the people you met on the way up. On occasion, mail them a card or send them a text. Thank them for what they gave you and how it still means so much to you. Don’t do it with the idea that they’ll give you even more—but if your gesture leads to an offer, don’t turn it down. What goes around comes around is an axiom that perpetuates goodwill and brings joy to the giver and recipient alike.

Take Care of Yourself

As a performer, you are your business. If you run a store, you’d fix a leaky roof! Better yet, you’d maintain that roof, so that it never leaked to begin with. Do the same for yourself. Eat well, get plenty of rest, exercise, read good books, watch fun movies, hike with friends, drink tea by the beach, whatever recharges your batteries and refills your soul. The healthier and happier the business, the better it will do and the longer it will function successfully.

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