What would you be willing to do to turn your love of music into a professionally and personally rewarding career?
If the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson had had access to all the side hustles today’s musicians have, he might not have had to sell his soul. He could have taught and held workshops, repaired instruments, and even sold music and merch online.
Would you be willing to step into one or more of those roles to keep the money coming in while you established a career as a professional musician or singer?
It’s not a small thing these days to completely reinvent yourself, especially if it means quitting a job. We live in tough times. Everything is more expensive and the central money planners don’t appear to be in any hurry to help ratchet down prices.
Maybe you’ve been planning to make the transition to playing professionally and have put away enough money to cover the necessary business expenses, including getting a business license, raising your profile in the market, buying equipment, and so forth. You may even be prepared to weather a prolonged (like two or three years!) stretch of negative financial growth.
Know before going in, it’s unlikely income will be consistent due to the nature of performing.
But even if you don’t have a lot of cash on hand, don’t let that stand in the way of realizing your dream to become a professional performer.
Unlike old Robert Johnson, you have all kinds of ways to help supplement your income while staying within the music world.
You probably took lessons and maybe still do. So who knows better about the challenges and triumphs associated with teaching music than you? Teaching can provide consistent income to help make ends meet and give you the financial flexibility to be more selective about the gigs you take. Don’t be too choosy, though. You’re trying to establish a brand reputation.
You can also tailor lesson times to fit your schedule. If you tend to play at night clubs, you can schedule lessons for students right after school or adults who get off late afternoon. With the advent of virtual meetings, you could offer online lessons even when traveling.
Pro tip: Think online. If multinational corporations can hold strategy sessions by teleconference, you can teach music on Zoom, Facetime, or any of a dozen other platforms. In fact, you can give lessons to any number of paying customers at once online.
Connect with a music store or market yourself as a workshop leader. If a store lets you run workshops onsite, management will want something in return. You could share a percentage of the revenue with the storeowner or arrange a sliding-scale compensation tied to the number of workshop participants who make a purchase that day. Just bringing people through the door—even if they don’t buy—expands the store’s prospect base. To encourage sales, suggest a participant discount during the workshop.
Instrument repair can be provided through a music store or set up online. If you’re already teaching, you’ll already have a built-in client base. The great thing about repair is that it doesn’t have to be done at a set time. Whether you’re an early riser or night owl, there’s ample time to fit in repairs—as long as you meet the promised deadline.
As a musician, you probably have some repair expertise. You may even be an expert technician. If not, there are numerous resources, such as woodwind repair from Lisa’s Clarinet Shop. The investment in learning how to repair instruments could produce good income over time as you grow your intended full-time performance career.
Nobody wants a day job, but sometimes a day job is needed. The part-time world is not limited to data entry and waitressing. Instead, stay connected to the business you love and with which you already have expertise by working in a music store. If you perform at a lot of weekend events, for example, you may have several weekdays available. You’ll want to use some of that “free” time to secure more business, but you could also spare some time to take on a little extra work.
While working at a music store, you may be able to increase your income by providing lessons or instrument repairs as well without necessarily increasing the number of hours worked.
You only have so many hours in the day. 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 setup.
How many tour t-shirts do you have in your collection? It’s kind of a no-brainer: People buy souvenirs to remind them of the performances they’ve attended. We’ll assume you have a well-stocked merch table for your performances. That’s Music Business 101 stuff. The advanced course is selling your branded tchotchkes online. It takes time and money to set up an e-commerce site and fulfill orders but has profit-center potential. If it gets too big, there are services that will manage the operation on a revenue-sharing basis.
The taxman wants his piece, but you can control the size of the bite. As a professional performer, it’s important to know and use appropriate tax write-offs/business expenses to save on your taxes, which means more money in your pocket. Instrument 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.
Always consult with a certified tax professional before writing off anything. The best practice is to keep all receipts and categorize them as best you can. Software like TurboTax can also walk you through relevant write-offs, but we suggest hiring a professional to ensure you’re maximizing all of the write-offs you possibly can. You’ll be surprised how much extra income you could make just by following the rules when filing your taxes!
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!