What does it take to make a living as a musician?
Being a professional musician is probably one of the most interesting jobs but it certainly has its challenges. How exactly do you earn a living from making music? Can you really make a career out of it? There might be a few things you are unsure about when you are new to the music industry. Or maybe you’re just curious where your talent could take you?
When thinking about making a living as a musician, many people still imagine being a famous artist that sells records and tours extensively. Of course, that is one way of doing it but not the only way to measure success. Musicians can follow other more traditional ways to make a living from their music. If you take one thing from this post, remember it IS possible to make a living as a musician. Most successful people are gifted in what they do but it’s also because of plenty of hard work that they got to where they are. Your gift will make a way for you but creativity, wisdom, dedication and hard work will get you far.
We asked two of our musicians and teachers here at Derosa Music Academy, Steve Young, and Samantha Walker, what their advice is for budding musicians and what it was/is that brought them success and that enables them to make a living as musicians. Besides teaching, they are also successful working musicians. In this week’s blog, they share some of their personal experience as artists. In our next blog post, they’ll discuss what it takes to join a band.
First up is our guitar and band tutor, Steve Young, who is a working, touring, gigging musician himself. His music career started in 1996 and he has some valuable advice that he gained from personal experience in the industry. Visit his website and find out more about his music at steveyounguk.com
Steve, what advice do you have for musicians wanting to take music from being a hobby to something they can make a career out of? What are the things you learnt as a musician and singer over the years?
Be diverse and work hard
“Making a living out of music is possible but only if you are prepared to be diverse and work hard. Having an idealistic approach to music will not help you in the long run. e.g ‘I only want to play one genre and refuse to play on a Saturday or Sunday’. There is a lot of money to be made if you can learn a multitude of styles, eras, and genres. One thing that is a MUST is to learn to sing as well as play. Who’s going to get the job? The Bass player who can sing great backing vocals or the one that stands in silence at the back. Even if you can only sing ‘oohs & aah’s’ this will help.”
Be willing to play covers and play different gigs
“My biggest mistake as a musician in my early 20’s was REFUSING to play ‘Covers’. I now make a very good living, work when I want and never in the same place twice. This is because I am prepared to play covers for parties, weddings etc. This doesn’t mean you can’t follow your dream of writing an amazing song and being a super star. Who gets to craft their stage act better? Someone who plays 3-4 nights a week or someone who works in a shop and only plays 3-4 per month?”
Consider all your talents
“If you have a business mind then you can also make money by helping people ‘find’ musicians e.g an agent or a fixer. Even a promoter of live events. Be honest with yourself. Are you actually good enough to perform or do your talents lie elsewhere in the music industry? Having a passion and drive for music is a must but you don’t have to be the one playing to make money.”
There you have it, it’s more than just your talent and having that dream that takes you to your goal. Be diverse, work hard, be willing to adapt, gig as much as you can and consider all your talents. Thanks Steve for the great advice.
Next up is Samantha Walker, our bass guitar tutor, who is also a gigging, touring, recording musician. She has worked professionally in the music industry since 1998 performing Bass/Guitar/Vocals. This includes Live Gigs and tours in Europe, Japan, Israel, US, and the Caribbean. Here is some of her valuable advice that she gained from personal experience in the industry. She was the lead singer and bassist in an all female rock band called JOANovARC, who have seen many successes. Check out joanovarc.co.uk
Sam, you basically get out of bed to rock out for a living, how would you advise musicians eying the possibility of making music a career?
“I’ve been a full-time working musician for 16 years. Through my experience of gigging, touring, recording, teaching, session work, songwriting and being signed to a major label I have learned that there are some very important factors that you need to be a sustainable working musician. These include drive and passion, self-discipline, dedication, and application. Remember you will not just be a working musician but you are your own boss in many respects.”
Self-belief and confidence
“Self-belief is so important and you need to have a strong backbone in this cutthroat industry. In the early years of being a working musician sometimes it was like being an out of work actor. This was until I really established myself. I made this happen by performing as much as possible over the years with various musicians and the band I am in now. This went from playing pubs to performing for record labels. I have performed on TV shows, radio, events, weddings, clubs, big and small venues. Crowds would be from as little as 50 people to as many as 10,000 people and festivals to as many as 100,000 people.
Keep your options open
“There are various avenues you can take to becoming full time. You should keep your options open, as you never know how long a musical job will last. You could be in a band with a resident contract to play a venue or play abroad but that might end for one reason or another.”
“Becoming an instrumental teacher is one very secure way of earning a living in the music industry. For this, it’s important to get grades in your instrument and even better if you can study music at College or even University. However, I never went to University so it’s not a must. I studied music A-levels, a diploma, and grades. I have found that it is an asset to getting teaching work. It’s also valuable to have the knowledge to pass onto your students. However, it is equally important to make sure you have learned your craft through gigging experience. To me, the best teachers are well-rounded musicians. You can set up your own teaching business from home or you can teach for a school and/or a music academy”. Glad to have you here at Derosa Music Academy, Sam!
Bands, duos, solos – the options are there
“You can also make a living performing in one or more cover bands or duos or do a solo spot. Pub gigs are the first port of call but do not tend to earn much playing in a pub. This is maybe £50 each for a band. However, this is great for gaining experience.”
“Once you have gained experience and feel you are ready for the next step you can get higher paid work through music booking agents. They book musicians for corporate events, weddings, night clubs, cruises, and contracts abroad. Joining an already established band is an easier route to getting onto this circuit. It’s a lot harder with your own band as you will need to create a show reel and a website with professional photos. You will then need to send this out to the agencies and more than likely will have to attend auditions with your band. The agencies look for a high caliber of musicians, as they want the best for their clients.”
“Becoming a session musician can also earn you a great living in the music industry. A session musician is a high caliber musician who is hired by top management companies and major labels such as EMI and Sony. They are hired to perform for established and newly signed artists, usually a solo artist who may need a band behind them. To do this you have to be at the top of your game as they are looking for top quality musicians. You can get session work from recommendation through being spotted on the scene performing or attending open mic nights. Sometimes a session musician will be required to sight-read and other times they will want you to learn the tracks by ear. So if you are working towards becoming a session musician it’s vital you have a well-trained ear and it’s a bonus if you can sight-read fluently. You can also sometimes get session work by answering adverts on websites like Music Jobs and Star Now. You can go through a session fixer, which is an agent that is specifically for this field.”
“Joining a tribute band is another really great working of earning a decent living. Tribute bands tend to get paid a high fee as they are well in demand. Especially if they are look and sound close to the original artist.”
“Being a theatre musician is another option. In a theatre show you will tend to have that job for a while and if the show is successful your rate will go up and you could even get to travel abroad.”
“As you can see there are many options and avenues you can take but what’s important is what you initially do to get to the stage of becoming the best musician you can be and thinking about where you want to end up. It’s all about putting in a lot of work from the beginning and most importantly never think that you have finished learning.”
Hard work, honing your talent and building experience is key. We hope this post has answered some questions you might have and that it has shed some of the light on how the music industry works. This is advice you can apply in reality and actions you can take toward that goal of making a living from what you love doing – making music and sharing your music with people.
If you are interested in music lessons, have a look at DEROSA’s lessons here, starting from £12.