Playing music is without a doubt the best job in the world. If you can make it work financially, you’ll be free to do pretty much whatever you want, whenever you want, and play music every day. Those of us who can do this are among the luckiest people in the world.
On the music creation side, there are a ton of ways to earn an income, and you’ll most likely be harvesting a few different income streams to make it work. You’ll make money with gigs, cover gigs, house shows, merchandise, licensing, streaming, royalties, and crowdfunding. But sometimes it’s not enough.
The thing about music is that it’s very feast and famine by nature. Most side musicians and even original artists find that January and February get pretty quiet. I think I had one, maybe two gigs in all of January – certainly not enough to sustain myself.
So, either you save really well and make do with less income, or you get a job. Whether it’s a part-time job throughout the year or a job that you only have for a few months, it’s totally normal to have to make a little extra income outside of music.
Or, maybe the way you’re going about your music career doesn’t lend itself to touring and gigging, and you thus make less money. Then, you’ll probably need a job.
In my experience, there is a certain stigma around having a job when you’re a musician, as if it somehow makes you less serious about music. Forget that. For many people, having a job is absolutely necessary. If you need a job, get one. Have no shame in it.
Finally, there may come a time when you don’t want to seriously chase your music career any more. It happens for a variety of reasons (age, family, changing goals). If this is the case, you may stop pursuing the life of a musician, but you may still be interested in pursuing a career in the music industry.
Whether you’re looking for a full-time or part-time job, or just some extra cash on the side, there are a bunch of great music-related jobs that your experience in the music industry has prepared you for. There are also some jobs that aren’t music related, but are great for developing skills that you’ll use in your music career.
Here are a few of them:
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1. Promoting Shows
Okay, so this isn’t usually terribly lucrative, but booking shows or talent buying is an incredibly useful skill that will benefit your music career and is also greatly benefited from your past experience in the industry.
One of the members of my band has made a healthy little side career for himself booking a concert series and a festival, both of which have a large budget, and it actually pays really well. Some of these talent-buying opportunities will be sponsored by big budget organizations, and then you suddenly are making good money.
I also have friends who run small promoter companies and put on shows for touring bands. They’ll put on house shows, big shows, small shows, and everything in between. You don’t make a lot of money, but you do make a ton of connections.
You’re suddenly connected with people from all over the country, and when you go on tour, you can hit them up for shows. Booking smaller events like this will also give you experience talking with venues, putting on great shows, promoting them, and negotiating/managing money.
Keep your eye open for municipal jobs booking community events, these can turn into talent-buying and often pay really well.
2. Booking Tours For Other Bands
If you’ve been touring DIY artist for a few years, you’ve developed connections across the country and beyond with promoters, venues, and bands. You’ve been there, done that, and booking tours comes pretty easily now.
Many artists are not good at this. People notice the artists who are good at booking themselves, so don’t be surprised if people start asking you to book gigs for them.
I know of several artists in my local scene that have started booking tours and shows for other bands. They are good at it, they have the time, and they want the extra income.
Generally, these agreements are structured on a flat rate or hourly rate for booking all of the shows on a tour. These jobs are generally freelance in nature, and you get paid in cash.
Of course, if you’re looking for a full-time job booking bands and routing tours, you could become an actual agent. Usually, you’ll start as an agent’s assistant and move up from there. There are a ton of agencies to work for, from small and boutique, to large and corporate.
Being an agent requires skills that you’ve learned booking all your own tours and helps you develop relationships with promoters, talent-buyers, and venues. You’ll also learn to negotiate and get great fees and extras for bands.
3. Live/Studio Engineering
This is possibly the most common side job for musicians is being a live sound tech or studio engineer. The reason is because there is a ton of work out there for you.
If you start learning to do your own sound and shadow a proper sound tech, and then start mixing the occasional show, you’ll have work as a live tech. Companies always need help hauling gear and setting up gear, assisting the main tech, and more.
Bands also need techs who are available to mix shows at various bars. If you become known as someone who does live sound, it can be a great way to pick up extra cash. I know several musicians who have house gigs doing live sound at small venues in the city.
If you’ve got a home studio, you'll constantly be learning about studio engineering, production, editing, and mixing. There is a ton of work available in this realm as well, if you know enough people in the industry.
Internships are hard to come by in the studio, and when they exist they are often unpaid. However, if you have the time, they offer a great opportunity to learn a ton of new information very quickly. Internships can also turn into paid work down the road.
While you may not get into an actual studio right away, it’s possible to get other kinds of studio work that still pay well. For example, if you buy some tuning software, and get good at using it, you will have work tuning vocals, strings, and more.
It’s fairly simple, requires a good ear, and pays. There is also usually work available for tuning. The same thing applies to editing drum and other instrument tracks. Most recorded tracks require some editing, and producers often don’t want to spend their time doing it.
Start putting your name in people’s ears as a knowledgeable studio guy, and you’ll begin picking up work.
The more of this work you do, the better you'll get at creating music. This will help your own creative process and put you in a position to help other people create art. What fun!
4. Graphic Design/Photography
Have you been blessed with talent in the visual department as well as the audio department? You are a lucky person! I know many full-time musicians who make a little bit of extra income designing posters, taking pictures, and making content for other artists.
Something about photography and music go hand in hand, as most musicians realize the value of having great photos and quality content.
The best way to get into doing freelance visual work is just to start doing it. When you go to shows, take your camera and start practicing. Post the photos and let bands use them. Eventually, you should start asking bands to pay you for the use of the pictures.
Slowly, word will get out that you do this kind of work, and you’ll start getting work.
Of course, this benefits you by deepening your connections with the local scene and by developing your visual skills. These skills are useful and gratifying for your whole life!
5. Tour Management
While it seems like a strange job, being a tour manager is real work and actually a pretty in-demand job. Many larger bands as well as indie bands take tour managers on the road, because it makes their lives so much easier.
Tour managers will advance shows, organize everyone, make sure that accommodations are available, collect payment, run the merch table, and deal with any problems that arise. It’s a fairly high-pressure job, but a very valuable one to everyone you’re touring with.
Most times, with artists of our caliber, the tour manager will also have another role in the band. Tour manager/live sound tech is a very common combination, however hired musician/tour manager is also fairly common.
There are a ton of benefits to tour managing. While you’re advancing and organizing the tour, you’re creating relationships with promoters and artists around the country, you’re also developing systems and tools for making touring efficient and profitable for yourself and others.
Tour management is a full-time job in and of itself, and some people make careers out of it.
6. Managing Bands
A lot of artist managers start out in the music industry because it allows them to create connections and better understand the life and lifestyle of an artist. Being an artist also gives perspective on how difficult the job can be at times.
Artists with a really great business sense often find themselves mentoring and helping out other artists. Then, as they begin to tour less, they may find themselves managing artists. Or, you may find that artist management is where your passion lies anyways!
You can start managing bands by simply helping out wherever possible with bands that you are passionate about and need the help. Start by offering some administrative help and see where it takes you. If you do a great job, most artists aren’t going to turn down extra help.
Managing bands can quickly turn into a full-time job. Anybody who has been an artist themselves knows how much work there is to do.
7. Working At A Music Company
There are a ton of music companies that do really interesting work and pay real money. For example, there are publishing companies, record labels, management companies, Performing Rights Organizations, distribution services like DistroKid, even streaming companies like Spotify.
Additionally, there are non-profit arts organizations, teaching opportunities, academic positions, and other music-related jobs that aren’t always in the forefront of our minds.
Getting a job in the music industry is pretty much as hard as getting a job anywhere else. The fact is, the jobs are there if you want them. Your time as an artist may have provided you with connections to people in these companies which helps immensely.
For some of these positions, you’ll need a diploma or degree in some related field. Communications, marketing, business, music business, and arts are common related degrees and diplomas to look into.
There are a lot of interesting jobs out there. I have friends working for Mechanical Rights Organizations, Performing Rights Organizations, publicity companies, and publishing houses. All of them have fulfilling careers in the industry, stable income, and opportunity for advancement.
Realistically, a career as an artist may run its course. You might want to settle down, buy a house, have a family – and these life goals are sometimes at odds with your career goals. Looking at other jobs in the music industry is a good way to feed your passion while making a living.
Artist Skills Are Real Skills
As an artist, you have a bunch of incredible skills that make you a valuable asset in almost any field. Your creativity, resourcefulness, and drive will not go unnoticed. Most artists find public speaking comes easily to them.
Beyond that, artists have an extremely high tolerance for stress and intense situations. You get up on stage in front of people, deal with financial stress, job uncertainty, and crazy scheduling literally all the time.
Situations that would stress out a normal person to the point of breaking down are nothing more than a bad day on the road for us. Don’t undersell your strengths and skills. Artist skills are real skills.