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Five ways to make money as a professional guitar player

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If making money as a professional guitarist is your dream, it means establishing a stable and regular income, probably from multiple sources.

If earning your living as a professional guitar player is your dream, just be aware it’s a long road with many twists and turns. Setting yourself up as a full-time musician means establishing a stable and regular income, probably from multiple sources. It’s important to remember that many professional musicians will not just hold down one of these roles, but have a portfolio of work comprising of many different jobs. Let’s take a look at five ways you can earn money as a guitar player.

1. Teaching guitar lessons for money

A popular way to make money as a guitar player is by teaching your instrument. Sounds easy, though you have to hustle to build a reliable base of students. Many people assume that this can only take place in the form of one-on-one tuition from home, but there are many more opportunities available. These include:

  • Teaching remotely via services like Skype or Zoom
  • Music schools, music stores, and charity-based music projects
  • Working as a guest tutor at elementary schools, high schools, or colleges

Depending on your level of music education and knowledge, you may also pursue a job working as a full-time music teacher in a school or even lecturing at a local university.

If you plan on teaching privately, the most important first step is to establish a syllabus — or course of lessons — that you can work from. This can be of your own creation, or you can start at one of the certified courses available, like School Of Rock or other national and online programs. From there, as you gain experience, you can develop your own syllabus teaching family and friends. Once you are confident in your abilities as a teacher, branch out and find work nearby or online.

2. Acoustic and solo gigs

If you’re looking to make money as a performing guitarist, one of the simplest ways to begin is by playing solo shows. These can take many forms: bars, restaurants, and coffee shops are often looking for a solution for live music that works with their confined space and volume restrictions — and they’re usually willing to pay. Plus, these gigs often take place mid-week, leaving weekends free for other shows.

The best way to go about getting these gigs, to begin with, is word of mouth. Do your research on local live music venues and other establishments that might be looking for a musician and go in and get to know the staff, or go and build a reputation. Make sure you have the correct promotional material ready, including professional recordings and good quality photography, preferably all available on a website. It’s also important to remember you will probably have to supply your own PA equipment for these shows.

3. Join a cover band

With potentially hundreds of bookings available each year, joining a working cover band can be particularly lucrative money making source as a guitar player. And there are differing levels of commitment and expectations — from local cover bands to wedding bands to playing on a cruise ship.

In days past, the cork board of the local music store would be the best way place to start looking for a band, and while this is still an option in most areas, local Facebook communities for musicians in your area and sites like Musicians for Cruises could be valuable resources for you.

4. Stand-in gigs

Quite often, bands will be faced with the situation of having one or more of their members unavailable. Whether it’s a sudden illness or long-planned holiday, the show must go on! Rather than turn down or cancel a gig, the band may go in search of a replacement.

Last minute stand-in gigs can supplement your regular income, and once you have proven yourself reliable, you may be offered more work with the same act as you are now familiar with their repertoire and style. This can lead to even more gigs as word-of-mouth spreads.

Due to the last minute nature of the work, it’s difficult to be prepared when the call comes, but keep an eye on the charts for tunes that are likely to be covered by bands, learn them in advance, and keep an eye on the set lists of other local bands. And use these tips when trying to learn a lot of music in a short amount of time.

5. Session guitar work

One of the hardest money making gigs to secure as a professional guitar player is session work, though it’s potentially one of the most creative outlets for guitarists. It can be a brilliant way to write original parts for new music as well as make bank.

Session work is generally split into two fields – live performance and studio recording. As a live session player, you’ll end up backing up artists in their live bands, often learning the parts from their records and coming up with live arrangements. In the studio, session players will be brought in to contribute to an artist’s recordings, be it a single, EP, or album.

There is a tendency to think of session players as only working with famous artists on big labels, but this isn’t always the case. There are plenty of independent artists, producers, and managers all around the country that self-fund, crowdfund, or have indie-label backing.

There is no set route for getting into session work, but jobs of this nature are scarcely advertised online and so (as with most areas of the music business) networking is key. Attending a music course at a college or university is a great place to begin meeting people, but so is your local music venue. Get out to gigs, attend open mic nights, speak with the acts, and get to know the local players and producers. If you live in a small town, consider trips to larger nearby cities. Interning at recording studios, though a hard job to get, is also a great way to meet people who may shape your future.

Making money as a guitarist isn’t impossible, but you need to learn how to be flexible and think outside of the box. Ultimately, work on both your strengths and weaknesses as a player. If you notice you’re great at explaining and teaching others guitar riffs, consider giving lessons. If you’re a whiz at learning other people’s songs and playing them with crazy accuracy, consider making money as a fill in guitarist or joining a cover band.

Jon Fellowes is head of content creation and press liaison for the entertainment directory service Last Minute Musicians. He also works as a freelance guitarist and bass player, continuing to tour and record both in the UK and internationally.

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