one hundred dollar bill in the strings of an acoustic guitar

8 ways to make money playing music

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Even if your ultimate goal is to make a living writing original music, you may need to tap into alternate money-making ventures while you launch your music career. Here are some ideas to get you making money with your music.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

As you launch a music career trying to “make it” writing, recording, and performing original material, you’ll probably find it difficult to make a whole lot of money right out of the gate. But you’ve got to pay the bills, right?

That’s why you need alternative methods for making money. Here are eight side hustles, alternative gigs, and ancillary money-making ideas that put your skills as a musician to work.

Give music lessons

When I graduated from Berklee College of Music, I had 30 students paying $30 an hour — which was decent money. $900 a week — $3,600 a month — covered gas and food and allowed me to focus on my original band and write songs and work on trying to get signed to a major label.

Giving music lessons took a lot of stress off of me when I was trying to break into the scene, and all I did was take the knowledge I already had, package it up, and pass it on to other people who were learning to play the drums.

Play in a cover band

If you can land a gig with a cover band that’s popular and gigging in clubs, that’s a good way to make money playing music while also working on your stage presence. I remember being a patron at a bar and always waiting for this one cover band to come in who I really liked and who always made the party a little better. I also had a friend who was in a tribute band, and they made a lot more money than a standard cover band.

I realize this is not the same as making money with your own music, but that’s not the point at this stage of your music career. The point is to get into the industry, do something you’re passionate about, and make money playing music instead of working at an odd job that has nothing to do with your passion.

Play church services

I know a lot of really good musicians who have found gigs playing church services. There’s a church on every corner in every city and every state in the country. Mass is held weekly (daily, even), and in many cases, they pay. I know a lot of musicians who make decent money playing churches. Who knows? Maybe you can cleanse your soul at the same time.

Cruise ship band

I’ve had friends who have made money playing music on cruise ships. While it can be a pretty intense gig, not only are they doing something they’re passionate about, they get to travel, so it’s not like they’re stuck at home or playing the same city every Friday night. They’re with different groups of people traveling the world, and they get paid pretty well.

Plus, you can still work on your music. After you play the gig, during the day or the evening, you can go back to your quarters and work on your songs. Bring your laptop, pull up your DAW, and work on your original music.

Playing theme parks

Would you believe the drummer for the band A Perfect Circle actually worked in a theme park here in Los Angeles (I think it was Disney)? Just consider that all kinds of musical possibilities are available — doing the Drum Corps, playing in “house” bands and various musical acts going on around the theme park. Again, it’s a way to make money with your music so you’re not doing some kind of day job hustle where you’re not playing your axe or involved in music.

Playing on the streets

The only thing I know about busking is what I see on Hollywood Boulevard, though that’s a pretty good place to start. Out here, a lot of people play on Hollywood Boulevard and the Santa Monica promenade. When I was living in New York, people were playing in the subways, and the crazy thing is, some of these musicians can be absolutely amazing.

I once saw a New York Philharmonic violinist playing in the subway, and he was just incredible, and in a minute, a circle formed around him with people watching and donating. And you never know, there could be an industry person that catches you playing on the street corner, or a booking agent — plenty of people have been discovered this way.

But, if nothing else, you can make a few bucks busking. One of my students makes $100 going out on the streets and playing for a couple of hours. He does that seven nights a week, and it adds up to a decent sum of money.

Freelance your performance services

When it comes to playing on other people’s recordings, the first thing a lot of people think about is being a session musician in a physical studio. But these days, you can make your performance services available online. Someone could reach out and say, “Bobby, can you record a drum track for my song?” Then they’ll send me the song and I can record a drum track. You can communicate via email and send tracks and beats back and forth that way, or there are online services that facilitate this whole process. It’s another way to get your name out there.

Make beats

I’m not talking about the headphones, I’m talking about making beats for people’s music. It’s another way you can make good money, creating loops that people can use to create songs. You can sell beats or lease them — there are online services out there and different kinds of contracts you can enter into. It’s another way to leverage your talent to make money with your music.


Bobby Borg is the author of Music Marketing For The DIY Musician (Second Edition), Business Basics For Musicians (Second Edition), and The Five Star Music Makeover (published by Hal Leonard Books). Get these books at any fine online store in physical or digital format. Learn more at www.bobbyborg.com.

The 90-Day Album Release Planner

Bobby Borg

About Bobby Borg

Bobby Borg is the author of Music Marketing For The DIY Musician (Second Edition), Business Basics For Musicians (Second Edition), and The Five Star Music Makeover (published by Hal Leonard Books). Get these books at any fine online store in physical or digital format. Learn more at Spotify profilewww.bobbyborg.com.

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