How To Make More Money As A Musician

by Tom Hess

If you believe that music should be free and that it's “unethical” for musicians to care about making money, then do yourself a favor and stop reading this article now.

However, if you desire to grow a successful long term career in the music business and want to support yourself (and/or your family) by working as a professional in the music industry, then in this article I will share with you several things you must know and do to make this goal a reality.

Many musicians aspire to work in the music business but are unsure of the possibility of earning enough money to have the life they want. This fear of being unable to support themselves through music holds many people back from developing a music career and instead pushes them towards the illusion of security of a non-music related job. As a result, many musicians with great potential to have a stable music career waste away their lives at day jobs they hate, not even knowing how different their lives could have been if they knew the truth about what it means to work in the music business. As a music career mentor to musicians, I have seen many people in this exact situation.

The truth is that it is ‘not that hard’ to make significant money in the music business (and you do NOT have to be a hugely famous rock star to do it), but to do this you need to approach your music career in a much different way than what is typical for most musicians. In addition to thinking about yourself as a “musician”, you must also develop the skills to think (and act) as an entrepreneur. Essentially, you need to see yourself as a “business” where your primary “service” is everything you have to offer to fans, bands, record companies, promoters, publishers and other entities in the music business.

One of the primary reasons why so many musicians struggle greatly with making good money in the music industry is because they do not know what exactly it means to approach their music career like a successful music business professional. To test how much you know about reaching success in the music industry, take this quick survey to help you measure your level of preparedness to pursue a music career before reading the rest of this article.

In addition to the general issue of not knowing how to approach the business side of their careers, most musicians make the following mistakes that prevent them from earning enough income to make a great living in music:

Not Having Multiple Streams Of Music Business Income

Most musicians go into the music business looking to find “a job”, planning to primarily make money with a single source of income such as through performing or recording music. There is nothing wrong with making money in this way, but it may be challenging (particularly in the early stages of your music career), to consistently generate a high enough level of income through any “single” activity in the music industry. That being said, it IS very realistic to build a range of independent income streams that will add up to provide a very stable and secure way to make a living in music. This means that regardless of what your primary goal is in your music career (being a performing artist, a songwriter, a studio musician, a record producer, an author or anything else), you must have a variety of ongoing projects that you earn money from in both active and passive ways.

In addition to the obvious benefit of helping you make more money from multiple sources, having several streams of income makes your music career much more secure overall because you protect yourself from becoming dependent on only one source of income.

Not Constantly Adding Value To The Companies You Work With/For

To help you understand the idea of “value” as it applies to making money in the music industry, consider this example. No matter what it is you do in the music business, whether it is performing music on stage, recording in the studio, teaching a music lesson or producing someone else’s music, the people/companies you work with (record companies, music students, other bands that you play for etc.) have to choose between working with you and hundreds (if not thousands) of other potential musicians. If you want to have the edge on the competition and still be able to earn a lot of money in compensation for what you do, you must provide value far in excess of what others are willing/able to do. This goes FAR beyond simply having a high level of musical ability and extends into all aspects of your personality, work ethic and mindset. To successfully earn a lot of money in the music business, you must make it overwhelmingly clear that you are the absolute best choice out of any possible competition, AND (this is key!) you must make this fact exceedingly obvious to the decision makers “before” your musical skills are even taken into account.

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This point might seem obvious to you when you first read about it, however the reality is that the vast majority of musicians do not “act” according to this simple principle. To check how much you truly apply this concept in your own music career, take this short assessment about building music industry value. Increasing your capacity to add value (for everyone involved) to any music related project is one of the fastest ways to earn more money in the music business and this is why it is one of the core skills I teach when training musicians to develop prosperous music industry careers.

Not Knowing Who Your Market/Fans/Customers Are

After you have identified the value you hold for the music industry, you must know “who” you are going to communicate it to. For example, if you are about to release your record or publish an instructional music product, who are the fans/customers that you expect will buy it? Can you “easily” contact them? If not, what are you doing to grow such a database of fans? If you plan to be a session musician (as another example), do you have a list of studios, musicians and bands that may require your services in the future? What will you do today to put yourself in front of your potential customers?

If you are like most musicians, chances are that you haven’t thought much at all about who your market/customers/fans are. As a result, you end up in a situation that is typical of an average musician: you release a product or develop some marketable skills in a certain area of the music industry but struggle to make any money from your music and talents because you don’t already have a large database of fans who are interested in what you have to offer. This issue is so common that I spend quite a bit of time specifically training musicians in my Music Careers Mentoring Program how to develop such a list and how to maximize this asset in their music business careers.

You may think that if you are signed to a record label or have a promoter, then these people/companies should take responsibility for promoting and helping you to earn money with your music. However, in reality only YOU are ultimately responsible for your own career. Regardless of whether you have somebody else promoting your music for you, you will become a lot more successful and earn a lot more money in the music industry if your list of customers and fans is within YOUR control.

Not Having Specific Goals And Plans For Reaching Them

To make a living working in the music business, one of the things you must have is a “specific” plan for how you are going to reach your career goals. Simply wishing to make “more money” is not going to help you achieve it. Instead, you must begin by answering for yourself the following questions:

  1. How much money do you want to earn annually (every year) by working in the music business?
  2. What streams of music related income will make it possible for you to achieve this goal (point 1)?
  3. What things do you need to do to put these streams into motion? (See this article on musical goals planning for more on how to approach this process).
  4. What are ALL the possible ways you can ADD VALUE to others in the music industry?
  5. What are ALL the possible ways you can reduce the risks to others in the music industry?

After you become clear for yourself on the answers to points 1-5 above, every action you take to further your career in the music business must move you closer to reaching the specific goals you have identified for yourself as your desired outcome.

Most musicians find it difficult to know exactly ‘what’ to do and ‘how’ to do it to achieve the results they want. If you find yourself in this situation, the best course of action is to be trained by an expert who has already successfully coached others on how to make a great living in the music business. This will help you avoid painful mistakes that most musicians learn the hard way - through trial and error.

Confusing “Being Famous” With “Making Money In The Music Business”

It is possible to earn a very good level of income (six figures per year) working in the music business without being a world famous super star. In fact, being “famous” in and of itself is no guarantee of income stability in the music industry (which is why many musicians, even in some rather well-known bands, still hold day jobs to pay the bills). The reason why it is important to realize this fact is because this will help to direct your actions towards your goals in the most effective way. Certainly it is possible to be both famous AND financially well off as a musician, but you must first decide which of these goals is a higher priority for you and allocate your efforts accordingly.

Final Words

Many musicians live with a mindset that it is somehow wrong or unethical for an artist to care about making more money with their craft. They may instead think that their time would be better spent writing songs or refining their musical skills further. Although these things are obviously important, if you want to be truly free to pursue your artistic passions, you must also make time to grow the “business” aspects of your music career so that you can earn enough money from being a musician that you don’t have to marinate in an unsatisfying day job instead.

Although it is impossible to predict the exact path you need to follow to make more money in the music business from a general article, avoiding the common music industry mistakes described here will put you on the right path to earning a great living as a musician. Being financially secure in the music business will give you the necessary freedom of time (and money) to invest back into making more music for the world to hear.

If you haven’t yet taken the assessment tests mentioned in this article about pursuing a music career and building music industry value, I encourage you to do so now.

Earn a good living in your music career by joining this music business training program.

© 2002-2016 Tom Hess Music Corporation