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How much does it take to make a living off of original music?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Tupac, Dec 14, 2012.

  1. Tupac


    May 5, 2011
    How big do you have to be to reach the point where you can make your band your job? Even if it means living in a dinky apartment.
  2. Hi.

    Just as with everything about keeping Your head above the water so to speak, it's about Your expenses.
    Nothing else.

    If You get by with, say, $10/day, then that's what it takes.
    Should be doable by playing on the street corner.

    OTOH, if You need $100/day, that takes quite a bit of more income than a simple street corner would provide I imagine.

  3. prd004


    Dec 3, 2010
    Playing originals as your only source of income is a tough road. I won't go as far as to say impossible, but it's somewhere between that and extremely difficult.

    Making a living as a bassist isn't easy either but it's far more manageable. The more you know and the more diverse your abilities the easier it becomes. Play double bass as well as electric? More gigs. Well versed in jazz? More gigs. Know a couple hundred songs and be able to remember them with little to no rehearsal? More gigs. Sing back ups? More gigs. Studio experience? More gigs. Teach? You get the picture.
  4. Ric5

    Ric5 SUSPENDED Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I convert 4 string Rickenbackers to 5 string basses.
    Hey when you get tired of playing original music for a living you can get a big raise by working for Walmart or Burger King.
  5. Big Brother

    Big Brother

    Feb 13, 2011
    San Diego
    Roving sub-demon

    There is census work, squeezing Craigslist and your uncle's surf shop too. And then comes ski season.
  6. It's not about how "big" you need to be, but how you can monetize your money. I can think of a couple of bands that really don't play any big shows, have much of a following at all, but they make a living from selling songs for TV commercials and indie films. One licensed a song for a local minor league baseball team. Another licensed a song for use as a theme song for a travelling sales event for a big corporation. They're not rich, but they don't have day jobs.

    For most original bands, the general rule of thumb is that you've got to be able to draw at least 100 people every night for 4-5 nights a week on any given day of the week. That pretty much always involves lots of touring for months on end.

    Also, being able to read well and formal training really helps. If you can absolutely make a living as a musician if you can read music well. If you don't mind sea sickness, being away from everyone for months at a time, cramped conditions, eating exotic food, not having privacy, or mind getting payed next to peanuts but having no overhead, and can read most music put in front of you, you can work on a cruise ship and probably start working within a few months from now.

    Making money off of original music takes LOADS of drive and determination. It requires you to be aggressive, business and marketing savvy, good at networking, and a perfectionist, but not to the point that it kills practicality. Also, it really helps if you can play really well. If you have enough determination, charisma and business savvy, even great chops aren't really necessary. It requires constant work - if you're awake, you're working on something. At least half the time better be spent on the non-musical business side of things. Lots of great musicians can't make it because of a lack of drive and determination, and even more mediocre musicians do hack it because of their huge drive and marketing/sales skills. If you cannot monetize your music well, you can't make it as an original artist. Many musicians can't monetize their music. The days of getting signed to a record company are absolutely dead. It's now up to the musicians to be their own producers, record company, publicist, marketer, etc. Making enough money off your music so that you can hire publicists, producers, etc., is impossible unless you can first do all that stuff yourself.

    There's still other jobs that lay somewhere in between, and usually involve working in a few bands and several "for hire" gigs like providing music for a play for a theater groups, smaller local orchestras or corporate jazz gigs with a few other trained musicians. NONE of them are "easy" or will make you rich. Also, except for a few jobs like cruise ships or the 1 in 1000 band that can live off of touring, most musicians today have to be very diverse and work a number of angles, like picking up random sub gigs, selling background music for local ads or indie films, playing solo gigs at corporate events and selling original CDs off their website.

    The ones who have it "easy" like big name studio guys, rockstars, or scorers for big movies are extremely rare, and usually had to work crazy hard to get where they are doing all the stuff mentioned above.

    Then there are things like teaching, repairing instruments, or other musician-ish non-performing jobs. They all pretty much pay crap, too.

    There really is no way around it: The music as a business is TOUGH, and you'll probably be fairly poor. If you have a huge, non-human amount drive and determination, you can make a decent living. However, that's not most people, including most people who read this post. Of the hundreds of professional musicians I've met over the years, all but maybe 4 or 5 live in small, crappy apartments, even the older players in their 60s or more. Unless you can work really hard and be very productive, that is how you'll live - fairly broke your whole life. That said, many of them still love it. They get to or got to travel the world with their music, have incredible memories, and wouldn't do anything different if they could do it all over again.
  7. So somewhere between working in a surf shop and putting people on chairlifts? That sounds about right... In all reality, working musicians get paid better then most McDonald's workers, but not as well as the manager.
  8. hdracer


    Feb 15, 2009
    Elk River, MN.
    The thing to do is marry a girl with a Ivy League diploma and a great job and rich parents.
    Then you can make your own music and still have a good life.
  9. Tupac


    May 5, 2011
    I'm pretty sure that tactic only works for women.
  10. SirMjac28

    SirMjac28 Patiently Waiting For The Next British Invasion

    Aug 25, 2010
    The Great Midwest
    Well thanks folks for destroying my dream at least I still have a working unicorn ranch.
  11. Coolhandjjl

    Coolhandjjl Supporting Member

    Oct 13, 2010
    You have to figure out how much you need to live on per month. And you have to be realistic about that amount. No pie-in-the-sky notions of living on love, etc. Don't be afraid to access outside resources to help you. This forum is one resource, but if you are talking about your ability to earn money, support yourself, etc., seek out some face time with a pro. There are plenty of financial planning people who cater to the 99%. Some counties or municipalities have contracts with non-profit agencies that provide free financial planning. Everyone is in a different situation. Married with working spouse that has health and retirement benefits? That musician will have very different financial needs than one who may be a single parent.
  12. Almost every musician, including the famous ones, have other things going for themselves. Supportive spouse, some form of self employment, rental property, etc.. Something that allows you to make your own schedule. Good luck.
  13. JTE


    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    You have to define for yourself what "make a living" is. And for how long. What's acceptable for you at 22 is probably not going to work when you're 35, 45, 55, etc. At first enough food and shelter and some fun is sufficient. But at some point you're likely going to start wanting to provide for children, have some modicum of stability, and start thinking of.healthcare, retirement, education, and so on. So start with how much is a realistic living to YOU.

    Then learn the music BUSINESS. It's not a dirty word, if you wanna make a living. Get rid of the romantic notion that you can make original music utterly without compromise AND make a living. Learn how to maximize your revenue streams, how owning and licensing songs can make you money that live shows can't, etc.

    Don't need to give up the dream, but don't confuse "dream" with "plan" either.

  14. hdracer


    Feb 15, 2009
    Elk River, MN.
    I know two men that it has worked for.
    One is into mountain bike racing and the other is into motorcycle racing.
    Nether one is good enough to make it on their own.
  15. bluewine

    bluewine Banned

    Sep 4, 2008
    I bet if your in a 4 piece and you play at least 2 $1,500.00 gigs per week even split, you could get by.

    But you would have to stay single with no health insurance.

  16. I'm one of the lucky few who makes a living playing music, though not original music. I'm single, and have no children; if I did I'd have to get a day job. I own my own house on 35 acres, which had more to do with luck than anything else. I do a huge variety of different work, I can travel if I need to, and my cost of living is quite low. I have some supplemental income from the farm which isn't a lot, but involves hardly any work on my part.

    The only musos I know who make a living from their own music are very well known and extremely gifted - a rare thing. I know plenty of musicians who are lot more talented than I am, but can't make a living full time, mostly because they have families to support and their cost of living is just too high.

    I count my blessings every day, I really do. I'm not rich, but I have a nice lifestyle, I love what I do, and I've been extremely lucky (luck's as good as talent sometimes).

    I wish you the best, but as others have said, it's a hard grind to do this full time.