Is It Hard to Make a Living as a Musician?

Is It Hard to Make a Living as a Musician? 

From playing the bagpipes on the street to being a lead vocalist in an orchestra to a pop singer known on the radio, the variation in the amount of money made can vary tremendously. 

Earning a living as a musician takes a lot of time, energy, and commitment.

Making a living as a musician is difficult because you’ll need to have strong musical talent, will often need to create your own music business, and unless you are one of the lucky winners on America’s Got Talent or American Idol, you’ll need to self promote your music. You’ll need to spend many hours building up your audience to help you gain exposure through social media, your own website, local audiences, or touring. 

Each person has their own particular flavor they like so be prepared to face rejection. Don’t be discouraged because not every person likes every musician. This does not mean you cannot be successful. It just means you have to find your fans. 

Self Employment Equals More Work

Not everyone becoming a musician is looking to become one full time. You will find that most people wanting to make a living as a musician worked their way up from playing for small gigs here and there to building a reputation and slowly having enough places to play full time. Expecting to go from 0 to 100 is just setting yourself up for failure when it comes to the music industry. 

Some people are happy with playing music part time and that is wonderful. Whatever your goals, you will need to hone your music talent and put lots of effort into promotion.

You will need to sell yourself in the marketplace and you are the product. That could be as a player or as a singer songwriter or as a composer. 

You will be selling yourself and your skills to audience members and to other musicians because other musicians could hire you for a joint venture. Sometimes there is a band ensemble that hires musicians too which will help.

Musical Talent Needed

Believe it or not, you do need to have music talent to be able to make a living off of music. That being said, you don’t have to win American Idol to do it. How long it will take will change based on how much time you have to devote to learning an instrument or other musical talent. 

It takes years to develop high music skills. However there is no cookie cutter recipe to mastering music. The time it takes can vary person to person. However you will need to be able to play your music freely and perform confidently in front of others without errors.

What Genre Do You Fit Into?

Depending on what music and instrumental skills you have, certain genres may be easier for you to succeed in than others. Different genres use different instrumentation and can be more or less competitive.

Group of 5 members playing various instruments in a band

Learning the Main Instruments of Pop, Indie, and Rock

In pop, indie, and rock music, there is much similar instrumentation. The major instruments are the guitar, drum set, vocals, and sometimes the keyboard. So if you play any of these instruments this may be a fit for you. 

With all these genres accommodating these instruments, it leaves you many options in the type of music you could play for a living. All you have to do is hone your music skill enough to get hired by someone. You may even want to partner up with some musically talented friends to form a band.

You will likely need to attend music school, take various lessons, and practice lots to get to this point. 


Jazz Instruments and Improvisation 

If you want to get into jazz, you’ll want to be familiar with the strings, bass, drums, and keyboard. In addition, the trumpet, saxophone, trombone, or even guitar are good to have experience with. 

Depending on the instrument you choose and its popularity, competition for jobs may be more or less difficult for you. For example, the violin is a much more competitive instrument than the viola if you are trying to compete against other violinists for a spot in an orchestra or ensemble. But if you are creating your own band, this may be irrelevant aside from the fact that you’ll have to compete against other high performing bands.

One particularly difficult skill that needs to be mastered in jazz is improvisation. This is also important in rock music and blues. 


Vocalists

If when you sing, you are adept at singing in tune and in harmonies, becoming a vocalist may be a great way to make a living as a musician. 

If your goal is to become a lead vocalist, you will need to be able to lead the band with your vocals and create an entertaining presence since you’ll be in the foreground and not the background. You will be taking on the star role.

If you just want to make a living at the keyboard, you may still be required to have good voice chops even if not the lead vocalist.  

Audience Building Through Social Media Avenues, Marketing, Tours, and Collaboration

When you are working to make music a higher percentage of your job, you will need to do more than just hone your music talent. You will want to start making a name of yourself to other people through marketing yourself both online and in person. 

Utilizing YouTube to Build Your Audience with Exposure

YouTube can be an excellent place to start advertising your music because not only can people see your music talent but you can also earn money if you get enough subscribers to your channel. You need at least 1,000 subscribers to start earning a check from YouTube but if you do it right, YouTube can become a substantial income for you. 

What to Consider with Using YouTube:

High Quality Images/Videos 

While this may be obvious to some, it isn’t to others because I have seen way too many videos that are recorded that are bumpy or jostling around and give you a headache to watch. My advice to you is to put your video camera on a solid surface or a tripod where it isn’t going to move. 

As for image quality, an iPhone camera can be perfectly adequate in starting your YouTube channel. You don’t need to invest in a major video camera set up right from the get go. If you do have the money though, it wouldn’t hurt.


Sound Quality

Since the number one goal is to sell your music, having good sound quality in your videos is extremely important. I would recommend investing in a mike and editing out the audio from your video camera source. 

Jumping on the Tik Tok Bandwagon

This video sharing platform gives even new artists ample opportunity to have their music go viral on the ‘For You’ page and allows them to gain exposure to a wide audience. You can upload videos up to a minute long to help increase awareness of your music and brand. 

Loren Gray or Addison Rae are a few extremely popular artists on TikTok that you could check out to get content ideas.

Creating a Facebook Page and Joining Groups

Yes you can make a Facebook account and try to share your music with all your friends to try to get your music “out there” but there are more effective ways to increase your exposure.

If you don’t have the time or money to create a website, creating a Facebook Page is a good way to make a face for your brand and music. You can create video posts of music pieces you just completed or are working on or of you playing at a concert. Or you can post news updates on when you plan to release a new album too. 

Facebook Groups can be a great spot to connect with other musicians. There are groups for just about everything on Facebook and groups for musicians are no different. You can ask for advice on ways to make your music better or find places to advertise in groups or build repertoire with other artists by helping and commenting on their posts. 

You can even directly advertise your posts in groups too. It just depends on the type of group you join and their specific guidelines. 

How specific of a group you want to join can vary based on that particular group size and your goals. Very specific groups may have better advice for you like if you join Classical Violinist over Musicians Group because it is so focused but at the same time if the number of members is a lot smaller, you may receive less comments or feedback on your posts. 

My advice to you is to start with 3-5 Facebook groups and see which ones you like the best and focus on those. 

Making an Instagram

Though not as widely adopted as Facebook, Instagram is a great place to reach younger demographics. It is an image based platform that is great for visually expressing your brand. 

Here you express more of your music brand’s personality and can be a spot to host a portfolio of your work. It can help you add more connections to your brand. 

Building a Website

Nowadays you can create a website for free on Wix or Weebly so you really have no excuse for not building one for your music. A website can be another place to showcase your music work and build credibility. 

Good websites can be a great way to advertise yourself because they can dramatically increase your searchability on the web through SEO. SEO stands for search engine optimization and basically is what helps your website rank number one on Google. There are a variety of factors that affect this. 

By maximizing your website’s SEO, you could greatly increase the chance of being discovered by new audiences.

Live Music and Touring

If you plan to advertise yourself through live music, you will have to make the choice of playing locally or creating a tour for your music. If you plan to stay locally, make sure to analyze where you live and how much audience potential is in your area. For example, playing at a bar in the middle of Alaska is going to offer a very different opportunity than playing at one in Nashville, Tennessee. 

Group of 7 members playing various instruments in a band

Successful Collaboration with Other Musicians

In order to build your repertoire as a musician, you will need to build rapport with other musicians. Rock and more popular genres will often require working with other musicians so it’s important to build positive relationships with these people who could be your future employer or connection to a music gig. 

Why Being A Musician is Still Worth It

Even though it is not easy to have your musical talent recognized, musicians pour their heart and souls into their songs and being able to not only be seen as skilled by others but also having your passion supplement your income is extremely rewarding. To be successful at this, you need to be able to play your instrument and play it well. 

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Richard J. Chandler, BA, MA Bachelor of Arts-Music & Master of Arts-Psychology