In order to achieve some level of financial stability, every musician will leverage a variety of income sources to make ends meet and eventually break through to higher earning potential. The degree to which each category will be leveraged will largely depend on factors such as individual personality, career goals, style of music, and networking. The three biggest income streams for a musician can be broken down as follows: Teaching, Performing, Sales.
Being a music teacher is by far the most stable hat a musician can wear, and this is serves as the foundation for world-class performers teaching masterclasses at Conservatories or Universities and serves as a steady start for the young teacher at the local music store. As you gain experience performing and word of mouth spreads about the success of your students, your studio will fill and your rate will gradually increase.
In major cities, by far the best place to teach is after school programs. You simply set up an interview with the principal or music teacher and then find out if there are any students interested in afterschool music lessons. You won’t get more than a couple kids per day, but the benefits are great: you can command a higher rate, cherry pick interested students, no charge for renting a studio, and parents will jump at the opportunity to keep their kids occupied instead of sitting around waiting for the bus or in study hall. If you’re worried about getting started and have no experience, the most effective way to get your foot in the door is to substitute teach for a friend (again – network!)
Who are we kidding? Getting on stage and playing is the reason most people pick up an instrument. Unless you’re already booked at the Met or solo regularly with orchestras around the world, performing will serve as a high but often unpredictable source of income. Concerts, background music, weddings, corporate events, and church services all count as a way to boost your income and get you playing for people. In order to get started you will need a website and a couple mp3s at the bare minimum and can expect to take about a year to get yourself up and running and no longer “paying your dues.”
Some people like to look at their income as primarily teaching-based with performance as a bonus. This will gradually shift as you gain experience performing and once you find yourself turning down more events due to your teaching schedule, it will be time to evaluate your approach, crunch the numbers, and re-focus your streams.
This includes T shirts sold at concerts, CDs, mp3s, sheet music, iTunes, and downloads. Personally, this is the weakest of my income streams with performing shifting into the strongest stream over the past two years. I always bring CDs to sell to any event and all musicians should utilize sales as an income source. If you have a huge Facebook following or your band is a local favorite, you need to have something fans can purchase. Additionally, having a CD or mp3s you send concert promoters or include in your press kit is a must.