So you sing better than Taylor Swift or Nick Jonas, strum a guitar like Jimi Hendrix or Kelly Deal, or play piano better than Tori Amos. Maybe, if writing music or lyrics is your thing, you can compare yourself to Morrissey or Jhene Aiko. Or maybe you’re not as good as any of these music icons — but you’re good enough.
But what if the record companies don’t know you exist, your product jingle submissions are rejected, and you wash out on the first round of auditions for The Voice? When you know you have what it takes, but others don’t yet, how do you translate that skill into something more? How do you make money with your music?
Start by trying a few of these ways to earn money from your musical talents.
1. Be a Karaoke Host
If you check the listings at SimplyHired.com you’ll always find some karaoke host jobs. Sometimes the company provides equipment, and other times you have to bring your own. You might not be paid much for the work, but it’s a chance to practice and display your singing ability.
2. Try Busking
Busking is performing in public for tips, and it can be a tough way to make a living. But if you’re good enough and play in the right places, it’s not a bad way to hone your skills while making some extra cash.
For example, busker Mark Sandusky says he made over $21 per hour playing guitar and singing in the streets of San Francisco, and that was just his half of the take, because he was part of a duo.
3. Start a YouTube Channel
There are two primary ways to make money putting your music on YouTube. The first is to simply make and monetize YouTube videos. If you get enough traffic, you can make some serious money.
The second strategy, which you can try in conjunction with the first, is to use your videos as a way to get discovered. Many successful musicians and even pop stars started on YouTube, from Justin Bieber to Soulja Boy.
4. Be a DJ
The most obvious way to make money as a DJ is to get paid for working at bars, clubs and private parties. But millionaire DJs make it a serious business by building a brand, putting on big shows, selling merchandise and doing endorsements. Also, depending on the venues you work, you might be able to play some of your own tunes alongside the popular requests. You might soon have a following.
5. Play at Bars
Many famous bands got their starts working at small bars and clubs. Former member of Sonic Youth Daniel Kohn suggests that you take whatever you can get at first. He also suggests asking bar owners for a Monday or Tuesday night spot. Few bands want these slow nights, making it easier to get hired. Then you can prove yourself and get the better slots.
6. Do Event Gigs
Small bars and restaurants might be some of the easier places to start, but events can pay better. In fact, the The Fuzz Band made it to a quarter-million dollars in annual revenue by focusing on corporate event gigs. Parties, small festivals and art fairs are other possible events where you might find work.
7. Sing in Church
It isn’t common knowledge, but some churches pay their singers.
The posts in the forum of the Church Music Association of America suggest that $50 is a common payment for singing at mass, and singers at funerals typically make $100 or more.
8. Sell Your CDs in the Street
If you can’t seem to sell CDs of your musical performances elsewhere, hit the streets! A New York Times article about rappers notes that, “The peddlers typically sell around 30 CDs a day, for $5 to $10, depending on their bargaining skills and the buyers’ generosity.”
Places like CopyCatsMedia.com can duplicate your CDs for less than a buck each, including printing and a plastic-wrapped case, so most of each sale will be profit.
9. Be a Band Stand-In
You know what you can do, but why not let a few active local bands know? Offer to be a stand-in for any sick or absent band members. Apart from making a little cash, it might lead to something bigger, like joining a rising band or starting your own.
10. Play Wedding Gigs
In a post on DYIMusician.com, Drew Stoga from GigMasters.com says wedding gigs are consistently among the best paying bookings on their website.
“All told, the average wedding pays around $2,000, though we routinely book wedding receptions for $10,000 and over,” he explains.
11. Perform on Cruise Ships
After Josh Greenberg graduated from music school, he went to work as a saxophonist on a cruise ship. He says a typical day is “one or two shows plus maybe a dance set.” He says you can find work through booking agents, but he chooses to be a free agent to leave open more possibilities.
12. Write Songs
Selling songs outright isn’t common, according to WritersWrite.com, and that’s probably a good thing. Who wants to make just a few bucks when a song becomes a big hit?
Instead you typically get royalties. “Mechanical royalties” earn you a statutory rate of $0.0755 per song, per manufactured unit. If the song you wrote is on 10,000 albums, you would make $755.
You’ll earn performance royalties whenever the song you wrote is performed. To collect those, you have to join one of these three performing rights organizations:
13. Enter Songwriting Contests
If, as a songwriter, you can’t break into the music industry in the usual ways, you can always look for contests to enter.
For example, the International Songwriting Competition (ISC) hands out cash, prizes and recognition to 68 winners. You can enter the contest in one or more of 21 different categories. ASCAP maintains a list of songwriting competitions.
14. Make Music for Video Games
Some musicians have found that one of the more lucrative markets for their music is in video games. A post on Kokatu.com shares the stories of several who make a living in this niche.
15. Rent Your Studio
If you have built a nice studio for producing your music, it might be of use to others, so why not rent it out? That’s what Neal Morse did with his personal recording studio, now named “Radiant Studios.”
16. Put Your Music on Spotify
Spotify is a streaming music platform that lets people listen to music for free or upgrade to paid subscriptions. Artists get paid according to a somewhat complex formula. Spotify explains that they take 30% of revenue and distribute the remaining 70% as royalties to “publishers,” who then pay artists according to their agreements.
If you put your music on Spotify using an “artist aggregator,” service you keep 100%of your royalties, but pay a fee to the aggregator service. And yes, you’re paid even for free streaming of your tunes, so tell all of your friends to listen.
17. Enter Singing Competitions
Recent reports suggest that singing competitions are not as popular as they once were, but they’re still around. And one look at a list of the famous singers from singing competitions shows you what the potential is.
18. Teach in Person
If you know how to play guitar, you can probably teach others. If you sing, you can give singing lessons. Websites like Wyzant.com make it easier than ever to find people to tutor without expensive advertising.
19. Create YouTube Lessons
YouTube is not only a good place to make money with your own music, but also a great place to make money giving free video lessons. You can find single video lessons there with millions of views (like this beginner’s guitar lesson). That can translate into big money if you monetize your video tutorials.
20. Create a Website
A website or blog is a great way to showcase your music sell your CDs, and advertise your availability for gigs.
No idea where to start? You can use a platform designed specifically for band websites, like Bandzoogle.com, which has a free trial and plans starting at less than $10 per month. Or to create your own site, follow our guide to how to start a blog.
21. Raise Money on Kickstarter
If you need money to create an album or put together a tour, you can try Kickstarter. John Mark McMillan raised more than $69,000 in 30 days to launch his album.
Just make sure you have a plan so you don’t wind up spending more on your crowdfunding campaign than you bring in. Here’s our guide to running a Kickstarter campaign.
22. Raise Money on Patreon
Patreon has a different model than Kickstarter. Instead of soliciting pledges for a one-time project, you get “patrons” who offer to regularly fund you according to some criteria.
For example, one might pledge to give you $10 every time you produce a new song. You offer your patrons rewards like free downloads of your songs, the chance to hang out with you online, or at least regular reports on the progress they’re helping to make possible. Here’s a more detailed post on how to use Patreon.
23. Record a Cover Song
Can you really make money recording cover songs? Yes, and interestingly, you don’t even need permission from the original artist to do a cover.
A website like EasySongLicensing.com can help you get what’s called a “Compulsory Mechanical License” for as little as $14.95, as long as you aren’t making any changes to the lyrics or tune. Then you can sell your version of “Achy Breaky Heart” or “Uptown Funk” and pay royalties only when your version sells.
24. Submit Your Music to a Record Club
Feedbands lets you submit your best tracks to them and, if they like what they hear, they stream your music to listeners who vote for their favorites. Then, once per month, Feedbands offers a musician or group a record deal. They say, “We press your record, you keep the rights, and we write you a big check.”
25. Try Fiverr
You’ll find many ways to make money on Fiverr.com, but can you do it with music? The artist known as “Shiftypop” does. He creates jingles for clients, and 438 positive reviews suggest he’s doing well. But the $5 gigs aren’t where the money is. His extra services can add hundreds of dollars to an order.
Your Turn: Can you add to this list of ways to make money with your music, and have you tried any of these methods yourself?
Steve Gillman is the author of “101 Weird Ways to Make Money” and creator of EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. He’s been a repo-man, walking stick carver, search engine evaluator, house flipper, tram driver, process server, mock juror, and roulette croupier, but of more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is his favorite (so far).