13 MIN READ
We Asked 10 Actors, Artists and Musicians How They Actually Pay the Bills
Many of us grew up watching stars on the big screen and dreamed of one day being famous.
You imagined yourself as the movie star, the rock star on MTV, the comedian on Comedy Central. But it was just a dream.
Have you seen the people who actually go on to do these things? It takes a lot of years of a lot of hard work. And a lot of years of being very broke.
So if you actually want to chase your dream, how do you make extra money until you hit it big?
We talked to 10 performers you’ve never heard of to find out the creative ways they pay the bills while they wait for all that hard work to pay off.
1. This actor makes $7 a mile walking people.
Actor Chuck McCarthy supplements his income by walking people in Los Angeles.
Yes, I said, “people.”
McCarthy sells his time as The People Walker and takes walks with people for $7 a mile, earning about $150 a week. He started the side gig as a fitness offering, a way to motivate clients to get exercise and fresh air without the intensity of a personal trainer.
As it’s grown over just six months, he’s noticed clients like the service for several reasons.
Some people just enjoy the companionship, and some hire him to accompany them for safety — not quite a bodyguard, but more like a deterrent to harassment.
It’s “literally a reason to get out of the house” for some people, McCarthy says.
As the concept catches on much faster than he expected, McCarthy has authorized some others in his area to be walkers. For now, he doesn’t earn money from their walks. But he plans to build an app that would let him grow the business beyond his L.A. side gig.
Acting is still his main source of income, but The People Walker has helped him create a steady income stream.
“I’m definitely not buying a Mercedes or anything with my People Walker money,” he points out, “but I think it’s a great way to make money and be flexible.”
The work fits well around his acting and audition schedule. He has the flexibility to reschedule or ask other walkers to fill in when a last-minute audition comes up. Most of the other walkers in the area are also actors.
2. This comedian makes money as a nanny and dog-walker.
Chicago stand-up comedian David Freeburg was working at a coffee shop and a bar when he started comedy, but soon had to quit the bar job because of conflicting hours.
To make up the income, he found a gig you might not expect to jive with stand up: nannying.
It makes sense when he explains it, though: “The hours work really well. Comedy happens late at night, so waking up by 6 a.m. for an office job is tough. [With nannying,] if the kids are old enough, they'll be in school, so a lot of nanny jobs don't start until noon or early afternoon.”
When comedy started to demand a lot of travel, he left that job. Now he’s making money as a dog-walker, a job he says a lot of Chicago comics do.
Daytime hours make dog-walking ideal for doing comedy in the city. It’s easier to schedule shows because people tend to be more flexible with leaving their dogs home alone than their kids, if you can imagine.
The trade-off is a lot less pay, though.
“Dog walking is fine, but it's not as much pay (as nannying),” Freeburg explains. “I'm doing it as a transition period, and I'm barely making enough.”
He says the gig would pair well with another part-time job, if you can find the right fit.
For Freeburg, days filled with dog-walking and nights and weekends filled with comedy don’t leave much room for more work, so he’s sufficing on the lower pay. He thinks he’ll get back into nannying when he finds the right family.
“I consider myself more child care than doggy care,” he explains.
After all, “kids are an endless source of material,” he points out. “This way I could get the jokes without the responsibilities of being a parent.”
3. This artist doubled his income driving with Uber.
By the spring of 2014, Stefan Davis had been working full time as a comedian for more than three years, but the money wasn’t cutting it.
“I pretty much had Monday through Wednesday absolutely free every week,” Davis told The Penny Hoarder. “and I didn’t spend that time wisely. Mostly watching Netflix and [surfing] the internet.”
He had plenty of time off during the week, but never a steady schedule. He traveled often to perform, and needed a side gig that would support that.
He heard about Uber from fellow comedians and signed up when the ride-share company launched in his city.
Driving with Uber let him fill those free days every week and boosted his weekly income. Your earnings will be calculated by adding a base fare, plus time and distance traveled after your pickup, and Uber charges a service fee.
This could be a natural side gig to pick up if you’re already used to contract work as a performer, writer or artist.
4. This drummer is a sales rep by day, and still has time to rock and record at night!
Dan Sorensen was a full-time professional musician for about five years in the early 2000s. He played with several bands, most notably the band he’s still the drummer for — The Orange.
“We toured the country in a van, shared the stage with many notable bands and had a pretty awesome adventure along the way,” he reminisces.
Then, “I fell in love, got married, and started a family. That lifestyle choice required things like health insurance, a mortgage and a level of financial stability that I couldn't reliably provide playing music full time on the independent scene in that era.”
To provide stability, he got into carpentry and then IT, before ultimately landing in sales. He continued to play music, but shifted his focus from touring to local shows and studio recording to accommodate his family and work schedule.
Now Sorensen works in software sales by day, a full-time job he splits between the office, working from home and traveling to client sites.
Even though he’s working full time, his job actually offers a lot of the flexibility the musician needs.
“In this career you can work 40 hours per week or 80; it really varies on where you stand with your targets,” he says. “Performance is measured by quota attainment, as opposed to hours logged at a PC. That gives me the flexibility that I need to work full-time, raise my family, and still play music as often as possible.
“Within reason, I have the ability to set my own schedule and can work from anywhere in the country. Travel is part of the job, so there is no expectation to punch a clock every weekday in a specific office. This provides the flexibility that I need for rehearsals, recording sessions, and gigs with the band.
“I would recommend sales to any musician with reasonable interpersonal and time management skills,” Sorensen suggests. “Independence puts the onus of success on you, but the flipside of that pressure is the flexibility to pursue your musical passion while still providing stability for your family.”
5. This lead singer does graphic design so he can enjoy his family and still play music.
Sorensen’s band mate in The Orange, singer and guitarist Ben Karis-Nix, works as a freelance graphic designer. It offers the flexibility to have a family that being a full-time musician couldn’t.
“I used to play music full time, living communally with my bandmates in an RV, touring the country,” he recalls. But now, “in my late 30s, my greater fulfillment comes from my relationship to my family.”
Doing graphic design allows him the flexibility to record and perform, but also the stability to be home with his family.
“For me, it’s been a gratifying timeline of adventuring that has phased into a more balanced life, with art and music still part of the landscape, rather than the dominant force,” he says.
6. This comedian delivers food through Uber Eats.
“I would recommend this, if anything, for the schedule flexibility alone,” says Clint Nohr, a comedian in New York. “If you're really hustling and can navigate your city, you can actually make decent money.”
Touring and paid spots in the city make up the majority of Nohr’s income. Delivering with Uber Eats makes it easy for him to earn extra money around a hectic schedule.
“I like that you can turn (the app) on anytime and start working, schedule even around spots in the city.”
Requirements to be a delivery driver with Uber are simpler to meet than those for its ride sharing service, too. Just have a driver’s license, insurance and vehicle registration; be 19 years old and have at least a year of driving experience.
Plus, you won’t have strangers in your car.
While the flexible work allows him to otherwise do what he wants, Nohr does note, “[I don’t like] that I'm in my 30s and delivering Chinese food to stoned college kids. It's a reminder that I'm not surviving exclusively on comedy income.”
7. This lead singer also helps run a web development and design firm.
Sam Farrell, as he explains it, doesn’t really have a day job. “I play in a bunch of bands, produce a bunch of records and design a bunch of websites.”
With partner Kindra Goehler, Farrell runs the Wisconsin-based web design firm Dirigible Studio. He also plays with several bands: The Lately, J-Council and Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, plus others that are still “getting off the ground.”
“Sometimes I barely work and sometimes I put in 14-hour days,” he describes his eclectic career. “It all depends on what's coming up. Its boom or bust, but in a good way.”
Although it’s demanding, his web design work is flexible. Farrell can plan gigs around big design projects and vice versa. The lifestyle is similar to freelancing, he points out.
Music remains his focus, and he spends most days producing, engineering and mixing records.
“Honestly,” he says, “the hardest part about making the band work is making the scheduling work between all the different bands. The other jobs are an afterthought that fill in the cracks.”
He says he’d definitely recommend this kind of work to other musicians, though it may not be easy for everyone to fall into this field.
“I've planned for this my whole life and purposely pursued a degree in something that I could do on the road,” he explains, “and have worked to develop skills that make me useful to other musicians all the time.”
He explains that performing is only one aspect of his career in music. He’s developed skills as a producer, so he remains valuable and can earn money from “the creative side of music” when he’s not performing.
8. This comedian is a real estate broker in Brooklyn by day.
Taylor Clark has been working for Nooklyn since the company’s early days. He describes it as a “tech startup/real estate brokerage.”
He’s been doing stand-up comedy on and off for about 10 years. Though his real estate career is much younger, it pays the bills for him, his wife and their young daughter.
Clark can dictate his pay and schedule — though, he admits, in reality, “my clients make my schedule for me.” With mouths to feed and New York’s high cost of living, the day job often takes precedence over comedy.
Still, he continues to refer other comics to the company because the job offers a rare opportunity for both flexibility and a decent income.
“You don't have a boss, so for a lot of comedians who have authority issues, it's good for them to just be able to manage their own (time),” he explains.
Pay is 100% commission-based, so you have to be a self-starter, Clark says.
As with any side hustle, he adds, “I think no matter what your day job is, if you're trying to do comedy and support yourself, you're going to be putting in 90 hours a week. You have to do your job, and then you have to do your work.”
9. This comedian earns a living through flexible temp jobs.
Liz Donehue is a stand-up comedian based in Seattle. She makes ends meet with temp jobs.
Most recently, she worked for King County Elections processing ballots for the 2016 general election. While the job requires full-time hours — 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. — it keeps her nights open to perform.
Before that, she was working as a personal assistant for a radio personality, “doing everything from paying his bills to puppy sitting to scheduling his appointments and travel arrangements.”
“I'd definitely recommend a temp job and/or a day job for those wanting to do comedy,” she says.
A full-time day job poses the challenge of getting days off to travel to gigs too far away to get to in the evening. Temp positions come with the added flexibility of time off between jobs, when you could schedule out-of-town trips.
10. This actor and poet writes while working as a medical communications specialist.
Nathan J. Reid is a spoken word artist, actor and writer in Madison, Wisconsin. For three years, he’s also been a full-time communications specialist for a local hospital, which, he explains, “just means I’m a glorified switchboard operator.”
Though his department needs to be staffed 24/7, Reid is fortunate to work mostly morning and afternoon shifts, freeing up his nights for performing.
He credits his supervisors with making the environment a good fit for him.
“They uphold a firm belief in people having lives outside of work and often go out of their way to ensure an employee is able to maintain involvement in his/her activities and interests,” he explains.
The job also comes with downtime that allows him to write or read throughout his shift, so he doesn’t have to sacrifice creativity for eight-hour stretches.
“I work with musicians, graphic artists and other writers, and we all take advantage of our free time between calls and pages,” he says.
He doesn’t necessarily recommend this job for other performers. Jobs in call centers and in the medical field tend to be high-stress, he points out, “so you can imagine what it’s like when the two areas are combined.”
Instead, he stresses finding the right elements in your day job, no matter the field.
“It’s a delicate balance: If I had to work different hours … if I didn’t have great benefits or a flexible schedule … if my bosses were different people, I would consider a different job.
“As long as you can find a ‘day job’ that doesn’t suffocate your art, then you’re doing okay.”
Your Turn: Are you a performer still building your career? What do you look for in a day job?
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).