Karaoke Star? Those Musical Talents Could Earn You Up to $300 a Week

Image: Busking. Photo by Simon Harrod
Simon Harrod/Flickr

Sometime after you took up the flute in the fourth grade, your music career fell off the track to stardom. Maybe you’ve been cruising karaoke bars waiting to get discovered, or you’re ignoring that violin trapped in its case in the top of your closet.

Forget trying to make it big on reality TV and get to work making music in your spare time. With a bit of creativity, you can earn a considerable side income, maybe even $300 a week.

So how do you earn money as a part-time musician? Here’s how blogger, podcaster and musician Craig Allen makes it happen.

Play for Passion First

Guitarist Craig Allen created The Weekend Musician community as a safe haven of support for part-time musicians. “Attempting to make money off of your passion is incredibly difficult … But the sooner you can grow up and realize that it's just another way to support yourself and sustain your passion, the sooner you will start finding ways to make money,” he advised.

If you’re not going to have a good time while making a small side income, it’s not worth tuning up your instrument. But if keeping up with your musical side invigorates and inspires you, then you’re ready to rock.

Stay Out of Bars

Venues like bars are likely to take most of your earnings — or even bill you if you’re not able to pull in the attendance level they want, Allen explained.

The solution? Try to stay out of bars. Instead, play in music fans’ homes. “House concerts are the best option for paying gigs, and they are so much easier to book than anything else I've tried,” Allen said. “There is no traditional venue taking a cut of your ticket sales, you can make a few hundred dollars playing for only 20 people if they give you $10 at the door and all buy a CD — which they usually do.” (Like this idea? Click to tweet it.)

Small venues can sometimes work to your benefit, too. “Your chances of getting [an audience member] to become a long-term fan are much greater [at a small venue] than playing for an empty or even crowded bar,” he said. With careful networking, one house concert can turn into a gig playing a backyard barbecue bash, or an acoustic set at a wedding rehearsal dinner.

Anxious about pitching the idea of an intimate concert to your friends? Take to the streets. Some large cities, like New York, have programs that grant musicians the opportunity to play inside subway stations. In most places, it’s just a matter of choosing your favorite busy corner or hopping block. While only a fraction of passersby might stop watch or take a business card, the commuting audience is relatively captive — and massive. One street performer told PolicyMic that on a good day, she earns up to $70 per performance hour.

Mix and Match

Maybe you have one steady, easy gig each week, but it only brings in $50. How can you increase your earnings without quitting your day job?

Songwriter David J. Hahn spells it out in a tell-all blog post: it’s all about having options. Link up with a church that has great music and get into their rotation of musicians; you can make $100 per service. Or take on a few students if you’ve got the patience; at $50 per lesson, it can really add up! By varying your work, you’ll stay sharp as a musician and make the most of your limited performance time.

Always be Promoting

From posting covers on YouTube to finding a favorite open-mic night, remember that non-paying gigs (see also: play for passion first) can lead to a bit of cash. “If you are savvy enough, you can still get newsletter signups at any gig, which can translate into album sales or crowd-funding fans down the road,” Allen noted. “If we musicians are willing to apply the same creativity we put into our music to our self-promotion, there are many new avenues where income can be generated.”

Support Your Community of Artists

Don’t be afraid to talk about your talent — not just to cultivate new forms of income, but also to build community with fellow artists. “When artists only have a DIY mentality they will be inherently limited, but by adopting a “DIT” (do-it-together) mentality, they'll be surprised at how much support they'll get from people who are already invested in them as people,” Allen said. Keeping up with fellow musicians or music enthusiasts can open doors to gigs, collaborations, and other opportunities.

Your Turn: Have you ever considered turning your musical talent into cash? How would you go about it?

Lisa Rowan is a writer and editor in Washington, D.C. She is a self-appointed karaoke queen.

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