Get Paid to Rock Out: 5 Money-Making Gigs for Musicians

Image: Musicians
Mike Kniec under Creative Commons

Finding ways to make money as a musician can seem like an impossible dream. Either you break into the Top 40 and make millions, or you give up on a paycheck and play for friends and family.

But before you start tuning up your guitar in your living room, you should know that there’s a middle ground!

You don’t have to sign with a label, travel or sell out to make a decent side income as a musician. You just need a good work ethic, family-friendly lyrics and a willingness to not have your name in big lights, and you might be able to make some serious cash.

Here are five secret money-making gigs I’ve discovered as I manage and book shows for the energetic alternative rock singer/songwriter (and my husband), Joshua Wake.

1. Church-Affiliated Events

Churches of all denominations host live events, whether they’re large, multi-church events or small family picnics. With these church events come small planning budgets that are allotted for food, drink … and entertainment. That’s you!

A church typically hosts dozens of events each year. Take that and multiply it by the number of churches in your area, and you will quickly see that there are plenty of opportunities for you to perform in your area without ever booking a concert at a traditional venue.

Look for churches who are hosting festivals, special holiday performances, youth events and retreat experiences, and email the contact person on the flyers and information websites. Share your name, your performance style and a link to your website, and let them know you’re interested in providing family-friendly entertainment at their event. Each of these can be an opportunity for you to earn money and exposure, all while staying in your home town.

2. School Dances and Social Events

Much like churches, schools host several events throughout the year and your style of music may be a perfect fit! You can target a number of different kinds of events, from major dances to smaller events. You could even network your way into school clubs for performances or entertainment, such as guitar club or music club.

First things first: when working with public and private schools, it’s important to follow a protocol and never be on campus when not specifically invited or requested. Contact your local school’s scheduling secretary or Assistant Principal by phone or email and let them know that you would be interested in performing at any such events. Provide a link to your recordings and a short explanation of why your music would resonate with their students.

3. Coffee Shops

Coffee shops frequently host open mic nights and performances. And while they might not start off as paid gigs, there’s nothing quite like developing a relationship with the manager of the shop and, over time, negotiating an hourly rate for your performances.

Check your area to see shops that already have music nights arranged. If they don’t, speak with a manager to suggest that you perform. Be sure to mention the genre of music that you perform.

And here’s a hint: it never hurts to get creative! Propose a night where you will perform music that you know a large number of people in your area would enjoy. For instance, if you are in an area with a significant elderly population, play the classics. If you are in an area with lots of teenagers, play songs from contemporary movies or top 40 hits. You could even select a soundtrack from a popular movie and advertise that you’ll play through the entire thing live on a particular night.

4. Running Races

Running races are the most underappreciated events for live music on this list. Where else can you locate hundreds, if not tens of thousands, of people and force them to listen to your music for three or four minutes?

Running races, especially marathons and half marathons, are a great way to earn exposure and earn a paycheck. Depending on the size of the race and your relationship with the race manager, you can earn $50 to $200 for a one- to five-hour race. And not only do you earn money and exposure, but you become a part of the memory of runners’ fun race experience.

To get connected, search online for marathons and half marathons in your city or state. Find the contact information of the race organizer and send them an email with your information. Follow up every two weeks until you hear back, and make sure you check in each year to become a staple on the race circuit.

5. Music Shops

Many music shops like to plug into the local music scene that surrounds them. Check to see if your local shops offer music nights. If they don’t, propose that they let you perform. Be sure to mention that you will advertise the event using your social media, website, and flyers.

If they still are not sold, mention that you could share the performance with other local musicians, thereby increasing the likelihood that the attendance would be beneficial to the shop. The possibility for generating an income is widespread: you could charge admission at the door, find local sponsors for the event, or even be sponsored by the music store itself in exchange for free equipment and instruments.

The next time you think there’s no way you can make a side income with your musical talents, stop thinking and get to work! Contact these places and organizations to create performance opportunities for yourself, increasing your exposure and growing your bank account while you perform.