How to Make Money as a Musician (Volume 1: Perform)

Can't find fans by playing at home for the folks.

Can't find fans by playing at home for the folks.

Welcome to the first volume of the L4M:  How to Make Money as a Musician.

The music industry has fundamentally changed.  Because of this shift, the way musicians make a living (and consequently the way all of the people that depend on artists to make money) has changed.  The goal of this series of postings is to provide a forum amongst musicians, managers, lawyers, accountants and anyone else associated with music to discuss how to make a living in today’s new music industry.

Building off of my last post (Concerts are the New CD’s), the number one way that a musician can make money is by performing live.  Most artists are not selling out Wembley Stadium, the Staples Center or Madison Square Garden.  However, even in today’s economy, the clubs, bars, theaters, and parks of every size are still booked solid for most nights with live music.  Part of the reason that live music is not as effected as other segments of the industry is that it is usually associated with or tied to alcohol sales.  In a bad economy booze is king (think of people drinking away their sorrows).  To get people to spend their money on alcohol at their venue, club and bar owners will try to attract patrons with music.  So whether it is your local VFW, the town pub, or the neighborhood street fest, as long as their is liquor, there will be live music.

Concerts, specifically summer concerts, are still a huge part of the teen and college age crowd’s social scene.  For example, Lollapalooza ’09 sold out every day.  If you were here in Chicago during Lolla, you would have witnessed some of the most horrible weather in recent memory (torrential rain followed by Amazonian heat).  Yet the kids and their discretionary income were still there in full force.

Concerts and festivals still draw enormous crowds.  They have become a place to be seen and to discover new music.  For an artist, booking a gig at a festival or on a tour, such as the Warped Tour, will expose them to new audiences who are now discovering music by going to concerts rather than hearing it on the radio.  Musicians have told me that they sell more of their cds after a show then they do for an entire month at store.  Which brings us to another reason why playing live is still the number one way for a musician to make money.

While the asking rate for a band may fluctuate depending on their “hottness”, the possibilities of making more money by playing live is always there.  The obvious secondary income stream from playing live is to sell merchandise.  I haven’t been to a concert in recent memory, whether at a stadium or in a dive bar, where there wasn’t a booth with a pissed off looking girlfriend or boyfriend peddling t-shirts, cds, stickers, etc.  Direct merchandise sales at a concert combined with directing new fans to a band’s website, can account for a good amount of cash.  Maybe enough to keep touring.

No matter the size of the room, good music will pack it.

No matter the size of the room, good music will pack it.

The not as obvious income stream that may develop from playing live is that you never know who is in the audience.  The dream of being discovered by an A&R guy cannot come true by playing in your mom’s garage.  Bands are discovered by playing live and getting a reputation for putting on a good show or having a unique sound.  It is true that with the Internet you can get your music out to more people then ever before without ever performing live, but once you are discovered by a label or an investor, the first thing they are going to want to see is you playing live.   In addition, you will undoubtedly develop relationships with other bands by playing a lot of concerts.  Booking with other bands, that are maybe more popular than you can lead to bigger venues and more money.

The bottom line is that people still love going to concerts.  Last time I checked, Ticketmaster and Live Nation were still in business, so that means that people are still willing to pay the ridiculous service and “convenience” fees just to go see their favorite band play.  Festivals are still selling out and clubs are still packed with thirsty fans.  Playing live not only can pay the bills, but can lead to even better opportunities.

Let me know what you think.  Leave a comment or shoot me an email about how you make money as an artist.



  1. Bill Bartmann

    Great site…keep up the good work. 🙂 I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..

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