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3 Ways To Make Money Now - Playing Covers, Playing Sessions & Playing Live

Rick Goetz, is a kindred spirit who has just launched a brand new consulting firm for artists called Rick, like me, has spent his entire adult life in the music business and he is DEAD ON when he says: It is essential that you spend your time building your own business rather than asking for help from corporations based on your talent alone.

But how do you build your own business and what specifically works? I got Rick to share a few of his best peals of wisdom I asked him to tell me three things that actually can help an artist begin to build revenue: Playing covers, being a hired gun and working harder on your live show and live show promotion.

Selling $.99 singles isn’t the answer. In fact, I would go so far as to say that in today’s marketplace your single is little more than a business card and your album is just a resume. Both are extraordinarily important but both are just a loss leader for your business. Recorded music is now simply a means of promoting your live show and your songwriting and producing skills. For my $.02 the biggest challenge of being in the music business is staying in the music business without starving.

We can all point to an artist who made it big on a single and blew up over night but what about the majority of musicians out there who have been making a living? From what I have seen and experienced the challenge for the working musician just starting out is finding ways of sustaining himself while building his fan base. Complicating matters even more is that usually means finding a gig that has the flexibility that musicians require, the paycheck that covers their basic needs and if at all possible provides something that will help move their dream career forward at the same time. It’s hard as hell…but this is what I’ve seen work.

1. Covers

It’s easier to fill a room playing songs that people already know. I realize many of you are likely wincing at the notion but remember The Beatles started off as a cover band. Do I really have to drop any other names? It’s a great way to keep your chops up and it really does help to gel a band. Further, it gives the members some more time in with each other with more likelihood of playing successful shows earlier in their career. It also levels the playing field when it comes to the writing process in a group dynamic, which can be challenging at times. If you feel like you are selling out, then sell out only until your own work hits its stride. If you want to make a living selling your own songs to people remember this is just a means to make enough money to put towards that dream while improving your showmanship and range of flexibility on your instrument. Once, when playing a wedding gig, I felt pretty dirty when the cry went up for the Macarena and I delivered as requested but the cash I was paid to play weddings kept my band’s rehearsal space paid for that month.

2. Hired Gun

You want to be as great at your instrument as possible so don’t treat your main band like you would your significant other, cheat like a motherf***ker. Play with anyone and everyone who will have you (provided you are able to carve out enough time to give your main project the time and respect it deserves). You want to play music for a living the trick is to start playing as much as possible with as many people as possible. Be it live or studio just get out there and play. Do it for free at first (if you have to) but get that experience and get as many people to see and hear you play. Every performance and every recording is another trail of breadcrumbs that leads people back to you. Write songs with anyone and everyone you know whose writing you respect. Songwriting is a skill that can be developed just like learning guitar. If you are a vocalist consider voiceovers and do background vocals on as many albums as possible even if it means swallowing your pride and playing second fiddle to someone with less talent than you. I will warn anyone considering this route to be wary, as session cats can become very jaded and cold which ultimately does effect your playing. I don’t know how to advise you against this except to always have a goal for yourself beyond the next paid gig. Being a hired gun is a means to get your music where you want it on as close to your terms as you are able to in the present.

3. Live Shows

Hopefully you have enough people coming down to see you live and if this is not the case and you are not getting repeat customers at your gigs you should re-evaluate your show. Look at everything from stage show to songwriting to delivery and ask a cynical friend who has seen you what needs improving. The cynical need no prompting to offer up the awful truth. Be as communicative as you possibly can be with the venue owners where you play even if it is on amateur night. The simple act of introducing yourself and asking how you can help promote your own show with put you in better favor with whoever books the room. Make sure you have some means of collecting email addresses from those who show up and make sure your name is visible on stage (get a banner and hang it up behind you) and you can’t make a banner make sure to say your band name at least a few times during the set.

If you like what Rick has to say I highly suggest that you spend some time on the phone with him…. You will be one step closer to reaching your dreams with a great new team member to help you along.

Reader Comments (9)

great great great article! if you only could write another article for "bloody-beginner-bands". you know, let the basic steps away and start with an example band gaining a few hundred bucks a gig?

August 18 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

" today’s marketplace your single is little more than a business card and your album is just a resume. Both are extraordinarily important but both are just a loss leader for your business."

I will be marinating on that one for the rest of the week. Thank you.

August 18 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Hey Carl,

Why don't we write one together, drop me a line.


August 18 | Unregistered CommenterRick Goetz

Good article. I've been doing the "sensitive artist" thing for going on 20 years, and had some modicum of success, but mostly always a day job. I've found that i can learn covers from my heroes, and not feel "dirty", and gradually am getting more paying gigs and weddings. Now the trick is pricing. I don't want to price too high, and lose the wedding/ private party, but I also don't want to work for peanuts, and feel resentful.

August 18 | Unregistered CommenterMark Cool

Excellent article, thanks for sharing your info!
Ill share the URL with the members of my Indieheaven organization, they need to read this!
All the best!
Keith Mohr

August 18 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Mohr

This is an interesting article because it expresses where the music business is today. We have moved away from trying to become super stars by massive album sales and are now back to actually being musicians, playing live and collaborating in person. Even if that is online collaboration. Back to basics always works.

I know that this post is mainly about making money, but you also mention becoming great at your instrument. I would also add that recording with as many people as possible is another way of improve your skills - both physical and mental. Recording can be extremely challenging. Sometime much more than playing live. Albeit, most of the time you are lending your chops to a track and not being compensated financially for your efforts. The up side is that you are making connections. And connections are really what this business is about.


August 20 | Unregistered CommenterDave Lopez

I really enjoyed this article. Its refreshingly simple. You left out one very important point; Musi Licensing.

I have been a Music Supervisor in Advertising for almost 10 years. Many of the bands whose music I have placed have gone on to be successful artists and Bands, not just because we broadcast their music to millions over the TV, but because they took the money they made form the license to further thier careers.

Music Licensing (in Film ,TV or Ads) is the ultimate form of promotion, and it pays!

So the second point I think you left out (or maybe the b. part of the point) is to write songs that ARE licensable. Its not a hard formula to figure out. key words that describe emotions, hooks that build in 30 seconds or less. Its an incredible way to make money. BUILD a CATALOG!

Keep em coming.

Sarah Gavigan

August 21 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Gavigan

Dave- excellent point. I should have elaborated that being a hired gun applies not only to live but studio gigs and there is nothing quite like the experience of hearing yourself play or sing when it is well recorded and washing back at you (especially without effects) through high quality speakers... it is often humbling and forces people to step up their game.

Sarah- Licensing is absolutely valuable as well.

I didn't mention music licensing because from my experience getting music placed without the help of a strategic partner who does placement and reps a large catalog (and therefore gets their calls returned much easier than an artist who is usually much more limited in terms of catalog volume and diversity) is not always the best use of an artist's time.

Unless someone is scoring or doing work for hire my experience is that it is better to partner with someone like yourself who has great relationships as the competition for placement in ads, especially for big ads, has grown a great deal in the last few years and keeping track of who needs what in advertising is a full time job! There are now several services that offer non-exclusive music shopping arrangements with artists they believe in and work on a 100% commission basis.

I've gotten wonderful response to this article and I'm very grateful. I would love feedback on what to write about next so please drop me some suggestions by email.


August 21 | Unregistered CommenterRick Goetz

Hey all of you check out, we are featuring a music section where musicians can get paid for good covers of requested songs. It is a good way to get paid and get feedback on your music.


Clint Jarvis

November 10 | Unregistered CommenterClint Jarvis

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