A big part of my blog, How To Run A Band, is to figure out how to actually make money with music. However, I’ve been talking about giving music away for free, buying fancy tablets, and paying for web hosting. If you look at my “financials” page, you’ll notice a downward trend in money for my guinea pig band Shiplosion.
How does a musician make money? Honestly, I don’t know for certain. But, I think I have a couple of ideas. However, these ideas are based more on the individual musician, and not the band as a whole. Why? The individual can make more money and have more control over their finances than an entire band.
Start Earning One Dollar A Day
Every day, grab an acoustic guitar and head down to the street corner. Start playing songs and singing with the case open to take tips. Don’t stop until you have at least one dollar.
There you go. $365 for the year.
Are you a drummer? Grab some drums and set up shop on that street corner. I’ve seen kids playing with buckets busking for money. There’s no reason a drummer with a minimal drum kit can’t do the same. (Even though we all know drummers are “special”…)
“$365 a year? That sucks!”, you say.
Yep, that does suck. But that’s $365 more a year than you were previously earning. Being in a band over a 6 year period, I’ve lost way more than $365. Busking every day will earn you more than my band that was playing multiple cities in multiple states 3 days a week for 6 years.
But earning a dollar a day is not the end goal. Once you can successfully earn one dollar a day, how much effort will it take to get to $2 a day? Maybe busk at one additional location? Do some cover tunes? Play for 30 more minutes?
“But I feel like a hippy dumbass. Isn’t this for homeless drug users and not the awesome caliber of musician that I am?”, you ask. (Okay, I asked but pretended it was you.)
If you don’t feel comfortable doing something, don’t do it. However, there’s money on the table that you are ignoring. If you are on tour, busking could be the deciding factor for being able to afford dinner or gas money. Or, more importantly, beer money.
Busking also gives you the coldest, most disinterested crowd on Earth. What better way to learn how to be positive and entertaining regardless of the situation? And if you think you are too great of a musician to resort to busking, I’d say it’s about time you learned some humility. If you’re not completely self-sufficient as a musician, there is plenty of humility yet to be had.
Sweeten The Deal
Don’t go crazy on this. In fact, I’d argue you record, mix, and master it yourself. As cheaply as possible. Your busking isn’t your main musical career, but an additional revenue source. Use CDBaby to print out a limited run of CDs.
With the addition of CD sales, you are now making $5 to $10 a day. You also have an extra CD to add to the merch booth of your main band.
See the pattern?
Start small and constantly add value and content. Don’t overlook small price points. 25 cents from a few thousand people adds up. There is no purchase too small.
Do it every day. Daily. Every day is an opportunity. It’s yours to have or not.
Physically busking in one area is limited to only that one city and the people only walking by at that particular time. YouTube is global and timeless. Record yourself playing your music daily and throw it out to the world on YouTube. Hell, record yourself while you’re busking on the street.
At the end of your YouTube busking, add a call to action. Give a link to your website and ask for 25 cents. On your site, provide people a way to donate a small amount of money to you. PayPal has options for micro transactions. Use it! The good ol’ long tail theory could net you a bit of cash over the life of this YouTube post.
On top of the daily busking, this additional outlet “could” provide additional revenue. It’s not guaranteed it will, though, so be prepared. However, make your videos interesting enough, you can gain a large following. At that point, you can become a “YouTube Partner” and earn money through ads.
Breaking Down The Numbers
So, doing the above, you’re going to be earning about $5 to $10 a day. You’re going to bitch and whine that that’s impossible to live off of. What you’re not realizing is that I just taught you how to make around $1825 to $3650 extra a year on your music.
It’s not glamorous. It’s not sexy. But it’s money in your pocket.
But, I know you are not satisfied. You want to quit your job. I’m with you on this. I wish I could quit mine. I’m not there yet. However, we need to know the numbers that we need to achieve to quit our day jobs. For me, I’d like $50,000 a year. I’ll use this number to calculate what it would take to be a financially independent musician.
$50,000 divided by 365 days = $137 a day.
That’s it. Earn $137 a day, and you can quit your day job. You are a fraction of the way there using the above techniques, but you will definitely need more money per day to accomplish this task. This figure shows why you can’t entirely rely on your band by itself to generate the income you need.
Your Band Won’t Make The Dough
This point I know you will rail against. “My band will make it! We will become famous.” That’s your ego talking and not your brain. Your band will most likely, by itself, not produce the money you need to get by.
I was following one of the members of GWAR on Twitter. I was surprised to find that he is a bartender after the GWAR tours end. GWAR packs an awesome crowd at venues and has been doing so for 25 years. Still…bartender. One of his tweets was “I always wanted to be rich and famous. I have one of the two.”
Here’s the breakdown. Let’s say your band plays every weekend, twice a week. That’s 104 shows a year. For you, personally, to make $50,000 a year, you’d need to make $481 a show. Now add your band mates that also want to make $50,000 a year. Total, the band would need to make $1924 a show. Yikes!
Even if you played every day of the year, your band would need to profit $548 per show for everyone to get paid. For every additional person in your band, that is another multiplier to the base salary and profit considerations. That 8 piece Ska band doesn’t sound so thrilling now, does it?
The point is, relying solely on your band to make you a financially independent musician is not feasible. The band is just one more revenue source for you. You need multiple, musical revenue sources to get where you need to be.
You Are Your Own Income Stream
On nights your band isn’t playing, you could hit up open mic nights. Bring your CDs along. Perform and sell. Give lessons for your instrument. I think the going rate for a half hour lesson is about $30. Giving a lesson a day at this price will get you over $10,000 a year. Add the busking, and you are approaching $14,000 a year.
Instead of all this daily working, what if you had some merchandise to sell that could do the trick? Easy. Get 365 avid fans. For them, make 365 items that cost $137. These items should be limited edition and never, ever hit the market again. There’s your $50,000.
Or, in the above example, just get 365 fans that are willing to pay $137 on you over the course of a year. Expand that to the popular 1000 True Fans model, and you would need to have each fan pay $50 a year. Do you have $50 worth of content, merchandise, or shows for the year?
This is why growing your e-mail list and treating e-mail like money is so important. Giving away a free CD for an e-mail can net you a positive income flow over a few year period. That network of fans can give you what you need to be successful. If you can grow that e-mail list to 50,000 people, all you would need is $1 a year from each person to quit that day job.
Exhaust All Possibilities
Busking. YouTubing. Lessons. What else can you do? Guitar tabs for 99 cents. Adsense for your free songs. PayPal donations.
What else? Do you have ideas on what can generate money on a daily basis? I think my ideas above could get an artist up to $10,000 a year. What would push it to $50,000?
(Chris “Seth” Jackson writes for How To Run A Band. A site dedicated to performing real life experiments with music marketing using a real band.)