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From Graduate to Professional Musician: How To Kick Start Your Career

Studying music at University level is the ultimate double edged sword. Whilst the prospect of spending three years practising, rehearsing, writing and networking is both exciting and fun, finding employment after graduating is an altogether different prospect.

I finished my BA(Hons) in Popular Music Studies in 2009, graduating with a 2:1 from Leeds College of Music. The course was primarily performance and composition based, and by the end of the first year we were encouraged to choose one of these paths as a Major. Having never been one to write songs, I chose the performance route; I much preferred the idea of spending my days practising, honing my craft and trying to gain a reputation as a sought after performer than writing my own songs, which I was never that good at anyway. I always liked the idea of one day becoming a session guitarist, so I figured the more performing, rehearsing and recording for people I could do, the better.

In between the performance modules I chose, the course tried to prepare us for life outside education in the form of Music Industry modules. This offered useful advice for the self employed or freelance musician, including general information on how to keep finances in order. This has proved to be invaluable once a year; every January I tot up my earnings for the financial year, pay what I owe online, then start my financial records again. What the course failed to explain, was how to successfully get oneself into the position where enough money is coming in from music employment to make this information useful.

The lecturers would typically inform us all how hard it is to make money from being a musician, particularly if performing is what you enjoy doing the most. It soon became clear that to make a living from music, it would be a long journey, and very few will find themselves landing a decent form of employment straight from graduating. Self employment, or free lance work, would be the best way forward for earning a living from music it seemed.

Three years down the line, I find myself a lot more clued up on how to make a decent living from music. Along the way I have had to sacrifice, temporarily at least, some of the ideals I first had in mind when I graduated. I’m still not really what id call a session musician – I’ve done a few paid recordings but not enough to call myself sought after. I decided also to relinquish the notion that I would not end up in private tuition. This is something I find myself very happy about though, as I find it both enjoyable and flexible, as well as a decent source of income during the quieter performance months. I do however, find myself gigging paid gigs at least twice a week on average, and still find the time to do a minimum of thirty minutes practice each day. I’ve also recently played my first overseas gig, in the Shetland Islands (it still counts!). My current employment is split into 3 different areas; performing, teaching and other. These areas complement each other well, and I’d like to begin by sharing briefly how I make money as a musician.


I currently perform in three different bands, as well as a bit of solo classical guitar. The bands are the best source of income, although I found having 3 bands to perform in has helped to improve the amount of time I can spend on stage. The bands include a function band called Backbeat, tribute acts to The Stone Roses called The Total Stone Roses and to Oasis, called Oaysis. Aside from performing with these bands, I was also responsible for setting up and running Backbeat, which I still do today. This includes advertising, liaising with customers, organising band members for performances, as well as conversing with agencies such as Alive Network Entertainment Agency to ensure there is a steady influx of gigs all year round.


I found that teaching guitar is the quickest and most accessible way of making money as a musician. I teach three days a week privately, and one day a week in school. My private tuition was the first thing I set up after graduating, and I now teach up to 12 pupils a week. This could increase further in the future if the gigs dry up, which is largely dependant on how the current economic climate is, but for now my goal is to steadily decrease the amount of pupils I teach privately. The evening I spend in schools is freelance employment. I am put in charge of a band of school aged children and have to teach them one or two songs a week, to be of performance standard by the end of the three hour session.


Although performing and teaching are my main methods of employment, I also make money from music in other ways. After I first graduated, I had to get a job to tide me over whilst I set everything up. I worked 5 days a week in a music bar in Leeds. It was important for me to get a job that no matter how far removed it seemed from my final goal, still had a purpose. In this case, the music bar was over the road from my music college. This meant I was able to easily maintain my network of musicians that I had carefully built up over the last three years, as well as making more contacts in the form of like minded musicians who frequented the venue. I also found getting my first gigs very easy once I became friends with the management and booking agents at the venue. Over a period of one year, I managed to reduce the amount of shifts I was working from five days a week to one day a week, before completely quitting a few months later, once all my hard work setting up the bands and teaching business had taken off.

There are of course many other ways of making money in music. I have become friends with would be producers, people who graduated from college and are keen to record other artists but need musicians to play on the tracks. Although it’s great to help out friends at first, we all made a conscious effort to keep things as professional as possible, so always charged a fee for the recording time, no matter how small it was at first. Other good ways are through music journalism, being paid to write for an opinion. Again, keep it music related and it’s another way of successfully completing your goal of making money through music.

Andy Gallagher is one of the founding members of Backbeat - a premier West Yorkshire function band. Backbeat are one of Alive Network’s top function bands available to hire in Yorkshire and UK wide.

Alive Network - |


Reader Comments (1)

Interesting post

I agree with your advice about keeping a strong network of musicians as so much work comes through personal recommendation

Drop me an email if you want an introduction to our Yorkshire based producers / composers Barrie Gledden or Bob Bradley as they both regularly use Yorkshire based musicians on their projects for Audio Network.

Robert Hurst
CEO, Co Founder
Audio Network

December 29 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Hurst

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