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April 1, 2017

How to make money all year round as a session musician

This post is inspired by a video that popped up on my Facebook timeline today by a guy called Damian Keyes – who I’ve just Googled and turns out is pretty big in the game (he has his own Wikipedia page!). Anyway, that aside, Damian puts out some amazing videos with advice and insight on the music industry – check them out here: https://www.youtube.com/user/Damiankeyes

In the video I watched today, Damian spoke about how, on his posts and vlogs, he gets a handful of comments from people who have sipped on a little bit too much hater-aid. In my short career as a blogger, I’ve also received a handful of non-helpful comments and so was interested to hear what D-dog had to say. In the words of Mary J, Don’t need no hateration…thanks Mary.

Damian was preaching about how the music industry is evolving, it’s not what it used to be 15-20 years ago, and as working musicians we have a choice – get angry, resent those who are succeeding and making it work, or, get over it and embrace the evolution/changes/current state/direction things are heading in…however you want to refer to it. Probably to no surprise at all, he said that those who were trolling his posts tended to fall into the former mindset.

Whilst watching Dizzle Kizzle’s video, it bought to mind some advice I was given very early on in my career.

You’re not justpop musician, you’re a musician

Sounds cryptic right! But what my friend meant was that it’s important to utilise our entire skill set as musicians and not fall into the trap of just being a (or striving to be a) “pop musician”…for example. So I want to talk about being proactive as a musician, trying to find ways to monetise every aspect of your creative ability – so that when you’re not on a pop tour – you’re still earning money, and therefore, still able to move forward in your career – it’s hard to further your career if you’re working on a farm part time mucking out stables…trust me, I know!

So here are some ways in which I (or people I know) are making money, by being musicians, all year round.

Turn your Private teaching into Skype lessons/Online lessons

Teaching is not a new idea. I imagine most people who are reading this, have at some point taught music lessons – and possibly still do. The thing I found difficult about private teaching is that you can end up letting your students down an awful lot if you have to go away on tour.

The way I got around this was by setting up Skype lessons – it might sound risky, but actually it works really well – you just need a laptop, a good set of headphones and a decent internet connection. If you have these things, there is no reason why you can’t teach from a hotel room, sat in your boxers.

Another thing I’ve seen, which is even more intuitive, is online courses/subscription websites. The advantage of this is that once you have made your content, your work is done – you only need to focus on selling it – it means you could sell the same, 1 hour lesson to 100 people and it wouldn’t take up 100 hours of time. The only downside to this model is advertising and the initial cost of setting up a platform to sell it from.

Turn your function band into an agency

Everyone plays in a function band right?! Again, nothing new about playing functions, but what I see a lot of more and more is the agency model. Say you start up a function band called “Funktion M8” (because all function bands spell function with a k…like funk…and numbers are dope), you get some gigs, which is great, so you play, get paid and go to bed (at like 4am).

What a lot of my friends do (and really well too), is to take several bookings on the same day, and, instead of advertising Funktion M8 as a set band, they draw from a pool of musicians and put out several bands under the same name – you take a cut from each gig and now all of a sudden you have an agency.

The way to make this work is through a solid online presence. A decent website, solid branding/pictures/videos – no cheap nastiness, invest in good advertisement and SEO, get down to wedding fares – employ someone to do your sales if you’re not great at talking – don’t cut corners and this will really work – but expect to put in the hard graft in the early stages. I don’t do this myself, but my friends who are successful in it have worked themselves to the bone and invested everything they have into making it work – so it’s not an easy ride…but then no business pursuit is.

Step that up to take on some contracts at holiday parks, cruise ships and hotels/resorts and you could bring home a tidy little pay slip each month – all while your sat in your room…in your boxers, obvs.

Sell your Production/Sync Tracks

If you are sitting at home making beats, you should think about monetising that. There are so many ways you can do this, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it’s about getting your track picked up for some big named pop artist.

Sync tracks (tracks for adverts, films, media projects etc…) can fetch up a good amount of money, there are plenty of places you can post your tracks too – like audio jungle or pond5 for example. The advantage of doing this is that they have a ready made audience who will look to buy your tracks, the downside is that these companies tend to take a rather hefty percentage (like 50% +) – but, once your track(s) are uploaded, you can just sit back, in your boxers and let the money come to you.

A really inspiring friend of mine, Kaz Rodriguez has carved out an amazing niche for himself – he makes super complex, drum-less backing tracks for drummers to shred over and for normal humans to try and dance to. Seriously though, I can’t explain how amazing this guy is at drumming, but also at making incredible shed tracks – if you are a drummer, you really should have these in your iTunes – get them now – https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/kaz-rodriguez/id904464018. Pitching aside, this is a really intuitive way to make extra money if you have the skills.

Gear Repairs/Mods

Part of the way I funded my music college education was building effects pedals and selling them on eBay. Although I haven’t done this in years now, it’s something that, if I had time, I’d probably get back into. But more to the point, if you are handy in anyway at all with gear, then you should consider lending your technical skills for gear repairs, mods, building/refinishing guitars etc.

Again, stuff like this really comes down to advertising, and reputation, but once people know you are doing it, you will probably see a good income stream. The downside of this is it’s not such a portable skill set – so if you were out on tour, production would have to stop…unless you outsourced…just saying!

Start Blogging/Vlogging

The last 10 or so years has seen a massive emergence of blogs, and more commonly, vlogs (video-blogs for those over 40). Obviously, this is a blog (whaaaat?!) – it’s something I’ve only started doing for the last few months.

Here’s the big question about blogging/vlogging that I think a lot of people have…why!?

The truth about blogging, and indeed vlogging, which i’m going to stop typing now because I don’t even like the word, is that it doesn’t really bring any income. Sure you can put some Google adverts on there and get a few pence a month, or you could get into ghost writing for other people, but, realistically, it’s only the big bloggers who have been around for a while who are bringing in the big p.

So why do it? Well, for a lot of people it’s a nice hobby. But if you want to be purely business minded about it, what you can become is rich in assets (because people will often send you things for review or to be posted about – my sister is a great example of this, getting sent free baby stuff all the time), or more so, rich in influence. Once you build up a captive audience, it’s then easier to launch something like online lessons, or advertise a master class/clinic.

I’m not saying that everyone blogs so they can get noticed and then exploit their readers for money – at it’s core, I think bloggers (myself included) really do it to for the enjoyment of writing and sharing knowledge/experience. But a side effect of making your thoughts public will be an audience who are interested in you and that does put you in a position to better advertise your skills to a targeted market.

Design/Branding

It’s important for any self employed person to look good online, since so many business transactions take place on the old www. So if you have the skills to help people with this, then it can be seriously lucrative.

At the start of my career, I subsidised periods of time with no gigs by making websites for people. The advantage being that as long as I had my laptop, I could build a site anywhere. Long story short, I decided to create a side business from this called Skizzar – a website builder specifically marketed towards creatives and this is now run by my wife, Emma, who has been able to quit her full time job and work from home whilst looking after our 1 year old…this is my favourite achievement to date!

Skizzar is due to launch to the public in a few weeks time which is super exciting for us. But my main point is, if you have the skills, then let them pay your bills – it beats sitting watching Jeremy Kyle every day wishing you had gigs!

For me, I struggled a lot with the thought of being part musician, part web designer. I used to feel like I was copping out or creating a backup plan. But now I’m super proud of it, because I’ve put to use the whole of my skill set, not just playing bass, but graphic design and web design – something I can do from anywhere.

Let me put things this way to finish off my post. It’s easy to look at people in stable, “real” jobs and crave a regular stable income. I read a stat not so long ago that said the average person, if they were to be laid off from their job, would have enough money to survive for 19 days. 19 DAYS!!! So if I have enough money to survive 20 days, in my bank, i’m doing better than the average person. The reason I say this is because I don’t crave a regular salary anymore, in fact, I would find it too restrictive – as self employed people, we have the amazing opportunity to earn as little or as much as we want each month. Last December, I earnt more in one month then I did for my entire previous year – why, because I created good opportunities and I worked my bloody arse off – it just comes down to using your whole set of skills, making it something portable and not just sitting back waiting for the big phone call to come through – because by that time, you might find it’s too late and you’re stuck in your stable job, with your stable salary.

Really hope this post is helpful. As I said at the beginning, the music industry has evolved from what it was 20 years ago and it’s necessary to be resourceful and think more laterally if you want to earn consistently, all year round, from being a musician.

Give us your thoughts and comments – always love to hear from you guys. Don’t need no hateration though am I right Mary?!

…oh, here is the video from Damian Keyes that inspired the whole post in the first place: