A Guide To Surviving Financially As A Musician

How a working musician survives in the music industry of today and how the popular belief that musicians/bands can't survive in the industry due to lack of finance is out-dated.

Ultimate Guitar
First I will give you a background on myself and where my information and sources come from to give backbone in what you are about to read. I am a guitarist studying at the Institute of Contemporary Music and Performance (ICMP) in London, noted as one of the leading European institutes for popular music and performance. All the teachers at the ICMP are Part-Time since they mostly have current successful careers within the music industry and it is a requirement to become a tutor there. Much of what is written within this guide is information passed on from what I have been taught at the ICMP and I feel the knowledge I have gained so far is incredibly valuable and relevant to many who use this website. I have seen many an article on this site that suggests how artists are underpaid for the work they do. I have seen articles on how new bands struggle to make a career out of their passion due to lack of finance to support gigging/touring, recording, merchandise etc. Whether artists deserve more money for what they do is a matter of opinion and for me to argue a case here would achieve nothing except two sides of a coin with readers choosing heads or tails. The undeniable fact is however that the idea of artists being able to live off of what they earn through being an artist alone is becoming more of a struggle and less a prospect full career choice. Is this the end of musicians being able to make a career out of being a artist/band? Only if your outlook on such a career is out-dated and stuck in the days of when record labels would give huge amounts of cash to their bands or if you think inside the box of money coming from only sales and gigs. It is common nowadays for a current musician (who isn't loaded already from the rock god days) to have more sources of income other than their band. Lets take a look at some of today's current musicians. Myles Kennedy, known for his incredible vocals for Alter Bridge and Slash is a good example of one of the ways in how a musician can survive in today's industry. Not only will he earn money from his band Alter Bridge, but also his work with Slash. Working with more than one artist/project greatly increases your prospects as a successful ongoing artist since you are receiving income from more sources. Now Myles Kennedy may be a popular artist in two fairly known bands (which helps) but the way he financially survives can be applied to a every-day freelance musician's career. For example while you work with your main ambition as the guitarist for The Hot Rod Honeys you could be a in-house jazz guitarist for your local blues/jazz club or a wedding/party function band playing the legendary greatest hits such as Bee Gees - "Staying Alive". Guitarist Bjorn Gelotte and bassist Peter Iwers from the metal band In Flames not only rock their cotton socks off for our keen ears. In Gothenburg you will find a Rush-themed restaurant run by these devil-horned pair in which you can enjoy such cuisine as "Caress Of Steak", "Jacob's Larder", and the funnily named dish: "A Passage To Bangers And Mash". Now owning your own restaurant is an expensive process that not everyone has the fortune to do, however this doesn't mean you can't work in a restaurant or any sort of retail shop as a source of revenue to support your main career as a Artist or Band. However if your idea was to be a famous rock guitarist and earn millions and never have to do any sort of average joe work then good luck, it wont happen unless by freak chance! The undoubtedly incredibly talented guitarist from the band Periphery, Misha Monsoor, isn't just a master of the djent. You may have noticed he has a keen touch on technology including recording/production of music (his knowledge on guitar sounds is insane!). I am certain that as a secondary source of income Misha works with other artists in recording or producing their music (I could be wrong on this but it is still a possible source of income). This sort of job is possible even at an amateur standard, I remember being in a band when I was 16 years old recording a E.P for the first time and we had it all recorded in a guys bedroom (which was pretty much a drug-den at the same time. Rock n' roll). We paid him something like 200 in total for a decent enough E.P. Rise To Remain guitarist Ben Tovey not only shreds his guitar to the masses for his money, he also works as a guitar teacher. This sort of job can be hard to setup but if you do manage it it is highly rewarding since it's rate of pay is fairly good in comparison to say working at a supermarket and the hours are flexible to your needs. You also don't need to be as good as Steve Vai to do it! Now these are all examples of what some of you I am sure would say are "famous musicians" working secondary jobs on top of their artist/band work to provide finance for themselves to live off. So what about musicians not in world famous bands with record contracts and world tours? Are they capable of this too? Well right in front of your eyes is a source of finance that anyone can do. Journalism. This article is being done by the good-nature of my heart however being a freelance journalist for magazines such as Kerrang can provide healthy financial support (providing they use your work!). A recent review of the Rock/Metal band Jettblack's performance at The Underworld in Camden in Kerrang Magazine was written by a university student in London. Whether the author is a musician I do not know, but you will find many of the authors for magazines such as Total Guitar have other projects of their own such as their own bands. Ever heard of a guitarist named David Birnie? He is a tutor at the ICMP where I study, however if you have heard of him it would likely be for his work as a guitarist for the worlds most successful Rolling Stones tribute act "The Counterfeit Stones". He might not be a world famous guitarist but he certainly is a successful musician working in the music industry. He has also done work for Channel 4, the BBC, and even performed for the Royal Family. So is being a musician as a prospect full career choice a dying career path? Not in the slightest. The music industry is like any industry, it is ever-changing and to stay successful within the industry you have to adapt to the change. You can complain about how little money your band gets when you do a gig all you want but unless you do something to support yourself financially, complaining isn't going to put food on your table nor help you achieve your ambitions. If you are expecting an easy ride of make a band, do some gigs, get signed, get money, then the likelihood will be that you crash and burn and live with your parents until you finally get a job (or if you are really unfortunate, end up on the street). I hope this article gives insight to fellow ambitious musicians. It is the only article I have ever done and is likely to not flow very well, have bad grammar, and generally be badly wrote! I did try though. Feel free to discuss other sources of income a musician is capable of doing in order to survive financially. One of the greatest tools as a musician is social networking and the more ideas that get shared, the easier it is to progress your own career. Thanks for reading.

10 comments sorted by best / new / date

    We started out with making t-shirts and merch to sell our music... Now it feels the other way around at times.
    I work 9-5 office job and have played close to 60 gigs this year. So I'm with the "get a real job" comment above. Don't be picky about your source of income. Nobody ever got rich by refusing to work.
    I talk about 'real jobs' in the article. The aim of the article however is to dispose of the idea of being a musician as 'not a real job' and that there is money in it even at a unknown standard. Too many people are under the impression being a musicians takes too much time and makes too little money to be able to support an adult financially. The article is to give an example of the modern day musician and how they go about earning a living. I could go on toward the benefits of having your secondary projects/jobs as close to the music industry as possible with relevance to social networking and career opportunities (or where they come from mainly).
    Getting a real job works too.
    That's what I was thinking the whole time, but then I took an arrow to the knee. Jk, the article is how to "Survive financially as a musician". Of course some people are going to have other jobs with good pay, but this guy is trying to give some advices on how to earn money ONLY with music.
    Kind of, its more how you support your musical career. This can through other sources of musical endeavors or general everyday jobs. The point of the article is to get rid of the whole "musicians aren't getting enough money anymore to be able to make a career out of it" statement whilst also providing advice on how to go about living as a musician.
    Before I had a family and got a "real" job, I supported myself mostly by music. It wasn't glamorous but I tried to learn every aspect of the music world I could while making some cash. Teaching lessons is an obvious one. It doesn't pay much but it can be steady if you work at it. Run the sound board for some bars and clubs. Churches, schools, and other places. I had a good DAW and laptop, so I started recording demos and singles for anyone (and I mean anyone) who'd pay me a few dollars to do it. Put that money into more equipment and you can start charging more. Just some ideas, but between those, gigging, and being smart with money I survived and had fun.
    Luthiery? Setting up other people's instruments can be rewarding if you build a reputation.