Let’s get this part out of the way: making a living as a DIY musician is tough. Even with all the avenues that have opened up for us in recent years (i.e., the Internet, digital recording, YouTube and social networking), relatively few DIY musicians have built a big enough fan base to support their careers on a full-time basis. Even fewer become rich doing it.
Yes, being a DIY musician is tough; but that does not mean it is not doable, or that you can’t have fun with the work. There are many indie musicians who make a comfortable living with their music, and not through pure dumb luck or by being “discovered,” or anything like that. Their secret? They think outside the box, and they don’t limit themselves to one income stream.
If you look at your musical career one-dimensionally—that is, if you are only trying to make a living through selling your records, or through live gigs, or something similar—then it will probably not take long for you to get disillusioned, or exhausted, or both. But if you keep your eyes open to other possibilities for generating income, you may be able to combine income streams to the point that your “day job” becomes the supplementary income, rather than the other way around. If you continue to grow those multiple income streams, eventually you may find you no longer need your “day job”—and voila! You are now making a full-time income through music.
It’s not impossible. Creative-thinking DIY musicians do it all the time. It will look different for everyone, so the key is to focus on your own strengths and interests, and figure out a strategy that will work for you personally. So this post is meant to serve as something of a brainstorm—just throwing some ideas out there for you to ponder as far as generating multiple income streams.
There are actually very few artists of any stripe who have not at some point supplemented their income through teaching. A lot of DIY musicians I know have made a “day job” of this, and they actually enjoy it. The good thing is that there is almost always a market for this—people always want to learn music, or want their kids to learn—and you don’t necessarily need a college degree to do it. If you are particularly creative and/or have some sort of musical specialty, you might even be able to expand beyond private lessons into group sessions, like seminars or even online webinars. These can be especially lucrative because you have more people paying you for the same amount of time spent in teaching.
We’ve talked about this in other posts, but visual media (i.e., commercials, films, trailers and TV shows) are always looking for new music these days, and they don’t always have the budget to license famous hit tracks. Getting your songs placed in this way is not only a great way to advertise your stuff to the public, but when you get a song placement, payment is immediate and often very good. You might start by uploading some of your music to a sound library, or reaching out to music supervisors or agents to find out how to submit material.
If your music would play well online, and if you can perform it in an interesting manner—and if you’re a good networker—consider becoming a YouTube partner and posting your songs there. Once you reach a threshold of viewers, you start generating income from ad revenues. Most people don’t get rich doing this (although an increasing number of people do), but once the ball is rolling you can get extra money in your pocket monthly. You can even get creative and parlay your viewers into other music and merch sales by pointing them to other websites where these products are offered. Just make sure you understand and abide by the YouTube guidelines.
DO ALTERNATIVE LIVE PERFORMANCES
These days, there are more ways to perform live than by booking a venue and trying to get people to come. A lot of DIY musicians supplement their incomes by doing house concerts, for example. This can be a great supplement because most or all of the money generated is yours, and if you do it on a donation basis, you might even make more money than if you charged for tickets. Another popular alternative is to stream a live performance on the Internet by Ustream, Justin.tv, or similar streaming service, where you can engage your fans, get them involved, offer subscriptions, advertise merch and much more. Again, get creative, and you might be surprised with what you come up with.
Are you a good songwriter or composer? Have you thought of offering your songwriting services directly to your fans? You might be surprised at how many of them want a special song written for a wedding, funeral, or other occasion, and are willing to pay you to write it. Let your fans know you offer this as a service, and see what happens.
These are just a few examples of ways you can multiply your income streams as a DIY musician; there are numerous other possibilities, including special merchandise and packaging, special subscriptions offered to your more diehard fans, affiliate programs like Amazon and iTunes, and some that you might come up with that others haven’t even thought of yet. The key is not to limit yourself to one or two things, but stay open to possibilities. The more income streams you can open up and maintain, the better your odds for being able to quit that day job to become a full-time DIY musician.