I toured full-time for 13 years. I was lucky to have a partner who covered the bills when I couldn’t. Since then, I’ve toured part-time, adding jobs to supplement my income. Most performing musicians, unless you’re Lady Gaga, do this. There are many wonderful ways you can live the rock dream and still put bread on the table. Or, live the folk dream and put hummus on the table. (And if this article doesn’t do it for you, I can give you more advice via Skype, all for a small consultation fee. Contact me here.)
Lots of jobs require only a laptop, a phone, time and some expertise. I have musician friends who design websites, do translation work, record music for gaming and films, or write. I’ve written for a myriad of magazines and blog sites as well as bios for musicians. It’s fun work I can fit between gigs and students. (Want me to write your bio? Contact me.)
Whoever first said, “Those who can’t, teach,” should be flogged. I’ve met a lot of performing musicians who are wonderful teachers. It’s a great job because you can easily sandwich it between tours. I was afraid my students would forget me if I went out for a couple of weeks on tour, but that’s never happened. You can teach privately in your home or theirs. I’ve also taught at recreation and arts centers. Every one of them has worked around my schedule. As long as I was in town for 6-8 weeks here and there, they were happy. You can find more about being a music teacher here. Live in Ottawa and want lessons from me? Contact me.
Do you have a teaching degree and certification? Consider substitute teaching. Some assignments are only for a day or two, allowing you time to get out on the road and still pay your electric bill. Tutoring is also great – get work at a tutoring center or have students come to your house.
Steady day job
Even if you go to an office five days a week, you can make time to perform. It helps if you have flexible hours so you don’t have to go in at oh-dark-thirty the morning after a late-night gig. Even if you don’t, there’s a reason God invented naps. Or you could limit your gigging to the weekends.
Music tech jobs
Maybe there’s a local club that occasionally needs a sound tech? Or you have lighting experience? I have a buddy who’s a lighting designer for big shows. He likes it because the hours are flexible, he gets to meet cool people and it keeps him in good shape. The downside is that he often works when everyone else is off, he “meets a lot of assholes,” and it’s sometimes hard on his hands but hey, that can also apply to playing music for a living. (Maybe it depends on the genre. I’ve played folk music most of my life and I can safely say that I’ve only met a few jerks.)
Another friend is a piano tuner and technician. Again, the hours are flexible and it leaves her with enough energy to pursue music.
Did you record your last album yourself? If you’re the queen of Cakewalk, maybe other musicians could benefit from your expertise. Offer to record their next demo or recording for sale.
If you don’t play holiday music, you probably find that gigs slack off around the end of November. (For those of you in western countries, anyway.) Sign up to move boxes for UPS for a few weeks. Clerk at your local music store. It’s not just the holidays where you could work. Maybe a local music festival needs office help for a couple of months close to their event? Or your chiropractor’s front office person needs a few months off for maternity leave? Sometimes you have to get creative. Forget the want ads and look around you.
You can work part-time here and still get benefits. It’s not too difficult to get time off for gigs. I have a friend who works there who says that employees are treated well, and she loves her co-workers and customers. Getting a free pound of coffee every week ain’t bad either.
It doesn’t buy rice, but it’s great for networking, gives you valuable skills and allows you to give back to the music community. I was a DJ at a community radio station for six years. I loved it because I was introduced to lots of great indie music, it gave me a chance to be behind a mike when I wasn’t touring, and it was fun. I’ve also worked with different music organizations, from putting up flyers for events to running a song contest. The latter actually turned into a paying job.
Go forth, working musicians! Don’t ever hang up your Strat or Yamaha … there’s always a way to make music and still pay rent.
Thanks to my wonderful Facebook friends for all the great tips! Keep living the dream.
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