Making a living from music is hard enough, and when your just starting out it can seem nearly impossible. Luckily, there are some jobs out there that can mesh pretty well with the career of an aspiring musician, and even give you some valuable experience along the way.
Guest post by Evan Zwisler of Soundfly's Flypaper
It’s hard to make a living from your music when you’re just starting out. Heck, it’s hard to make a living even when you’re making a living from your music! So if you’re just starting to transition into becoming a full-time working musician and still need to supplement your income with daytime hours, it’s always a good idea to try to find a job that doesn’t impede too much on your schedule, but that is also fulfilling and energizing.
In other words, you’ll need to find something with flexible hours, that pays pretty well, and won’t leave you emotionally and physically drained.
I’ve tried to stay away from some of the most obvious choices — bartender, restaurant server, barista, etc. — partially because those are mostly “night” jobs, which may actually encroach on your schedule as a performer, but also to give you some fresh ideas about what you can to to earn some extra cash. In a major metropolitan area, all of these jobs should pay at least $20 an hour.
This one may seem obvious, but there are many different ways that you can teach music. There are online services like Take Lessons that will connect you with students for a small cut of what you make. Or, you can develop a local private teaching practice if you have the chops and don’t mind loads of people coming to your home. You can post flyers locally, and of course post online, or go through an established institution like a music school. [Ed. note: Soundfly is often looking for talented mentors to work part-time, remotely, to help students meet their musical goals. Learn more here, or, spoiler alert, keep scrolling…]
Getting a job at a local middle or high school isn’t as easy, as there may not always be positions readily available, and schools may require specific teaching certifications, but it’s certainly worth a shot if you love being surrounded by kids all day! Don’t be afraid to go to your local schools and book some meetings with whoever runs the music departments there.
Live Sound Engineer/Venue Tech
Now this one will require some training; and by training I mean you’ll probably have to shadow someone a few times while running a four-hour show plus soundcheck, in addition to learning a lot about mixing live music. But if you know your way around a microphone, a drum kit, and a few amps, and you can manage a mixing board pretty well, the rest will come easily on the job!
Running live sound at a venue is not a very demanding job, but you will need to learn the basics of how to run a board for a variety of different sounding acts, and how to deal with a variety of musicians with “big” personalities. That said, being a live sound engineer is a great way to meet other bands and get close with local venues and promoters.
In order for someone to trust you to fix their instrument, you’ll need some experience and expertise, as well as a ton of confidence. Repairing gear is the kind of thing you can practice on your own, or with friends’ instruments and equipment, before you start charging people. Once you know what you’re doing, call up local music stores and ask if they ever have work they’d be willing to outsource so you can continue to practice and get paid doing it. Setting up a guitar usually costs $50-$100 and is pretty straightforward. Once you learn how to do guitar setups, you can branch out into other areas, instruments, and electronics.
I was a nanny for many years and I think it’s one of the best ways for musicians to make some extra money. I’d recommend using a service like Care.com, Urbansitter, or My Manny to find your first family, but feel free to ask around within your network, or make a website and start taking out local ads. You’ll likely have to pass some security tests, but once you’ve found a family, the work is typically pretty steady, as well as being somewhat flexible. If you find a family looking for help with after-school hours, you won’t have to get up super early after gigs and rehearsals, and you’ll be able make most gigs because mom or dad will usually be home after work.
Tutoring is a great way to make a lot of money in a short amount of time. Depending on average wages in your area, standardized test prep tutoring (and class supplemental support) can pay up to $50 an hour. You’ll also often be able to do your tutoring over Skype which makes this even easier.
Are you strong and do you not mind a bit of physical labor? And for bonus points, are you comfortable behind the wheel of a truck? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then being a mover might be a great side hustle for you. It pays well, and depending on your other coworkers’ schedules, it can be extremely flexible.
Unfortunately (although this may turn out to be a blessing), you’ll get most of your work at the very beginnings and ends of each month, when people tend to relocate. So this probably won’t be your only side job, but it’s a great option if you don’t mind getting a little sweaty.
Art School Model
Here’s another one that’s not for everybody. If you’re comfortable having people look at you and draw you in various states of undress, you should reach out to your local colleges and art schools to see if they need models (hint: they always do). You’ll usually just have to choose a couple of poses and hold them for up to an hour each. If you feel like you could handle those odd details, I’d recommend giving modeling a try.
After-School Program Coordinator
A lot of musicians I know really enjoy running after school programs, whether creative or based alongside the school’s curricula. The work may involve a lot of administrative organizing and lesson planning, but it can also be wildly freeing. You’ll make great connections with local teachers and parents, which will allow you to find even more work as time goes on, and the time commitment is pretty low since you’re only on call for a few hours per day. If you like working with kids, but don’t like feeling bogged down by standardized test prepping and statewide education limitations, this might be one of the more rewarding jobs on this list!
If you played any competitive or intramural sports in high school or college, you should already know enough to be able to coach a children’s sports team. Most of this, again, will occur during after-school hours or on weekends, so you should still have plenty of time to play music, and hey, no lesson planning! These jobs also tend to pay relatively well and are a great excuse to get outside and get some exercise. Since modern professional musicians are rarely around children, I’ve found that coaching young athletes can be truly invigorating and fun, and might even help you to make better decisions (than most touring musicians tend to make).
The “Other” Type of Coach — A Soundfly Mentor
Now here’s one that we at Soundfly fully endorse — you can become a musician’s coach and/or mentor, and we can help! A Soundfly Mentor is an expert advisor who does whatever it takes to help students achieve their musical goals — like a personal trainer, but for music. You’ll work with students who are either enrolled in a paid online course, or who have signed up to work on their specific project with someone who can offer insight and advice along their journey. Mentors provide highly constrained activities and exercises, offer feedback on students’ work, share advice and insights from their experience, and nerd out with students over music. If this line of work suits your interests and availability, head here and tell us about yourself!
Evan Zwisler is a NYC-based musician who is most notably known for his work with The Values as a songwriter and guitarist. He is an active member of the Brooklyn music scene, throwing fundraisers and organizing compilations for Planned Parenthood and the Anti-Violence Project. He started playing music in the underground punk scene of Shanghai with various local bands when he was in high school before going to California for college and finally moving to New York in 2012.