I used to think that NYC musicians are doomed to playing in clubs that pay $1 per person after the first $50 is collected if you brought more than 40 people. WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN????? Luckily, I have learned that there are gigs out there that pay you decently in exchange for your performance. Simple as that. Some of these gigs are in unexpected places: house parties in peoples’ private homes, ski resorts’ après ski, summer camps, high schools, colleges, restaurants, museums, to name a few. It takes a lot of legwork and a good phone plan but the money is out there, right next to the eager listeners.
Selling CDs is one of the best ways to make money. I have gotten over being embarrassed about announcing that I have CDs for sale . . . shameless plugs are not shameless if you are making money… how are people supposed to know about your great product if you don’t tell them? CDs at live events tend to be more lucrative than CD sales online. But keep directing people to your website… tell them about it in person and direct all of your other websites (myspace, facebook, whatever) to your CD sale site. Also I’ve tried a few gimmicks. Buy 2 get a free poster and sticker, or sign up for the mailing list and get a CD half off, etc etc. I try to be original because everyone else is doing it one conventional way. It seems to be all about catching someone’s eye. Once you’ve won their eye, you have a few seconds to win over their ears, and once you’ve done that, the heart is close behind. Once you’ve won their heart, you’re in, as the heart is directly connected to the wallet.
There’s no shame in supplementing your gig money and CD sales with an additional job. Many musicians feel that they would be shifting focus away from their passion if they found a day job, especially one that wasn’t even related to music. I have found that there are several ways to fluff up the old bank account without compromising my musical integrity. First off, I teach private piano lessons. In just 4 hours a week, I can make half of my rent, and by teaching piano, I have become so much more proficient at my main instrument that I feel like I should be paying them. (Don’t tell them that!) Taking cues from my successful piano lessons, I figured out what else I love, and decided to teach that. In the summer, it’s abs classes, or guiding kayaking tours. Of course, location is important, but finding flexible people to work with you around your busy life is extremely advantageous. Even though I’ve toured for weeks at a time, my piano students enjoy a break and feel they can cancel if they are feeling stressed or scheduling doesn’t work out. I am equally flexible with them, which I believe is the key to keeping my students for the long haul.
There are a slew of in-industry jobs as well, which are great if you’re taking some time to write, or do local shows, or stay in one area for a bit of time. Interning, answering phones, or starting out as an assistant at ad agencies, record labels, jingle houses and recording studios is a great way to learn some industry jargon, get a chance to play with cool technology, and meet critical connections. Advertising agencies are a hub for creative talent- graphic designers, web designers, copy editors, music supervisors. The works. After 3 years of working at a jingle house, I had written music for nationally airing commercials, just by starting as an assistant tech. The connections and recording facility that I had access to were invaluable.