...So I Want To Do This For A Living

I had an online ambient guitar coach for about two years (October 2020 to November 2022) and am branching out and exploring other related genres with my guitars, including shoegaze, post-rock, and dream pop. I release instrumental ambient music frequently on bandcamp and streaming services, but to get to the point...

Music is my passion. It's all I want to do. And I don't know what steps I need to take to make a living with it.


I hate my job. Seriously. I'm in 37 degree Fahrenheit temperature for 10 hours a day putting fruits and veggies into cups and trays on a production line. I have an Associates degree in Visual Communications and a Bachelors degree in Business. And... I'm not using any of the skills I have. For music, I'm self-taught and improving/absorbing useful information all the time. I can't afford to go back to school for a music degree. It would take too long, and I have a wedding (and eventually a house) to save up for... I need to be working full-time to make ends meet. But I want to get out of the cold so desperately and do something that aligns with my passion.

I'm open to all sorts of suggestions on what realistic steps I can take to get to where I want to be. I don't feel the need to sell my own music as the main source of income, but I don't have anyone to turn to that I know IRL. If anyone makes a living in the music field and has advice... I'm willing to listen.
Oh, how I wish music was my full time gig. Alas, for now I have a day job. Granted, it’s a pretty cool day job, but still.

The most lucrative way I’ve found of earning money with music is teaching, tbh. (And when I say lucrative, I’m talking $10-30 an hour!) If you run your own business, you can charge a little more but if you’re with a local studio they may have a fixed rate. If it’s something you’re interested in, I’d recommend looking around to see if there are local studios looking for teachers. There are also lots of online options, but in my experience those are a little slower in terms of getting students as you’re pretty much putting in the footwork of promotion on your own, as opposed to having existing in person students get assigned to you.

In the meantime, is there other work you would find more meaningful? I know for me, if I didn’t like my day job (I work in mental health) I would go bonkers. Maybe you can look around to see what else might be suited to your education and skills. It might keep you sane while working on building up a music career.
Whilst I can't say I make a living from my music, I've earned money from it, but if you counterbalance it with how much I've spent over the years it wouldn't balance at all. I think the main point most musicians will say when it comes to making money from music is that it's hard, like really hard.

In today's climate, it's even harder. Anyone can make music and publish it, and while that makes for a very diverse eco-system for the listener who can listen to anything their heart desires at any time, it's terrible for someone who wants to stand out and be noticed for what they do.

Musicians and creatives in general usually do it for the love of doing it. To make money out of something that you have a passion and drive for is the ultimate goal of many. It's just not always enough.

You really need to decide what it is that you want to do with the skills you have and take it from there. It's a long road that many never stay on.

Just my two cents. I'm sure there are others who are in a better position to offer better tips in the field. I'm only speaking from my own experience.
Music lessons could be an option to explore, for sure. One thing I have been told by multiple people is that my instrumental music sounds great as soundtrack pieces, such as for indie video games for example. The problem is that I don’t know how to break into this career path…
There are several FAWMers who have done things like that and gotten placements in sync and such! You may want to reach out to @stevenwesleyguiles as I know this is one of his many hats.
Can't really help you, sorry. I make music as a hobby, on a stable income as a software architect, with no pressure to make a living from it. I do know some people that are doing something with music, though:

Several work as music teachers, either privately or in a music school. They give lessons on an instruments and take money from it.

One works for an orchestra, as an instrumentalist. Some orchestras staff by occasion, others have a long-term cast.

One works for a private company, as a sound engineer for the company's own video production team. They make advertisement videos and arrange big stage appearances for the companies C-level managers.

One works as a music teacher in a public school. They have studied music and are now state employees.

One has a side income by making music that is then incorporated into music libraries and sold over the internet.

One has studied sound engineering and jobbed in radio studios, but found that there are too few jobs, canceled his studies, and switched over to software engineering instead.

Two are disk jockeys, making a side income from playing discs for techno and pop on private events like weddings.

Several people play in bands, but they are doing this mostly for fun. There's not much to gain there. They typically have small gigs with 50-100 people audience, if they're lucky with more on some public local festival.

Except for the music teachers, the long-term orchestra employee, and one of the DJs, most of them get little more than a little extra money on the side, which they mostly spend on instruments and gear.
Thanks for all of the responses so far. Maybe what I need to do is find a tolerable day job that pays the bills and doesn’t leave me exhausted so I can still do music every day. Maybe starting a band for fun would make everything more enjoyable, too
As someone who is almost 40 and been playing shows and stuff for over a decade now, I can say I do know a few folks who are "musicians" as a career. What I will say about the way to "do this for a living" for the common folk e.g., not pop/rock/other genre STARS, is you need to cobble together income from a few different sources. From what I've heard from my working musician friends, it's usually a combination of:

1) paid gigs
2) paid lessons
3) royalties/paid placements, (If you are good, I personally don't know much about this one, but other folks on FAWM do, I believe. You can research how to get songs into song libraries, as I believe this is part of it, but I am not an authoritative source)
4) side hustles/part time work

All the "working" musicians I know who are making it work are doing 1 and 2, and usually 4; if you can get into 3 it can be worthwhile as well, but as I said, I know less about it.

Music is my hobby, so I just do 1, and make music for fun on top of that. I hope this helps.
@atam94 - Yeah, although I love making music and have made it almost all my life, my real job was as a microbiologist. Music will always be a hobby, albeit my favorite hobby. That said, I put in my 30+ years as a microbiologist and hung it up a few years ago.

What you just said described my life perfectly. I always looked at work as the way to support life. My life was never about work, although it was one of those necessary things. Once my kids got older, I did exactly what you said and joined a local band and that was an awesome artistic outlet (in addition to the BEST one right here). :)

Good luck!!
First of all: Be clear about your role in music. Your path as artist/band is a different one than producer, recording engineer or songwriter. I wish I knew that 15 years ago.

I'm curious if anybody knows about possible paths as (pop / rock) arranger / songwriter / studio mixing engineer. Most people I know went the artist path. Or they do mix and light in a venue.
My younger brother before he passed was trying to make it as a music producer and audio engineer. My understanding is that you really need to hustle. I don't think you have to go to music school or audio engineering school (he didn't but it probably helps), but you do need to work on your ears. He was big into hustling, hanging around at studios, getting to know those folks, and trying to get in as an apprentice in those studios, which he eventually did. He worked on producing his own music and some other folks', as well as doing that for a bit. He also managed to get his music placed in some libraries, and as backing tracks on some tv shows and ads, but unfortunately I don't know the details of that other than that he wrote songs to try to get into music libraries. Hope that helps.
I'm looking into becoming a Songfinch artist. They connect you to people who want a custom song and pay $100 per song. Which isn't really enough in my opinion depending on how many hours it takes you to write and produce, but you do get to own the rights to the songs you write and can use them elsewhere if you want.

I was in the same place as you in a way, wanting to do music full time. I agree with all the input above, and I feel most "industry experts" and tradeshow panelists suggest the diversification and side hustles angle.

Then I toured for 4 years full time playing my own music, 150 gigs a year, selling CDs and merch mostly in breweries, wineries, and festivals. It was amazing, I traveled the world, saw dozens of national parks, slept in a converted van, and honestly got really good at it. But here's the thing... I discovered that I loved playing live, but what I *really* wound up loving was the long drives at night and the amazing views in the mornings.

For example, I'll never forget driving away from a gig at 10pm in a brewery in Asheville and when I stopped the van we watched the sunrise in Key West.

The point of the story is that I discovered the music *job* I really enjoyed was driving. I found an opportunity to get a CDL license to drive bigger buses with the idea I might become a tour bus driver (a two week course, paid for by the ski resort). Now I'm a bus driver with a route along the ocean at sunset in California five days a week and I'm happier than I've ever been. It pays the bills, there's none of the diversification "hustle" stress, I'm in a beautiful place, surrounded by good friends, and I play music for fun. To top it off, I'm doing something I really enjoy, which I never knew was actually DRIVING, until I went on tour for four years. 🚐🚌🚐🚌
Gathered from my limited knowedleg, it can’t hurt to keep working on your craft every day ( I’d say a few hours with breaks, YMMV ), be proactive by performing at open mics, maybe busking, try and sneak in extra practice here and there. And I’ve seen some success by others through touring areas not your own hometown or where you’re living now. Purely being visible a lot seems to be an advantage. However, this isn’t my own experience, merely anecdotal.
@atam94 it definitely sounds like you need a different job. I'd start there, so that you can take a clear-eyed look at what you want out of a music career. There are a bunch of ways to do it, but each way requires a slightly different skillset, and a scattershot approach will get you nowhere.

If all you want to do is write and perform, that's the hardest way to make a living. It requires the most sacrifice—all your time and money needs to go into breaking ground and establishing a presence and reputation. Relationships suffer, stability goes out the window, and while it's exhilarating at times, it can get dark when you've made a ton of sacrifices and feel like nothing is moving you to the next level.

If you can teach, that's a great way to use your skills for some extra income, but make sure you actually *want* to teach. Years ago I used to give private lessons when I had lean months but my heart wasn't in it and, now that I'm actually getting my degree in music ed, I realize how potentially damaging that was to my poor students. I was self-taught, so when my students would ask things like "how do you strum?" it was really hard for me to come up with an answer that wasn't some variation of "I don't know, you just do it." Teaching takes patience, and it requires being able to break down a concept from multiple angles depending on how your students learn best.

Side hustles are great because they allow you to scratch the itch without having to make big sacrifices. It's not as satisfying as going all in, but it's not as risky either.

Whatever you decide, don't ever stop honing your craft. That is the heart of all of it. There is always more to learn.
I guess I can pretty much echo everything that's been said here. I've found over the years that 80% of the folks that claim to be "professional musicians" actually are Real Estate Agents, Handymen/Cabinet Installers, backstage crew/sound engineers, video editors, remote software engineers, or some other "side hustle" that quite frankly is their real job, but often has the flexibility to allow them to pretend their gigging, touring, recording, online presence is "what they do."

Those I know who truly make a living doing it without being the very rare case of having "made it" usually follow the paths mentioned before. My observation is some combination of:

1) Teaching - I know a guy who is a "world renown" chicken-picker/tele player that has been featured in many magazine articles. He makes most of his $s teaching.
2) Wedding, Corporate, Casino Gigs - These are well paying but you have to play the music people want to hear, not what you want to play
3) Studio Session Work - Again, you have to be able to play what the client wants to hear, not what you want to play. You probably need to live in Nashville, New York, or LA too.
4) Professional Sideman - Get picked up to be in the backing band of well known artist, spend part of the year doing that, part of the year doing your own stuff
I worked for years doing career development in academic creative colleges, working with all sorts of creatives. One of my big concepts is that to expect that your creativity will support you immediately is putting a lot of pressure on it (and creativity doesn't like pressure; kind of like asking a cat to do something for you). It's a long hard slog and it takes a while. I've got the concept of your creative career and your "career that supports your creative career". Right now, you don't have that second one, as it's draining you.

More at https://resonare.com/parallel-careers-for-creatives/
One thing I've learn.

Being a professional musician is 10% of being a musician and 90% of being a marketer.

So, if you do a 40-hour work week, get ready for 36h of it being marketing.
Totally agree with ianuarius here. The amount of time we spent marketing in order to book 150 shows a year was astounding to me. And the concept of growing the income to the next level felt like even more marketing was required. The marketing part felt like it needed to be 190% of my time to me. It just always felt like more marketing was required, an Occam's Razor effect of feeling like I never actually finished all the daily tasks of my marketing job.

I agree with Carley above too, finding what I truly wanted to do, and being able to let go of the seemingly limitless number of things I felt I *had* to do felt like such an enormous relief.

I want to echo the call out to @stevenwesleyguiles for his take on his placements side hustle. It's not his full time job, but he's had more success than anyone I've met personally except a handful of other absolutely relentless producer/artists I've met at trade shows over the years.
thank you for all of the input, everyone. It's much more than I would have thought and will take it all into consideration as I decide what I'm doing moving forward. No rash/hurried decisions, for now I'll enjoy FAWM and the wonderful community
I'm making music since my childhood. Long story short, after hustling in some office jobs, I went to an audio engineering school when I can afford it with my salary. The tuition fee was 90% of my income but I survived with a little help from my family (Like a 5$ a day :)

When I was studying there, I approached some local bands and I recorded and mixed their record in the studio of the institution. When I got a not paid job opportunity as a sound engineer for a jazz artist I accepted, but I didn't know anything about it. I never wanted to be a touring sound engineer but obviously, there was a need for a sound engineer in my home country which is Turkey. After that, I worked with the biggest alternative rock bands in the upcoming years.

In those years, I also started working with artists and bands around the globe with the help of the internet. When COVID happened, I decided also to do some producing for other artists.

I now moved to Poland where I have to be completely remote and internet dependent. I survived in the last year while only working remotely as a producer and engineer, but I started having some financial issues for the first time. I don't know the real issue but the competition went so high because everybody got the same opportunity as me and now there are a lot of people out there.

My suggestion for you is that keep in mind that it will never be an easy path, and you will always have some anxiety and depression along the road because it's never stable. Being good at what you do is never enough, and you will have to learn many different things that you don't really don't want to. You will have to work with clients that you don't want to.

However, if you want to do your own music and pursue your career with that, it's a way that I'm not that aware of, but usually, it comes from touring as I see from my friends. Even if you have a very wide audience, streaming is never enough.
I highly recommend the book "You majored in what?" as a way to take life experiences, skills and training and turn them into something you want to do (although not always what you think.)

As for a career in music, there's so much information out and about (and some of it is actually good) that I think you'll have to explore for yourself to find an answer. I don't mean to be unkind, but most of us are in a similar situation. If it were easy, we'd all be doing it.
The question is what it is what actually you would like to do... If it is to find a better and more adequate "average" job that compliments one´s school/college qualifications among millions of jobs, that may not be too hard to achieve, anyway. However, in the fewest cases it is also one´s "dream job", but it is always a compromise between "what do I get?" and "what do I have to accept for it?". I have a job that I regard as "acceptable" in terms not of getting rich, but in terms of making a living, which, however, is still underpaid (at least here in Europe) if you take the associated responsibility into account. Anyway, I am okay with that... However, if I *really* had the chance to choose what I would actually like to do, my choice would have been different from that. As I already said, it is kind of compromise... Regarding making a living on making music, things look different. There are so many excellent artists and musicians (also here on this site right now) who - unfortunately - you will never hear on the radio, not to mention on a concert with 50,000, 70,000 or 200,000 listeners... On the other hand, there is so much average stuff in the international top twenty that I often wonder: is that possible? is that really a "hit"? Why the heck, what do people think of it? And the answer is as frustrating as it is sobering: CONNECTIONS... only CONNECTIONS and MARKETING... (apart, of course, from the 0,000000000000000000000000001% that had the luck to be "discovered", the only chance the majority hopes for, but that happens once in a blue moon). If you do not already belong to the "established ones" no one will even bother to take you into consideration or to read a few words of yours or to listen to your music not even for a few seconds... I know what I am talking about, I have been there...
(…to be continued…)
So if I may give you a humble advice that you can take or leave as you like: Look for a "more adequate" job according to your qualifications in this world, and keep on making music for your soul… Do not count on it, but at least it is allowed to dream, maybe, maybe still one day to belong to these 0,000000000000000000000000001% where life might eventually take a wonderful turn and will allow you to do what you dream of…
I love your story, @charliecheney!
Having multiple income streams from different areas of the music industry is key, to echo what some have said above. Sometimes that can include having a "regular" job that has nothing to do with music, but a lot of working professionals I know, have their original artistry that they write and perform, they teach, some of them do session work, or are tour crew, some play in function bands, work in studios... and many more avenues.

It all comes down to what you want to do, if you work hard at it you can effectively design your own career, but it is a hustle, and most of the time it's not bringing in the big bucks, but you can live off it.
@charliecheney +1 …… My favorite thing to do is drive…. (…..and listen to music……. )
@the_bachelor right? I feel like I stumbled into my perfect job. All I do is show up on time... And they give me a bus! It's the most low-stress job I've ever had.
Its very hard to get music placed/synched these days - for the simple reason that there are so many others trying to do the same.
The only sure way to 'make a living' is to be good at live performing and playing gigs. Selling CDs and merch and streaming royalties will never get you there until you are at the upper level already.
@nadine this may not be what you were asking, but I follow a couple of producers on tiktok who promote themselves as producers for independent artists. They seem to either follow the format of giving quick production/arrangement tips or showing an original demo of someone's song vs how good it sounds after they produced it. I can't afford it right now, but I would definitely be happy to work with either of them in the future because they directly state that they are looking for people to work with and I have a good idea of what their capabilities are from their videos, so if you wanted to make money from arrangement/production then that might be a good format to follow to market yourself. They are https://www.tiktok.com/@alyssa_wilkens
and https://www.tiktok.com/@thevelvetyear
If you want to do music to make money, there might be easier ways to do this. I always thought peripherally that I’d like to make music my main gig, but deep down I knew I wanted a more comfortable lifestyle, so I found something with good pay and a schedule that allows me time to do music for fun (not to mention health insurance). Not to be a downer or to dissuade you. If you absolutely must do music and nothing else, then you should pursue that. The few successful musicians I know were those types that absolutely could not do anything else and made that their life’s work. Good luck to you either way!
@jordandarl Thank you! I do this kind of stuff in private / mail / conversation. Social media ain't for me, especially videos. I wonder, if there is a possibility to work in a studio or in a group of people to work on projects e.g. optimize the songs of band / album xyz. Not the kind of book-me-on-fiverr and follow-me-on-youtube ...
If you want to dedicate your life to playing music the simplest approach is as follows.
1 - overthrow capitalism
2 - install a utopian technocracy where robots do all the work that needs doing and we humans do what we want.
3 - watch out for the inevitable machine uprising.
Hey, I checked out your music and it kinda reminds me of Lowercase Noises. He has a family and has been working on stuff a long time. I think he still might have a different gig. He has a patreon, and as far as I know is counting on that for a regular income. He has A LOT up on YouTube -- early in the pandemic he did livestreams, and I'm guessing even though it was free that's financially beneficial to him, as I assume he's monetizing. I don't think it was overnight, but he might be a good person to check out as far as someone with a similar sound who has had some success.
I worked as a full time music teacher for 7 years. I've never made money from original music but have had a couple CD projects get close to sort of breaking even if you squint at them in the right way.

I stopped teaching 10 years ago. My day job is unrelated to music. Music is a glorified hobby for me.

None of the full time musicians I know spend more time than me on their own original music. All of them are (as far as I can tell) in a far more financially precarious place than I am.

All the happiest most fulfilled musicians I know don't make a penny from their music.

So I think if you're going to turn your art into a business you need to have a very good answer to the question 'why?'.
I am starting to get into sync. I say starting, I've been actively trying for 5 years and am *just* starting to see the money trickle in. I did go down some wrong roads en route, but I think it's possibly 2-3 years since I started on the right path, for me. I make almost exclusively 2 minute instrumentals that get used in reality TV and German magazine-style programmes. I'm not anticipating it paying the bills any time soon, which is ok because I don't hate my job and am saving like a demon so I can take some time out/retire early. If things continue as they are, I reckon I would be able to *just* scrape by on music earnings in another 2-3 years, but I'm not counting on it, particularly with the rise of AI, which I do not think will take over all music production, but I can imagine the cheap telly that's currently using mine might go that way.
I went full time with music just before the pandemic. I spend most of my working hours teaching guitar as a peri teacher in schools with some private students in the evening. I do occasional function gigs where I play covers in bars and at events. I do songs on Songfinch (though I don't get too many of those), help people with songwriting on SoundBetter, and am trying to get into writing songs for other people's artists projects and writing for sync.

Someone above said to be clear about what it is that you want to get out of doing music. I think that's really stellar advice. It might take a while to figure out, but being an artist in its own right might be the thing that you really want to do, and if it is then go for it! If you want to do it, other skills involved will be being good at building an audience on social media (especially TikTok).

For just about any path, I'd really reccomend going to networking events in your city to meet other musicians, collaborate and maybe even connect with people from the industry. But building a following on social media seems to be really important to those folks so thems your first steps (probably).

Do beware though, that doing music for work is different to doing it as a hobby - and the latter is something I really miss now that I'm a few years down this path.

Feel free to shoot me a message if you have any q's or if I can help you with anything! :)
It sounds (no pun intended) like you realize you have more than one issue here. Most pressing issue is a job you hate. There's no fufillment there. You're exhausted and demoralized. I would look for something different. The music issue might need more longterm planning, and might involve sidejobs perhaps leading to more.