What are the best day jobs for musicians?
You’re not going to make enough money to live on from touring alone.
What does this mean?
You need to have a secondary source of income — a ‘day job’.
Simple, right? Yes. But not easy.
Well, not as easy as dropping off a few copies of your resume and taking the first job that comes to you. Imagine the interview:
“Before I accept the job, I have to let you know — I’m going to need to take off anywhere from a week to a month a few times a year, as well as every other Thursday and Friday… forever.”
Even if you were the most qualified candidate, they’d just show you the door. They need someone who will work consistently.
So, what are the best day jobs for musicians?
Here are a couple good answers, followed by a couple specific ones.
The best day jobs for musicians are those where you’re indispensable.
If you’re working a job where you can’t be replaced, you can get away with murder.
“Hey boss, my band’s planning a tour in a month. I’ll be on the road for 4 weeks.” If you said this to most managers/business owners, they’d reply with “OK! Thanks for your time with us.”
But, if you prove yourself to be indispensable, they’ll do anything to make you stay.
What do I mean by indispensable? I mean it in the most literal sense — the business can’t afford to get rid of you.
That by getting rid of you, they’d lose more money compared to letting you take a 4-6 week vacation a couple times a year.
Or that you play such a crucial role to the business, they might go under entirely if you left the job for good.
The problem? Reaching that point usually takes a lot of effort.
What else takes a lot of effort? Uh… being in a band. Right.
It’s not impossible to achieve, and might be worth the time investment if you need to do it, but you may need to take the focus off the band in order to work on becoming indispensable.
The other downside about this trade-off is that you’ll usually be underpaid.
You do a great job, but you’re not available all the time. That equates to less money.
The business will know that your band is Number 1 in your eyes. If they can provide you with a work situation that still lets you focus on your band, then the business knows you need them.
But by doing a fantastic job at a lower-than-average rate, you make the business need you as well.
When the power is balanced, the job will work out well for you.
The best day jobs for musicians are those where you’re location independent.
In theory, the best “place” to make money isn’t a place at all.
It’s the internet.
If you’re making money from the internet, the only place you need to be to make money is wherever you can access the internet.
And because it’s 2016, that place is everywhere.
Internet money is one of those mythical beasts that everyone likes to talk about but nobody knows how to slay.
People make money on the internet every day. A few of them make a ton of money.
But I’m not here to delude you. You can make a comfortable living on the internet, one that will allow you to pursue your end goal.
The good news: it won’t take too long.
The bad news: you’ll have to invest quite a bit of time (as well as a couple hundred bucks) trying to get your footing as you learn how to make money. And during that time, you’ll make nothing — or next to nothing.
I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of this right now, mainly because I myself don’t make much money from the internet, and I’m a big believer in taking advice from experts, not wannabe’s.
The blog 30 Days to X is the hobby blog of Robert Koch, a young internet copywriter. The guy lives all over the world and makes money through copywriting.
For the uninitiated, copywriting is the art of written advertising. Robert covers it very well through his blog through tested, actionable advice — not vague “how to” articles, with something to sell at the end.
I highly recommend it as the starting place for anyone who wants to make money online, primarily because 30 Days to X is just a hobby for him — he’s not trying to sell you anything from that site, although he does make some money — but not at any cost to you.
Alternatively, you can sell services on sites like Fiverr.com. Any sort of skill can be sold here: acting, modelling, writing, graphic design, menial tasks like data input and yes — musical skill.
Every ‘gig’ starts at $5, but certain ‘extras’ can be bought which raise a gig’s value. For example, a graphic designer might sell a two-colour, flat T-shirt design for $5, but add another $5 for each additional colour and an extra $10 for extra detail. Fiverr takes 20% commission for the service ($1 on a $5 gig), and the rest is yours.
There are so many ways to make money on the internet that it warrants several other articles. For now, all you need to know is that it’s possible, and that it’s something you should strive for.
The downside with internet money is that it takes a while to get your footing. You won’t be able to leave your side job right away, but if you work hard, it shouldn’t take longer than a year. Which, in the grand scheme of being an independent original musician, is very little.
The best day jobs for musicians are those where you’re the boss.
If you don’t have a boss, you can’t be fired!
While this is true, it’s easier said than done. There is a ton of work that goes into running your own business.
But from a purely theoretical standpoint, running your own business would allow you tour relentlessly.
Again, I don’t want to downplay the effort that goes into setting up your own business… but you don’t have to open up your own national coffee chain just to be your own boss. I’ll give you an example.
My cousin worked for a landscaping company for a few years in high school until he realized he didn’t need the employer. He was showing up to the client’s house early in the morning, putting in the hard work for 10 hours and even collecting the money at the end of the day — then handing that money over to the boss, whose daily activities amounted to sitting in a chair, making a couple phone calls and eating a ham sandwich.
He realized that instead of giving most of that money to his boss, he would just go drum up some business himself and pocket all of the cash instead. Yeah, he needed to invest in a truck and some equipment, but it paid itself off after the first couple of jobs. (Not to mention that small business loans from banks aren’t difficult to get, either — especially when you already have a purchase order.)
The best part?
After doing it alone for one year, he hired a couple of employees to do the job for him. He trained each of them for a couple weeks, then sent them off to do the jobs on their own. Suddenly, he had three times the amount of business, and he wasn’t lifting a shovel.
If you can generate a setup like that, you can manage your employees from the back of your van and collect the money owed from clients through electronic transfers or PayPal.
This can work for many different industries, but the best for our purposes would be a service-based business. Start offering a service, then once you have a client base, hire someone else to provide the service and charge a margin on it.
Now that we’ve gone through some of the more theoretical scenarios, here are some actual job titles that are good to have while being in a touring band:
1. Server / Bartender
I’d estimate that 50% of touring musicians are servers or bartenders. There are several reasons why.
First, it’s unskilled. And by that, I only mean you don’t have to go to school to learn how to do it.
Trust me, I’m not saying servers or bartenders don’t have skill — I worked both jobs for years. There is a learning process, but it’s not like it takes 4 years (or even 1 year) to become competent. It’s easy to pick up and start making pretty good money right away.
As with anything, you can learn a lot from experts and vastly increase the amount of money you take home at the end of the night. By learning some basic sales tricks and techniques, you can double the amount of money you pocket at the end of night. (In fact, I knew a server who cleared $100,000 a year because he actually studied how to be a better and smarter server.)
But more than anything, the industry is cool with you being a musician.
There are exactly zero bar or restaurant managers in the world who have not had a musician (or actor) as an employee.
It’s also easy to get rid of a shift if you need to. A lot of service staff are salivating for an extra shift, especially a busy Friday or Saturday night shift — which is when you’ll be out playing shows.
Huge bonus points if you get a job at a music industry establishment like a rock venue or a rock ‘n’ roll style restaurant. This is because you’ll be able to network while you work. If you’re a bartender at a super-popular venue like The Roxy in LA, you’ll be meeting a ton of influential people who can help you out a lot if you get to know them. Especially when you’re the guy slinging drinks. Not to mention, you’ll become closer with the owner and promoter of the venue.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to work at The Roxy — one of the popular venues in your city will do.
Finally, it’s really easy to get another job if the place you’re at won’t let you go on tour. Another sweeping generalization about service industry staff: no server works at just one establishment throughout their career. I’d say the average server ends up working at over 10 different places, and often, a lot more than that.
You don’t have to put up with any managerial bullshit — you can quit one place and be working at another the next day.
If they tell you that you won’t have a job to come back to after your tour, tell them “Well, I had fun working here.”
2. Contractor / Freelancer
Contractors are self-employed, so they decide when they work.
They can refuse any sort of job if it doesn’t work for their schedule.
They also make quite a bit of money.
They aren’t employees — they have clients. So they aren’t told when they work; they’re just offered work, and can either accept it or refuse it.
And when I say ‘contractor’, I don’t just mean builders & construction workers — although you definitely can do that.
You can be a contracted IT worker, a contracted Customer Service Representative, a contracted Sound Engineer/Technician… the list goes on. You just have to find the proper industry.
For example, the exhibition/convention industry relies on contract workers.
If you’ve ever been to a conference or convention in Vegas or elsewhere, that whole experience was provided by contractors. The booths that you visited were built by contracted builders. The huge touchscreen you played a game on was installed by contracted technicians. The cute girls who signed you up for free stuff were contracted brand ambassadors/customer service representatives.
Depending on their role, these people work a few days before the show starts to get everything ready, then they stay on site in order to be around for support, then tear everything down.
A typical weekend convention (Thursday or Friday until Sunday) can be a week’s worth of work (with setup an tear down) and net you a couple grand. Your flights, accommodations and meals are paid for.
Not to mention that while the show’s going on (in pretty much any role besides the brand ambassadors), you’re simply on call in case something goes wrong.
That gives you plenty of time to get paid to work on band stuff.
And, depending on how far you travel for work, you can spend time at the local music bars getting to know the owners, promoters and bar staff. That’ll make it much easier for you to book a show and make for a profitable tour.
Another great contract job you
can should take up is a sound technician.
Along with the bartender, the person bands are always looking to please is the one guy who can ensure they either sound great, or sound like shit.
Many venues need sound techs, so you can split your time around the different spots in town. Make friends with as many touring bands as you can, so that they can bring in a good draw when you visit their town and play with them.
And if you just thought to yourself, “I don’t know anything about those boards with all the knobs, I can’t do that,” then you need to realize that it’s 2016, and you can learn anything instantly… and usually for free. The internet is a thing.
The downside of jobs like these: sometimes there can be a long lull when you’re waiting for contracts. Be proactive about your contracts and approach clients; don’t wait for them to approach you.
If you have a non-musical skill, opt to be a contractor or freelancer instead of an employee.
For any skilled position you can think of, there is almost certainly a business in your neighbourhood who will pay for that work to be contracted.
Paying contractors is much less complicated than hiring an employee. Use that to your benefit.
Well, you won’t be playing your originals. But playing as a cover musician can make for awesome side income.
First, you’re practicing your craft, and therefore getting better at it. Playing all kinds of different music can only help you when writing original music.
Second, you’re being exposed to a larger and broader audience. I’ve known guys who sell more of their original CDs while playing cover shows than at their original band’s shows.
Cover gigs are ridiculously easy to book. I guarantee there are at least 5 bars in your neighbourhood who would be interested in booking a cover band for a weeknight show.
And those shows don’t rely on a cover charge — negotiate a flat rate with the bar. $100 per band member, at least.
Yes, you have to learn and play shitty pop songs. Yeah, most of the shows are at sleazy sports bars full of cougarish soccer moms and dads. But it’s way better than a lot of other options at hand.
If possible, try and have your original band and your cover band consist of the same members. That way, you can actually do cover gigs while on tour and make even more money on the road.
Weekday shows playing your originals on tour will be pretty dry. It’s much better to spend the Monday-Wednesday (even Sunday and Thursday) playing guaranteed-cash cover shows.
Another option is to be a sessional musician. These are musicians who play on other people’s records.
Backing musicians are those who play with an artist on tour, when they don’t have a full-time musician for a certain instrument.
Tame Impala’s music is all written and recorded by Kevin Parker. He plays every instrument on the record, then hires backing musicians to play the songs with him when he goes on tour.
Often, if an artist hires a sessional musician, they’ll ask the sessional to be in the backing band as well (since they already know the songs, and can maintain the playing style from the record). Of course, you’re free to decline if you have your own touring agenda.
Serena Ryder’s session musicians are The Beauties — a Toronto band that plays (and sells out) every Sunday night at a popular rock bar called The Dakota Tavern.
If you live in or around a large metropolitan center, you have an opportunity to make money as a sessional musician or a backing musician.
Finally, you can teach music lessons.
This is another job where being a touring musician is no surprise to your boss. Not to mention that a lot of the times, you don’t need to have a boss at all.
It’s very common for music instructors to provide their services either from their own home or in the home of their students.
The challenge here is that you’ll have to have a gap in your student’s lessons while you’re on tour.
The downsides of these avenues — the pay isn’t too great compared to your other options, and it can sometimes be difficult to balance the schedules of being in two bands.
4. Rideshare Driver
Another gift that the internet has brought us are rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft.
The best part from our standpoint — you can work whenever you like, as often as you like. It’s really easy to sign up and get right on the road, too.
I’ve been an Uber driver for a couple months, and it’s treated me pretty well. The average wage is about $20/hour.
Yes, the best time to drive is when you’ll be playing the most — late on the weekends.
The wages during the week aren’t bad, though. Considering how easy it is to sign up, and that there really isn’t any investment if you already have a car, you should give it a shot and decide for yourself if you could live on Uber alone.
The downsides here: the service isn’t available everywhere — it’s limited to bigger cities and urban areas. And not just any car can be used — for example, cars used for Uber must be under 10 years old and be in good condition. You’ll have to submit photos of the exterior and interior of your car to be approved by Uber before you can drive with it. Finally, you’ll have to have a clean driving record and criminal background.
There’s also the issue of how legal these services are, but I know that any tickets you get for being a rideshare driver are covered by the company.
5. Teacher / Other Seasonal Job
Teachers work 10 months out of the year and get paid for 12.
There are plenty of music teachers in rock bands that use summer vacation to tour (while still receiving their normal paycheck), and hit their local market hard on the weekends while school is in session.
Now I realize that not everyone can just become a teacher tomorrow, and that’s not what I’m suggesting.
There is a virtually endless list of seasonal jobs that allow for plenty of time off to tour.
You’ll work your tail off for a portion of the year, but instead of getting paid overtime, you’ll just bank a boatload of time off that can be spent all at once.
And you’ll continue to get paid your normal salary while you’re off touring and playing music.
Look for positions in any industry that has a boom at one time of the year, and a lull during another.
Two good examples are the sports industry (boom when the the sport is in season, lull during the off-season) and retail (boom around Christmas, bit of a lull during the summer).
Others: park ranger, cruise worker, plant/tree nursery employee, tax preparer, ski/snowboard instructor, landscaper, painter, roofer, surfing instructor, farmhand or sports official (referee/umpire).
There are plenty more, but that’s what I could think of within a few minutes.
Don’t get stuck working a job that doesn’t allow you to pursue your passion and work toward your end goal.
There are plenty of options for you to make money while being a touring musician!
If I missed anything, be sure to let me know down in the comments.
What have you been doing for some side income while focusing on your music?