September 11


Side-Gigs: Make Money With Music

By Keith Livingston

September 11, 2016

facebook newsfeed, guitar solos, networking

The other day, a guy who belongs to a music-related Facebook group I belong to, posted a request. He was working on a recording, and needed someone to play guitar on it.

I saw it as an opportunity to promote myself 🙂 There are lots of my target market in the group, and I contribute  fair amount, but blatant promotion is discouraged. But here was my chance. I took a YouTube video of mine with a nice solo in it and posted it to the thread. “The solo starts around 2:20”. I said.

Well, I got a bunch of views on the video, a nice comment that I can use as a testimonial (saying my version blew the original out of the water), and. . .

I Got The Gig

The guy offered me $100 to play guitar on his track. We’ve been sending recordings back-and-forth and so far, it’s been pretty fun.

Now, I’m not suggesting you’re going to get rich from session work. I am suggesting that you can use whatever skills you pick up as a do-it-yourself musician, to pick up a little extra cash.

Are you a good arranger? Can you record at your place? Can you give vocal lessons? Do you know how to master CDs, or get gigs? Can you help another musician set up an email system, put up a website, or change guitar strings? Can you run sound live, or help a band with pre-production before they go into the studio? Do you have gear you can rent out? Do you know the intro to “Wish You Were Here”?

Don’t Try To Make A Full-Time Job Out Of It

A lot of people will tell you, “Teach guitar full time, and spend all day doing music!” I disagree. Unless teaching guitar is your passion, don’t do it full-time. It’s probably not your goal to be a guitar teacher —  it’s your goal to become successful with your own music, right?

So then, teaching guitar (or piano, or mastering CDs), becomes a job. And as jobs go, picking up enough of these kinds of gigs to support yourself becomes a job in-and-of-itself. You’re probably better off keeping whatever straight job (with benefits) that you have.

If I taught guitar full-time, I’d probably end up hating it. But an occasional student here-and-there, is fun.

Why Do Side Gigs?

But what these side gigs can do is pretty cool.

My goal is to make enough to support my music habit expenses. The $100 will buy me guitar strings for a while. An occasional mastering gig will pay for some new plug-ins, or for my vocal lessons. I can use the money to offset expenses. If you’re making money gigging, that means you can keep more, or invest more back into your project.

If you’re married, when you bring home that $650 acoustic, it might be a little easier if you can say, “I bought it out of the money I made on the side.”

And providing music-related services to folks can be a really good way of networking.

I got an offer to potentially do sound for a video game/app the other day. It hasn’t worked out, so far, but it may in the future.

How Good Do You Have To Be?

Inevitably, when I bring up the idea of freelancing, people ask how good they have to be in order to charge. It reminds of of an ex of mine who wanted to put on seminars but was not confident in her abilities. “Who am I to have a point of view, or to be teaching other people how to live?”, she said. I told her she was right. There was only one person good enough to give others advice, and that person was Oprah.

And, because I’m a bit of an asshat, I went on. . .

“Only Oprah should be allowed to write books, put on seminars, and give advice. There can be only one!”

She got the point (my ex, not Oprah). There is room for lots of points of view, at all levels. What you have to have is a skill that’s a little bit above where someone else’s skill is. You have to have something that’s valuable to them. And if you don’t feel you can charge, trade them for something you need.

When I was a kid, my dad made up a song. He wasn’t a musician, he just had some lyrics and a melody in his head. He paid a musician to sit down with him, listen to him humming, and write out the sheet music. There are lots of different kinds of opportunities.

Do Fun Things

A last piece of advice — only take on projects you think will be fun. There’s nothing worse than playing drums on an album when you hate the music. Don’t work on anything where you think the people might be unpleasant.

And that’s why I like to take on short-term projects. Even if it’s not the greatest, it’s only for a little while. And if you enjoy it, you can always do another project with them.



Keith Livingston

About the author

Keith Livingston started recording his own music in the late '70s, on a 4-track. He worked his way into live sound and studio work as an engineer -- mixing in arenas, working on projects in many major studios as a producer/engineer, and working in conjunction with an independent label.

He taught audio engineering at the Art Institute of Seattle, from 1990-1993, and in '96, contributing to authoring several college-level courses there.

He was General Manager of Радио один (Radio 1) in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Now he spends his time recording his own songs wherever he roams, and teaching others to do the same.

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