There’s a lot of pressure on guitarists, at times, to place their ‘hobby’ alongside their ‘real job’. It’s unusual, because, unlike with other skills, this isn’t valued by those who don’t play as being something you can earn a living from.
They’re dead wrong, and we’re going to show you why. There are dozens of ways to earn a living from your music, you just need to get creative about how you do it.
You might experience non-musician friends rolling their eyes, when you let slip your plans to ‘make a career’ out of your musical ability and knowledge. Well, more fool them (and get some new friends, maybe).
Let’s jump in, here’s what we’ll cover…
- Session Guitarist
- Function Band Guitarist
- Guitar Teacher
- Teach Online Lessons
- Guitar Technician
- Gear Guru
- Ghostwriting Music and Lyrics
- Music Writer / Blogger
After being a paid recording artist, session guitarist is probably second best option for most guitarist. Sure, it’s not as potentially lucrative (or fun) as writing, recording and touring your own music, but it’s not a bad second. You may even get some decent sessions and a mention in the CD liner nots.
Despite it being a competitive industry, session guitar playing is not an impossible industry to get into. It’s a self-employed position which involves a lot of networking and entrepreneurship. A decent first step if you’re interesting in finding more information is this resource.
Function Band Guitarist
Function band guitarist?? I know, I know. We weren’t put on this planet to play wedding venues, but its’ something you could do whilst on your journey to becoming a recording artist or session musician. The wage for playing in a function band is pretty good, as weddings and similar events pay high prices for their entertainment.
It’s also a fun, varied and quite rewarding career, where you get to use your skills on a regular basis.
To teach guitar you only need two things:
– the ability to play your instrument to a decent enough level.
– the passion to spread the knowledge and teach others the delights of learning a musical instrument.
Here’s what you need to do:
1. Find Students
The easiest way to find students is to approach a local music school or music studio.
Some starter-teachers don’t like the risk associated with starting a new business somewhere, where rent needs to be paid on a room and students need to be established in order to make it worth their while.
But, without risk, drive is difficult to achieve, and you are 10 X more likely to achieve in an established environment than you are from your home!
Take the risk, approach a music school or a music studio local to you and let them know of your intentions to teach for them.
I can guarantee you will be surprised by their keenness to take you on. And if they’re not, try another one. They will be pleased.
The excitement that comes with this will give you the drive to advertise your services in local post offices and shops, online on sites like musicteachers.co.uk, rslawards.com, gumtree, and at music venues.
Pro Tip: Music schools and studios often have time where they are not yet booked out, just waiting for you to start up your business. Also, they’ll most likely help you out with advertising. Remember, it is their business, too!
2. Plan Your Lessons
The key to a good lesson is good preparation. It is important to have a detailed plan for your students, to enable them to trust you and to – importantly – learn!
I have found that half hour lessons are the ideal length for most learners, particularly the younger ones. Some adults might like to have an hour, but this can be offered as 2 x 30 minute sessions conjoined.
So, how to structure it?
First Lesson Plan (30 min lesson)
- 0 – 5 mins – Hello, welcome, intro to the guitar parts (strings, frets, etc.
- 5 – 10 mins – Introduction to the strings. Play the top 3 strings one at a time and give them ‘names’ (e.g. Ethan, Ben, Grace…), several times in a row, teacher plays some music to complement each string in the background
- 10 – 15 mins – Intro to first piece – a simple piece using just E strings and B strings, crotchets and minims. (See book ‘The Guitarists’ Way’)
- 15 – 20 mins – Game: Guitars down. Pick an animal for a crotchet and an animal for a minim. Go through the piece “as animals”, and the next piece.
- 20 – 25 mins – Another game: Rhythmic recall: You play a rhythm on the E string, they either play or clap it back. This could develop into “don’t clap this one back” – if the rhythm you play is ‘ta ta titi ta’, they don’t play/clap that one back (because ta ta titi ta matches the rhythm of words “don’t play this one back”), otherwise they lose! Like ‘Simon Says’.
- 25 – 30 mins – Check they remember each string’s name – they are likely to if they named them! Set HW to practise first couple of pieces, which are written in sheet music and just use open strings.
Once you’ve had your first lesson, here’s a general lesson plan:
General Lesson Plan (30 min lesson)
- 0 – 5 mins – Hello, catch up, warm up exercise (varies depending on level)
- 5 – 10 mins – Play through latest scale learned and try either: doing it forwards and backwards / adding another octave / transposing the scale / doing it faster
- 10 – 15 mins – Either improvising or sight reading (preferably relevant to the same scale as just played)
- 15 – 25 mins – The piece they are currently learning – develop parts learned, progress, perform, play with backing track
- 25 – 30 mins – Game of your choice (use your imagination!)
3. Set a Long Term Goal (e.g. a 3 Month Plan)
The third step in our guide to how to become a music teacher is building a plan.
Put it this way. You want to avoid the ‘one-off lessons’ and agree to a period of time. It’s not only better off from a financial POV, it also encourages your students to trust you and commit to your lessons plus demonstrates your trust and commitment to them.
You want to set up a 3 month (or even 6 or 12 month) plan. This plan can include payment dates and methods, targets to be reached and any additional information you would like to include.
These short term plans also allow for regular progress review, which is an essential part of teaching and learning.
Start by building out a basic curriculum for your student that covers the areas you’re going to cover in the period of time you’ve agreed.
Of course, you can repurpose the Curriculum for your next students and slightly tweak it according to need.
4. Keep Your Students on Track
As well as the bi-annual or quarterly progress reviews mentioned above, student-led formative assessment is a good way of them keeping themselves on track.
I like to have colouring in progress sheets, if they are preparing for an exam, which they can get out at the start of the lesson, make sure that they are appropriately coloured in, then colour in some more at the end of the lesson (depending on where they made progress).
This also makes lesson planning much easier, as it is largely student-led, yet still organised.
If they are not preparing for an exam, this method can still be used, but goals will have to be set together first.
Here’s an example the colour progress sheet I use.
5. Become Accredited (Optional)
My final pointer is perhaps the most important one: commit yourself to continual improvement or ‘CPD’ (Continual Professional Development).
You can get by as a music teacher without having any teaching or music qualifications but there are a lot of music teachers around, and if you want to maintain good business and a good reputation, you have to keep your edge.
I’m not suggesting that you go out there and get a music degree before you start teaching music, but there are plenty of less demanding and less expensive courses out there which can qualify you to teach music.
Firstly, if you don’t already have them, getting a grade 6-8 in the instrument you want to teach would ensure confidence in both yourself and your student (who may well want to take grades!). After you have done that, it is important to learn some skills as an educator.
You can take courses which can be completed in a year to qualify you as an educator. In the UK we you have City and Guilds’ CET and DET, and more music-specific courses through music exam boards including Rockschool, Trinity and ABRSM.
These courses tend to cost up to £1000, with not a penny wasted for what they do for your confidence, skills and insight.
If you just don’t have the funds at the moment to take on one of these courses, don’t panic! You can learn a lot online about how others teach and about how pupils learn.
Teach Online Lessons
The beauty of our times is it’s so easy to teach online. You just need a laptop, wi-fi connection, free Skype account and a little bit of initiative to find students and you’re good to go. The process we outlined above is largely the same for online, the big difference is you’re not with them face to face. This can be a slight disadvantage, but the upside easily makes up for that: your market is vastly bigger (i.e. millions of potential students).
If you’re a gear geek, and love fixing your own guitars when something goes wrong, this could be a new business for you. Not all guitarists love to fix their own gear, and many equally don’t love the prices shops charge for guitar maintenance.
Setting up your own business as a guitar-fixer-guy-or-girl could be a sure way to self-employed success. You can also get to go on tour with some cool bands as you maintain their guitars each night ready for the stage.
They might not call it ‘Gear Guru’ on the job description. They’re more likely to describe jobs like this as ‘Sales Assistant’ or similar. However, a general requirement for a sales assistant in a music, or, more specifically, guitar shop, is an up to date knowledge of instruments.
You could be the guy or girl who is advising people on what their next instrument should be, and you can spend your down-time playing nice guitars in the shop! Sound like a dream?
Ghostwriting Music and Lyrics
If you read the autobiographies of many celebrities, pro athletes and politicians, you might be surprised to discover that these people usually don’t write their own books.
It turns out that huge amounts of the music you listen to aren’t written by the named artist either.
Of course it’s common knowledge that signed bands and artists usually work alongside a team. But quite often, they won’t have any creative influence beyond vetoing elements they can’t stand. Aside from recording and performing the tracks live, the artist isn’t involved.
So if you have a decent amount of skill in writing lyrics or producing beats, you can make serious money, as long as you’re prepared to let somebody else take all the credit.
Don’t believe me?
Elitedaily.com ran an article showcasing a rather high profile rapper who made a career based on lyrics written by others in secret.
The benefit is that once you’ve written the music and the client has accepted it, you don’t need to worry about how successful it is. Everything after that is somebody else’s problem.
So how much money can you typically stand to make with this kind of shadowy work? A Forbes article suggests between $10,000 and $20,000 can be made just for writing a few lyrics for a high profile artist, with bigger labels paying even more money.
Not bad right? But getting started is the biggest hurdle in this industry.
How to make money with music production
Getting your first client for ghostwritten music is the hardest part, but after that it gets much easier as you can use these initial clients for referrals and testimonials.
The best way to get your first couple of clients is going to be through a third-party online marketplace, such as fiverr.com and from there you can leverage your success by directly approaching record labels, studios and artists to offer your services.
Once you build up a big enough reputation, you’ll find that these same people you had to hustle to get the attention of, will start asking for YOU!
Be warned though, there’s an easy way to ruin your reputation as a ghostwriter musician. If you can’t keep quiet about your involvement, you can wave goodbye to any future clients and likely find yourself embroiled in a legal battle.
This brings me onto my next point. Before you engage in this kind of work, you’re going to need a couple of contracts.
- Firstly, you’ll need to be absolutely clear on payment terms, so if your client tries to wriggle out of paying you, you’ll have a strong legal argument to chase them down with. Occasionally you’ll find clients that you can simply get by on the honors system with, but don’t count on this as a long term plan.
- Secondly, a non-disclosure agreement will put your client’s mind at ease, and make them much more amenable to working with you.
Music Writer / Blogger
You might think this doesn’t strictly count as making money as a musician, and in a way you’re right. You’ll need some serious talent as a writer, especially if you’re going after large names in the business.
On the other hand, this isn’t a job just any old person can do. How many structural engineers understand the finer points of difference between different sets of guitar strings after all?
This is a pretty expansive method of making money and you can do it in a thousand different ways.
Whether it’s writing reviews for gear, how-tos, or even music journalism in which you interview other musicians, you can always find an audience for your writing if it’s good enough. And if there’s an audience, there’s money to be made.
You need to do great research
Although it might seem impossible, there’s always an improvement to be made. Even if you simply collate many fractured sources of information together, you can create an article that has value and that people will happily pay you money to write.
Remember 99% of content on the internet isn’t original – but pulling it together in a coherent way is original. You need to come at it from an angle too.
How to find writing opportunities?
There are plenty of opportunities out there, you just need to know how to look for them.
Many music blogs and websites have a submissions section. They’ll often be called ‘write for us’ or ‘guest blog’. Here they’ll outline exactly what they’re looking for, what format and any guidelines you should follow before sending in your piece.
Don’t try to be clever and skip past these. You’ll just be wasting your own time. Do your research, and get off to a good start.
Pro Tip: Search for writing opportunities by doing some targeted searches. Use one of the following search strings in google and hunt them down!
“Write for us” + subject area
“submit a guest article” + subject area
“guest post by” + subject area
So for example, let’s say you want to find guest writing opportunities for piano blogs. You would put ‘”Write for us” piano’ into google and see what follow any interesting opportunities
How to approach music blogs
Music sites and blogs (like Zing) are always on the look out for quality writing, and they frequently outsource to others.
The best way to impress a website owner is to pitch them some article ideas. Try coming up with a list of 10 or so blog ideas which could use your expert knowledge. Find the email address on the site, most sites have a contact us page, and ping them an email.
Sometimes you might find that nobody is willing to work with you unless they can see previous examples of your work. This is where producing content for free can be useful, as you can point to your work and show them how popular it is.
Setting up your own blog is a good idea too. A free wordpress site is simple enough to create. You can use it as a portfolio site and practice writing.
PS. Were often on the look out for writers here at Zing Instruments, get in touch here
So we’ve covered quite a few ways to make money as a musician. The key thing to remember is that money can be made using your guitar skills, it’s not a case of ‘making it big’ or stacking shelfs for the rest of your life.
Good luck, and drop us a comment.