Top 8 Ways for Surviving Self-Employment for Musicians

Top 8 Ways for Surviving Self-Employment for Musicians

by Kari Estrin

Over these last six months, most of what we knew about our world and our own industry was thrown into chaos and uncertainty. The way we live and work is upended, and often many of the old rules just don’t apply anymore. Yet fortunately for many of us, we are already self employed or are becoming self employed in order to survive. Now knowing how to sustain oneself and even being able to thrive while self-employed is more important than ever.

For those of us who rely on the music business for our work, our industry is especially hard hit due to the almost constant need to travel to perform, to network at conferences and events, and/or to attend live performances and festivals – as being on the move is part of what both artists and fans do to keep the music alive.

But there is good news and hope – as many artists have been discovering new ways to engage with their fans, finding income streams different from in-person performance, now artists are also taking advantage of this time to put their musical house in order. Here are some tips to keep you active, creative and continuing to engage your fan base during this time for financial reward:

1) Keep writing, singing and making music

Now is a good time to hunker down in the creative side of your life. In addition to the tips below, it all starts with the music. Oftentimes the “business” of music is all consuming – booking, promoting to your social media to get out crowds, driving, sound checking, making travel arrangements – we all know how time much time that all takes. As there is virtually no more “commuting” at the present time, now is the time to move your own creativity up the ladder in your to-do list. Make sure you keep appointments with yourself to write, to practice and to fine tune your new compositions. Your songs will give you the much needed boost to do the rest of your business in a way you’re not used to or haven’t put as much priority on. Have you been thinking of writing short stories, that play or a book? This is the time to move those “sometime in the future projects” into the present.

2) Use social media to your advantage -with more frequent and meaningful engagement with your current fans – and to find new ones

You probably use social media to share info with friends and fans and to let them know about upcoming gigs, etc. But now social media is more important than ever – to reach out, solidify your relationship to your audience and to find potentially new fans. Have you gone to a venue, conference, or other gathering where you met people but didn’t reach out to them on social media? Take a look at what you already have around your home office and make that work for you in terms of contacts. Radio has seen an uptick in listenership over streaming services because of the need to connect through live hosting. Therefore, now’s your chance to reach out to fans in new ways to let them know different sides of you, share a new song, talk about whatever speaks to you and your audience. The possibilities are many!

3) Live stream concerts, special events or short videos for income

Whatever you do on the internet for live music or sharing – make it interesting and unique or with a theme. There are so many livestreams to choose from, so what makes yours compelling to tune into? Consider the frequency you schedule them, who your audience is, what time of day you stream and/or release videos, etc. and be open to brainstorming what could make your performance special beyond that you’re simply playing a concert or a live song. Perhaps team up in collaboration with another artist in order to share your lists and present an exciting new bill, release an occasional video at the same time every day or week that you share with your fans and don’t just introduce the song as if you’re on stage, instead talk to those at home watching perhaps with a bit more personal insight. If you have new music to release on Spotify, make use of promoting that and also curating and getting on other people’s playlists. Ask your fans to share any videos that they enjoy of yours with their friends, helping you to enlarge your fan base. You can put out a tip jar knowing what you feel works for your audience, offer to share part a portion of your tips with an organization that matters to you or schedule a special event show that you “ticket” on a service like Event Brite or Stage It

4) Get right with technology & lighting

What platform will you be using for your shows? Does that platform have the features you want for live performance, including good sound? Are you plugged in with ethernet versus wifi to make sure you’re not dropping out while live? Other details to consider before live streaming are using the right mics and setting up lighting that’s favorable, while deciding what backdrop you’ll have (not your workspace with lots of random cords exposed and mess around your office, etc.) Zoom has its advantages but are you getting the best sound? Have you worked with Facebook Live? Try other platforms for performance such as StreamYard There are many resources for you to find the right platforms and what to use, etc. Folk Alliance International has done many tech workshops that are open for anyone to watch Folk Alliance is a great way to stay connected with other artists during this time with updates, events, livestream listings etc. Just go to for more information.

5) Create a Patreon account to get you money every month

In addition to doing special concerts or weekly videos that may be themed, etc, start a Patreon for your most loyal fans. Patreon is a great way to have monthly income from a sustainable source. And it keeps you active and creative in order to curate content for your special fans. Even if you don’t have money, that doesn’t mean your fans don’t – there will be some that want to support you, especially now. Here you don’t just perform your music, these special fans want to know more about you. You might share a recipe and a song about what you’re making with those ingredients, you may take your fans to your favorite haunts around where you live, ask them to give you feedback on naming a new instrumental, again; the possibilities are endless depending on what you do and who you are – and what your fans are looking for. You may start with perhaps $150 or $200 a month in contributions per month, but the idea is to grow that exponentially and treat your fans to content that isn’t available elsewhere. And it keeps you creating new content that might translate into bigger projects.

6) Catch up on your admin – it can make you money!

Take advantage of this “downtime” to catch up on your basic business. Clean and organize your office – get those papers sorted, entered or filed into the correct place and increase your work efficiency. Spiff up that database or learn what kind of technological resources are out there for you. Organizing your work space and admin that usually gets left undone because there are more pressing matters, may have a treasure trove of information – potential fans, people who run venues that you’ve met, potential leads for projects, new connections, etc. By getting your work space and papers/technology together while you’re not traveling, you’ll waste less time as your efficiency in whatever tasks you do increases, and that information may translate into something positive and money making either in the short term or long term.

7) Continue to Reach out and not just by social media

In addition to catching up on admin and finding those contacts scattered around the office, the time to reach out is now. Contact those special people whose names you just uncovered. Have some friends or other musicians you haven’t talked with in a long time? Always wanted to get in contact with someone that you meant to follow up with, but didn’t? Making connections with both new and old friends now has never been more socially acceptable – as we are all craving contact and stimulation outside our usual routines. Who knows, you might reach out to another artist and write a song together – collaborations can be born from just making contact and at some point brainstorming ways to help each other.

8) Look at other ways to diversify your income stream

In addition to the tips above, because you may be used to one way of making money – you may not be thinking of other ways to do so. Some artists are doing driveway or porch concerts, offering their fans other options to be hired for special performances that are streamed, and with a can-do attitude are monetizing other skills or talents you haven’t even considered being of interest. Perhaps you may think about some sort teaching, sharing another talent you have in terms of something tangible, like making jewelry, painting, photography or wherever your imagination takes you based on what interests you have. And the good news, all of your skills contribute to the overall profile of who you are as an artist. Don’t shy away from what you already know, incorporate it into a larger profile of you as a creative person. Your audiences will be delighted to know about it and would be happy to purchase new merchandise, take advantage special joining premiums for your Patreon fans, and have a greater insight into you to create an even more enthusiastic and loyal fan.

Looking forward:

Even with all the challenges that we are facing in looking for alternative ways to earn money and strengthen our business foundation for the future, we have many silver linings in this time to explore. Take advantage of releasing yourself to think in new ways to not only get you through the short term, but to put both your present and future career on solid ground. You’ll reap the rewards of defining your expanded offerings and new sources of creativity to enhance your options and income streams. To watch my expanded holistic session on Surviving Self Employment watch here: Feel free to contact me at


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One Comment

  1. EK Bruhn August 25, 2020 at 12:48 pm

    Nice articles short but helpful and informative

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