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Published on August 15th, 2011 | by Hugh Hession


Can I support myself as an original music artist? These 4 ideas can help

It’s no big secret that playing and recording original music for a living is an incredibly sexy notion – a thought that provokes a mental orgasm at any given moment! It’s the building block in which this very blog was created. But is it possible? Can you really play original music and pay the bills at the same time?

The answer to that, is yes – of course. People are doing it all the time. But there are four things to keep in mind if you want to be realistic about this goal and to logically (and reasonably) move forward.

1.Don’t do it for the money

Yep, quite the contradiction isn’t it? Well, if your focus is on making money over being a dedicated songwriter, performer and ultimately a true music artist – then you are in the wrong career!  We all want to make money doing what we love, but not at the cost of being genuine. You can’t “fake” your way in becoming a relevant music artist. Music fans will sniff you out immediately for lack of depth and sincerity. Doesn’t matter what genre, if you’re not passionate about what you do, it will tell on you. So yeah, of course you want to make money. But emphasize the artist first and the money will follow.

2.Brand your band

The recording industry is one that has historically focused solely on selling widgets through the exploitation of a physical product, such as a CD. This is the very thing that has served to work against record labels, as music can no longer be controlled in a fixed format, particularly with the variety of digital distribution outlets and music services such as Spotify, Soundcloud and TalentWatch.

The most successful music artists engage their fans through social networks, newsletters and contests which involve them directly. This focus is more than just selling your recordings – it’s bigger than that. Instead, you’re selling yourself as an artist, which in turn will help you sell anything that is related to you as a brand. It goes beyond music.

3.Don’t forget your publishing

Spending time building relationships with (film) music supervisors and searching out for licensing opportunities is something all music artists should be doing. Publishing can create residual income which provides ongoing cash flow. To be successful, you need to treat the people you are contacting like human beings and not just someone who you pimp your music to. Take some time to truly build relationships. That goes a long way. Be professional and don’t go for a slam dunk the first time around.

4.Maximize supplemental money-making opportunities

Ok, so what if you’re starting from ground zero, and you have little or no income coming in. After all, you do have to buy new equipment (thought I was going to say eat? C’mon, we’re music artists – what comes first, food or equipment?). Now is the time to take a long hard look at your talent and abilities to discover what other avenues you can supplement your income with. Teaching, being part of the band at a playhouse, writing jingles, or playing weddings are some things that come to mind.

I used to play piano for a national kids theater company that came to the local air force base every year. It consumed about 3 hours of my day for about 4 days and I made $500 from it. Easy money! Build up those kind of gigs throughout the year, along with other income opportunities, and before you know it, you’re actually making money to support what you love to do. There are many opportunities out there, but you have to be aggressive and hit the pavement. Once you get your name circulating, word of mouth will make it easier.

4. Don’t quit if you don’t see immediate results

As a rule of thumb, most businesses that survive don’t normally see a profit for about three years. No doubt that there are always exceptions to this, but the issue at hand here, is that as an original music artist, you can’t expect to start making money right out of the gate. After all, you’re a business too!

Yes, I realize that this might seem cliché, but really this should belong at the top of this post for importance. Original artists need thick skin. You just don’t make a ton of money, until you can start to command an audience. Focus on developing and sustaining your fans.

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About the Author

owns and operates Emerging Artists Entertainment Marketing & Consulting, LLC - a company devoted to cultivating aspiring music artists, He is also the head of Hession Entertainment Group, LLC (artist management) and the Music Industry Liaison for the artist discovery site, TalentWatch ( He has over 25 years experience in the music business as a performer, composer, producer and artist manager. Hugh holds a BA in Marketing and is a professional member of NARIP and a voting member of The Recording Academy. He often speaks at seminars and workshops on artist development.

2 Responses to Can I support myself as an original music artist? These 4 ideas can help

  1. Brilliant article, but the bit I wanted more info about was developing a fan base, I’ve never figured that one out in forty years of playing! People like our new project, but there’s a horrible chicken and egg thing for original bands – to get more fans you need to gig regularly and the low level paid gigs want you to guarantee turnout – which you can’t deliver until you’ve got more fans!

    • Hugh Hession says:

      Thanks for the comment and stopping in. Yes, I agree. Building a fan base is not always easy and it takes time! I promise to include more posts on this very subject over the period of the next month! Keep a look out for them and thanks for the suggestion. -Hugh

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