Can’t Gig? Alternative income for musicians

This article on alternative income for musicians at home was written originally for the blog at Carvin Amps and Audio. It was focused on COVID limitations but it’s still super relevant for musicians who can’t or don’t want to gigs! I repost it here with some updates, and encourage you to check out Carvin’s amazing line of products! Also – notification: I sometimes use affiliate links. Some purchases may earn me a commission! 🙂

We all remember 2020. Concert venues were closed, tours were cancelled, and live music in general had an unprecedented slump due to COVID restrictions. Live musicians struggled. If playing out was your main or only source of income, you needed an alternative, at least for a while. Now, people are back on stage, but not everybody. People like me, for example, who are immunosuppressed, still have to be careful out there. Plus, maybe you’re not into gigging. Or maybe you just want to do it less, or supplement your income so you don’t HAVE to always gig. So if any of that is you, I’ve re-gathered up a list of some of the best ways a musician can make money without going out. And let’s just bullet this out and get on with our day, shall we? Here we go:

  • Session Work – If you can play an instrument or sing and you have a decent recording setup, there are no shortage of opportunities to charge money directly for playing or signing on other people’s productions. Try sites like SoundBetter or or AirGigs, or make connections with professionals in the music licensing industry by searching for sync licensing in Facebook groups.
  • Online concerts – Many musicians, especially solo acts, have found success performing livestream concerts on platforms like Facebook, YouTube Live, Instagram, Periscope, or Twitch. Many of these platforms provide a way to accept tips or you can simply announce your PayPal address or Venmo (aaron@nquit.com or @nquit btw 😉 ).
  • Remote music lessons – If you know your craft and can communicate well, you can make plenty teaching lessons to kids and adults alike, all from your home using Zoom or Google Meets.
  • Music licensing – If you’re an intrepid producer and can write a good tune, the world of music licensing has immense potential. Just remember that if you decide to shop your own stuff, you’ll be investing in yourself, so this is more of a long game – not something where you get paid today to work today.
  • Custom songwriting – Often overlooked, custom songwriting is one way some savvy writer/musicians make serious scratch. This could mean anything from writing your cousin a special wedding song to accepting custom birthday requests to delving into work-for-hire jingle writing.
  • CD Sales, Streaming, and Merch – I’m not going to pull punches. In today’s music industry, relying on streaming income is the worst way to make money, so don’t rely on this area alone. But if you’ve got extra time due to not gigging, there’s no reason you can’t go ahead and beef up your presence on streaming platforms and whatnot. But – I’ll tell you this secret – if you can build up a nice following using some badass digital marketing techniques, you can certainly sell yourself some CDs and merch. Again, it may be a long game depending on your following – but it’s worth beefing up your business. We’ll talk about this more in upcoming posts, I think.
  • YouTube videos – If you’ve got a camera and some creativity, you can build up your YouTube channel with live performances, music videos, instructional material, and other content to create passive income. Some caveats though: YouTube requires 1000 subscribers and 4000 hours of watch time before you can monetize your videos and even then, rates per view are low. This means while there’s potential here, this is also a long game.
  • Subsidies and grants – If worse comes to worse, or to help you get started with some recording gear, there are still subsidies and grants out there for artists.  Check out this list for a starting point.
  • Outside the box­ – If you’ve been a musician for a long time, you’re already familiar with the idea of supplementing your income with regular ol’ work, but you don’t necessarily need to leave your realm entirely. Some examples of work you can do remotely, using skills you’re likely to have as a musician:
    • Audio editing/mixing – podcasts, audiobooks, music, etc
    • Voiceover work
    • Audio transcription
    • Freelance writing – blogs, instructional articles, etc. – this is a big part of what I do, as you probably guessed…

COVID wasn’t an easy time to be a musician, especially if gigging was your bread and butter. But the music business has always been tough, and ultimately we came up with some great solutions that are still super relevant. Yes I know this is a short post and I could write a book on any of those bullets (maybe I will!), but at least here’s some ideas to start with!

If you have questions or want to talk, just hit me up on Facebook @AaronJTrumm or Instagram

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