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Want to Make Money with Your Music? Start Covering

What good is your music if no one hears it?  And what good is talent if no one sees it? You began playing to get seen and heard.  You went into this business to make money. At no other time in history has the creative had so much control over his or her professional destiny.

Here are five ways performing pays:

  1. Become a hometown headliner at local venues
  2. DIY tours
  3. Public and private gigs
  4. Busking
  5. Royalties

In the these five posts, we dive into each of these income streams to see how others have done it and are doing it. If you have something to say, please join the conversation and tell us how you’re doing it. Artist promotion isn’t that difficult if you think outside the box a little.

Want to Make Money with Your Music?  Start Covering

Playing covers isn’t the dream, I know. But it does pay the bills while you work on your “real” music. It also hones your performance and songwriting skills. Surgeons don’t always get to do the history-making operation, and lawyers don’t always get to argue a case in front of a judge. 
If music is a profession and not a hobby, then sometimes we have to do what it takes to make a living and invest in our business. And for those who are worried about their rep playing covers: Do you want respect for being a starving artist or do you want a sustainable career as a musician?
Open-mic nights are great for introducing original music, but they don’t pay. Cover gigs are guaranteed money (a couple hundred a night on average). So I think we can all agree that playing covers is better than working at Wal-Mart, right?
And there are ways you can use cover gigs to boost your real music by growing your fan base and introducing your originals to a new audience. So let’s at least consider what playing covers at public and private gigs has to offer.

Public Gigs

Yep, clubs and restaurants. You’ll be playing what they wanna hear while they talk to their friends and mostly ignore you. But most owners will let you slip in an original or two here and there, which does capture attention. And you don’t have to be at the mercy of clubs and restaurants. There are other public options, too.
I’ve heard that brands are using music to attract buyers. Retail stores are hiring bands for festivals, special events and grand openings. People love to hear music in unexpected places. So think bowling alleys, outdoor events and movie theaters. Challenge your creativity and brainstorm possible opportunities.
All of the above gets your name out there, and allows you to network with people who can help you, attract new fans and sell your merchandise. If your ultimate goal is to build a career with your own music, make sure you have business cards that identify you as a songwriter with a URL they can visit to stream your originals.

Private Gigs

Yep, weddings. Which pay between $1,000 and $3,000 guaranteed. Plus, you never know who’s gonna be there. This lame gig could be your big break, dressed up in white lace and lemon meringue.
But let’s not forget corporate gigs, which pay even more. As Boomers leave the workforce, companies are all about retaining young employees. So corporate event planners are booking more acts that appeal to the millennial set. Word has it that these gigs pay more for less play and provide great food.
And house concerts ROCK. These are paid opportunities to increase your fan base, introduce original songs and take home all of the door. Find a loyal, passionate fan—even if it’s your hipster aunt—who knows a lot of people, can throw a good party and charge admission. Doesn’t get any better than that. House parties are a sweet gig.

Before you go after the gig...

  • Know your identity. Bands/artists with a particular style are easier to book. 
  • Know your market. Are there enough venues in your area to keep you working?
  • Set well-defined goals based on your identity, your market and your venues. You’ll need a list of at least 200 well-known songs.  Don’t waste time rehearsing music you’ll never play at a gig.
  • Do you mind being background filler to earn extra cash? 
  • THE REAL QUESTION: Will your performance sell? I.e. You need to be engaging enough to keep people interested so they continue to buy drinks, stay for the bouquet toss, hang around for the CEO’s boring speech, etc.

How to Find the Gig

  • Visit the restaurants and clubs that play styles similar to yours. Introduce yourself to the bartender (they know everything and everyone.)
  • Network with other musicians. Offer to help them set up or tear down. One good deed deserves another.
  • Approach each booking contact as a professional. 
    • Do your homework. Before you contact a venue, try to find out what dates are open. 
    • Know the manager’s or event planner’s first and last name.
    • Call or go in person. Emails are easy to blow off.
    • Dress for success.
    • Bring a set list of covers you can play. But take a laptop so you can show off video and audio of your music, too.
    • If you don’t have an online press kit, bring a physical one. It should have a bio, discography and press clippings if you have them, contact info and a CD labeled with your name, phone and email address on the disc and the cover in case they’re separated.
    • Leave a business card with your name, phone, email and website URL on it. 
Wherever you end up playing, don’t forget to bring your merchandise. Some managers and event planners will allow it, others won’t. But it doesn’t hurt to ask. Having CDs, tees and hats with your logo and website on them will help distinguish you from being just another cover band.
Is there a downside to playing covers? Yeah. You’re background filler and you’re playing other people’s music. But if you look at the big picture, it can be truly worth it—financially and artistically.

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