How to Make Money Making Music & Quit Your Day Job


By Cari Cole

I want to start with a disclaimer, because this is far too important for “fine print” at the end of the article: never – and I do mean N-E-V-E-R – leap without a net. In other words, DO NOT quit your day job if you have no other current sources of income. To do so would be totally dangerous and foolish.

To quit your day job and focus on music you have to lay out a PLAN and follow all the steps until you reach your goal. Once you lay a foundation and put everything in motion, you may be surprised at just how quickly you can reach your goal of doing music full-time. The day you leave your non-music related job will probably still feel like a “leap of faith” for the most part, but the difference is, that if you’ve used the methods outlined below this will be a calculated move rather than one based simply on emotion or hope.


So, here they are. My 6 methods for quitting your day job forever to focus on music:


1. Get paid for music related work.

Whether you’re playing wedding gigs, running workshops, teaching kids or other artists or anything else you can think of, the first step is to find income sources that are tied to doing what you love: music. You may be working double-time for a little while until you make enough to leave your other job, but here’s why this is so important. Because if you think about it, why spend all that time doing something non-music related? If you are doing a music-related job like singing at weddings or teaching kids, you are improving your craft. What better way to get good? Sheryl Crow was a music teacher for several years – also Sting and Wyclef Jean from the Fugees. So scratch that old theory that those that teach don’t do – BS!  Push yourself to be creative about how you can make money doing music until you can live off your artists income streams –– you’re bound to find plenty of music related work out there.  


2. Go corporate.

Any time you can perform music in front of a large group and get paid, this is to your benefit. And did you know large corporations have been known to invite performers in to do just that? This is what is known as playing “industrials.” My suggestion is to start by researching an industry that you could contribute to and who might be interested in having you in (your songs speak to them). Make a list of companies and create a strategy to get your foot in the door.  


3. Campus gigs.

As I’ve mentioned before, colleges pay good money to have artists perform on campus. One great way to find gig possibilities (other than just contacting the schools directly) is to visit  


4. Music Licensing.

There are some major artists out there who’ve really broken out through licensing their music for use in commercials. Ray Lamontagne’s song “Trouble” in a TV commercial for insurance is one that springs to mind immediately. Apple has also been known to pluck an artist or two out of relative obscurity for its commercials. While I’m not suggesting your track will miraculously be featured in the next iPod TV spot without a lot of legwork, I do think if you research and plan out how to approach the right people (music supervisors that might like YOUR music – Hint: they use music like yours) – you could be one of the lucky ones to make some money AND give your career a boost at the same time via music licensing.  


5. Fan funding.

This one is designed to be more project-specific and not necessarily an ongoing or primary income source. However, if you want to fund your record or a specific promotion, tools like Kickstarter, Indie Gogo and Pledge, can help you raise some serious funds. Keep in mind that it is important to have a fairly large list (1,000 or more) to generate real results. But, hey, everyone starts from zero, get out there and give fans your music to grow your LIST (email opt-in with free record stream on YOUR website). That’s one of the ways artists are successfully growing their base these days.  


6. House concerts.

This is a popular new way to experience live music. Not everyone wants to go hang out at a club all night to hear an up-and-coming new artist. House concerts provide a more intimate setting for listeners and can be a great way for you to get paid AND get some exposure (and sell some merch & CD’s). Maybe you know someone with a space where they’d like to host a concert. If not, there are also websites like where you can connect with hosts. Set up a tour of house concerts — get your fans to support you coming to them! Tip: be sure to have contracts (letters of engagement) with each to eliminate misunderstandings.


I hope you’ve enjoyed my list, but more importantly I hope it got your creative juices flowing. The most important thing to remember is there really is no limit to the opportunities out there. Just don’t get discouraged if your first couple of attempts aren’t successful. Gretchen Rubin, author of the #1 NY Times bestseller, The Happiness Project, says “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.” I echo that sentiment. Wish someone had told me that 20 years ago!! With creativity and persistence, you’ll get there.  

Let me know which music-related services you’ve supported your music career with. What has worked and what hasn’t? Leave a comment below and let’s keep the conversation going!