Being a Full-Time Musician Is Not for the Weak

full-time musician
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full-time musician
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Photo credit: Chris Ainsworth

The end goal for many musicians is to go full-time. That’s my goal. I want to wake up every day, make music, and do all the things needed to build a sustainable music career. But it’s not for everyone. It’s difficult. It can be discouraging. And you probably won’t get rich. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it.

The Reality of Being a Full-Time Musician

Most full-time musicians are blue-collar, middle-class musicians. They’re making a living, yes. They can pay rent and their bills, and maybe they can afford fun stuff now and then. But they’re not rich.

The stats on how musicians actually make money are slim, but we do have some resources. We do know performing live is the main source of income for most active musicians.

It’s the main income stream for 5 of the 6 professional musicians I wrote about.

This very small study of 75 musicians shows performing is the second largest income stream.

And this study, last revised in 2015, shows us that performing is the biggest revenue stream.

Anecdotally, my friend makes a decent living playing corporate events and weddings.

Lots of artists make a living from house shows.

And most of the full-timers in this Reddit thread play a ton of shows, and it sounds like shows are their main source of income.

However, many full-timers are pulling from multiple income streams. So if you’re going to go all-in, expect to be juggling many things at once.

For example, I’m fully self-employed. I’m not a full-time musician – it’s about half music and half other random stuff. Here’s what a normal workweek looks like for me:

  • Writing marketing emails for small businesses
  • Writing blog posts that help other musicians (like this one)
  • Producing/mixing music for other artists
  • Editing podcasts for clients
  • Writing songs for my next project
  • Posting content that promotes my music (which leads to more song streams)
  • Playing the occasional house concert
  • Submitting music to the sync licensing companies I work with

See how many things I do just to get by? This is the reality for many musicians trying to make music their career. Just so you’re aware of what it looks like.

What Happens If You Fail?

There’s a saying: “There are no failures, only quitters.” As long as you’re still pursuing music as a career, you’re not failing. Yeah, maybe you’re not at the stage you want to be at (this feeling never goes away). But you’re hopefully still making progress.

If you decide to quit pursuing music as a career, that’s your choice. You’re not a failure, you’ve just realized it’s not for you. For example, this music marketer talks about how he “decided” to quit being a professional musician.

And if you decide to quit, to change paths, that’s totally fine. Like I said at the top, full-time musicianship is not for everyone. You can still make great music even if you have a day job or another career.

Just ask yourself, “Will I regret this decision when I’m older? Will I wish I had kept trying?” Really take time to think about your answer. It can bring you a lot of clarity.

What Happens If You Succeed?

Success is subjective, so you need to figure that out for yourself. But for me, the goal is to make my entire living from my musical skills. Ultimately, I want to spend every day making music or at least doing things that further my music career.

I want to continue to be my own boss and set my own schedule. And I’m not alone in that feeling.

“I’m 38 now,” one Redditor said. “And I realized several years ago that what I value most is freedom and independence. Freedom from an alarm clock. Freedom to make my own schedule and spend my days how I choose. Freedom from bosses and supervisors and corporate culture and politics. Freedom to pursue projects that excited me.”

I can confidently say that every musician who’s trying to make music their career would resonate with this comment.

This musician continued, laying out their typical daily work schedule:

  1. Wake up “without an alarm clock”
  2. Go for a long walk by the water
  3. Come home and do some work on a side hustle or tinker around in their studio
  4. Have an afternoon nap
  5. Around dinnertime, pack up their guitar
  6. Play a 3-hour gig
  7. Connect with people, have a couple of drinks
  8. Go home to their own bed beside their wife


Sounds pretty cool, right?

And this type of work life isn’t exclusive to performing musicians. Lots of people make a living from sync licensing. Or related hustles like being a YouTuber.

Whatever path you choose to become a full-time musician, it will probably involve multiple streams of income, a lot of hard work, and stamina. If you never quit, you’ll keep getting closer to your ideal career and life.