If your ambition is to become a drummer, you’ll almost certainly have spent time thinking about how, exactly, you’re going to earn a living through music. Similarly, if you’re just starting out in the business, you’ll likely be looking for ways of ensuring your success as a freelance musician. In this blog post, I’ll use my own experiences to outline the different ways you can earn a living by pursuing your passion.
Earning money through music
Today, there are almost no professional drummers who support themselves through concerts or music sales alone. Almost all of us rely on multiple sources of income within the music business. We play live, work as studio musicians, give lessons and workshops, produce music for other artists, provide online tutorials for bands and musicians or write songs for film and advertising. In short: life as a musician can be extremely varied – and it often is.
Is there something else you enjoy besides music? Are you a “people person”, or a talented songwriter or music producer? Do you enjoy playing around with sound or restoring valuable vintage instruments? Think about what you can do well – or better than others – and compile a portfolio of your musical skills.
Whatever the result, never forget that when you start earning money as a professional musician, you’re also automatically a businessperson. Over a given year, your skills should not only provide you with the things you need to live, but should also – where possible – result in a profit.
While music teachers can work without having studied music, a degree is almost always a plus point when applying to work at any reputable music institution – private or government-funded alike. It’s also helpful to have some teaching knowledge in addition to your musical skills, and to enjoy working with people.
As a freelance music teacher, your earning potential will be highly variable. It will depend, among other things, on the region you live in and on how you choose to teach (e.g. privately, at a state-funded music centre, or as a lecturer at a specialist music college). From my experience, typical prices for Germany would be as follows:
- 30 minutes/week (payment throughout school holidays): 60 – 85 euros per month
- 45 minutes/week (payment throughout school holidays): 80 – 124 euros per month
Lessons at a private music school:
- 30 minutes/week (payment throughout school holidays): 21 – 38 euros per month
- 45 minutes/week (payment throughout school holidays): 28 – 53 euros per month
I’ve found that private music schools often offer the worst rates of pay. Although they take care of the organisational side of things and will usually provide you with sufficient pupils, they typically skim off at least half of your earnings for doing so. From the resulting fee, you’ll then have to pay any additional professional costs (e.g. for your artists’ social security scheme, if you’re part of one). You’ll also need to take into account the time required to travel there and back. All of this means that giving private instrumental lessons on a full-time basis is often not worth it. The exception to this rule is if you’re lucky enough to teach an instrument as a visiting lecturer at a specialist music college. In this case, you can can earn up to 100 euros per hour.
Parties, gigs and concerts: Is it worth it?
There are a variety of opportunities for earning money as a live musician. If, as a drummer, you have lots of experience playing live and want to finance yourself primarily through concerts, you can do this on tours, at showcases and company events, or by playing in theatre shows and musicals. To do this, you must not only have a perfect command of your instrument, but be comfortable taking on different styles and familiarising yourself rapidly with new pieces. A little stage presence also doesn’t hurt. Such opportunities often come about on a very last-minute basis, so you should ask yourself honestly how flexible you can or are prepared to be for these sorts of music jobs.
Of course, it makes a difference whether you work as a service provider or play original music for the public as part of your own band. In the case of the latter, I’ve seen it all: from artists who shell out a “production cost contribution” for the chance to play in larger venues to those who fill smaller venues with 500 to 1,000 audience members and, alongside a fixed performance fee, also take a percentage of revenue from the tickets. Because of this, a successful live band that reliably sells out 1,000-capacity venues can earn as much as 6,000 euros per night. The amount each musician gets depends, among other things, on the cost of the staging and how many technicians have come on the road. Of course, the tour bus itself also needs to be paid for.
So, what’s the reality? As with so many other things, it lies somewhere in the middle. For playing their own music, the bands I know typically command a fee of between 50 and 300 euros for the entire group, plus free drinks (and sometimes food).
Live entertainment events: Often the better-paid option
Entertainment work is definitely worth it, since the fees commanded by drummers and other professional musicians for playing as paid entertainment are often higher than for original musical acts. Potential occasions include company events, NYE parties or weddings. Typical fees, in my experience:
- Party band/Top 40 band: 200 – 350 euros per musician
- Gala or wedding band: 240 – 450 euros per musician
- Tribute band: 120 – 210 euros per musician
- Dance band: 90 – 200 euros per musician
- Rock cover band: 50 – 100 euros per musician
- Church band: 50 – 150 euros per musician
- Duo or trio: 90 – 180 euros per musician
Rock cover gigs typically pay a bit less than other types, for the simple reason that bands who cover rock songs are rather ubiquitous. Many hobby musicians enjoy performing a couple of rock classics with friends after work. Since they make a living from their day jobs, they are often prepared to play for little or even no fee.
Working as a professional musician in the studio
It’s a sad but true fact that studio jobs for drummers are extremely rare. Those that do exist are often carried out by the same few people each time. Fees depend heavily on the reputation of the individual drummer and are usually paid on a per-track basis. As a general rule, studio musicians rent out studios on an hourly basis, with a minimum session length of three hours. This means, for example, that if the rate is 100 euros per hour, a song of five minutes’ length will cost 300 euros to record. On top of this comes individually agreed costs like rental charges for equipment or charges for overdubs that the musician records.
If you want to earn money as a drummer or any other type of professional musician, you’ll quickly realise that you need a very good network – whether that’s to be recommended for studio sessions or to be able to book concerts and tours.
Now, I’m keen to hear about you. How do you earn money as a musician? What are your thoughts about finding professional work as a drummer? Are you happy with your earnings? Leave a comment – I’m looking forward to hearing from you!