If you don’t want to read the entirety of this article, common sense would tell you that musicians get paid just like anyone else: with cash, check, money order, or direct deposit.

However, the answer to this question really is more in-depth than just the method of a financial transaction.

Musicians make money in a number of different ways, and to answer the question, “How do musicians get paid?” we have to look at the different ways that musicians actually earn an income.

Cash

Musicians that make most of their money via cash usually fall into the “small gig” category.

If you play bar gigs, small clubs, as a street musician, or for small events, the chances of you getting paid in cash are pretty large. It’s just the way these kinds of performances are and the way their managing teams prefer to pay the entertainment; but cash is usually the best option for both parties, otherwise it might involve setting up legal paperwork for what would probably be a short-term gig anyway (just one or a few performances and that’s it).

For bars, cash is a large part of how money is exchanged anyway. Waiters and waitresses are tipped in cash much of the time, and drinks are paid in cash as well. It could be a logistical reason, too, as you and/or your band probably demands a few hundred dollars for your performance and it’s not good to keep large bills on hand.

Street musicians aren’t exactly setting up a Square account and swiping credit cards for donations (although it’s not unheard of).

Small clubs usually prefer to pay in cash for the same reason that bars do: a majority of their financial transactions are made in cash, and with so many events going on during the year filing for tax write-offs could be a potential nightmare with filing W-9’s and subcontracting hundreds of musicians.

Needless to say, it’s just easier with cash.

Direct Deposit (ACH)

When you are employed by a company, nine times out of ten you’re going to be asked to provide a bank routing and account number. However, this generally is reserved for serious, mid-sized to large businesses that have an established infrastructure and a larger set of employees and staff.

Fun Fact: It costs a company money to set up direct deposit with a bank, and is charged each time it makes a direct deposit to an employee’s checking or savings account.

Now, unless a musician is employed by an organization such as a professional orchestra, an educational institution, or an entertainment company, they probably aren’t going to be paid via direct deposit simply because it doesn’t make any fiscal sense to do so.

Check or Money Order

Getting a check for “musical services rendered” probably isn’t something you see very often, but if you perform for a church, at a wedding reception, or for individuals who prefer to handle things professionally and don’t own a business, having a check written directly to you is more likely.

It’s not far-fetched to believe that a bar or club would write you or your band a check, either, although it should be agreed upon before you get paid who a check is to be made out to.

Besides, it would probably be difficult to write a check out to “The Golden Guitar Bandits” and have a bank take you seriously…

…unless that’s an official business with a checking account.

Money orders generally aren’t used to pay musicians, and I personally have yet to see anyone paid via money order. But, it would be much easier to cash a money order than a check!

Debit & Credit Cards

Now, here’s an interesting concept:

How would a musician pull off getting paid via swiping a card from a fan?

Think about how musicians make money: they can sell tickets to shows, sell merch in person, get donations in person, or have someone purchase music and merchandise online.

If a fan goes up to a merch table and wants to purchase a t-shirt or a CD, they should have the option to pay via debit/credit card as well as cash. Some people just don’t carry cash.

(I’m one of those people – sorry muggers! You’ll have to deal with my cancelled debit card before you have a chance to use it. Muahaha!)

The downside to getting paid via debit or credit card is that you have to pay a transaction fee for each time you get paid, and the amount you’re charged largely depends on who your payment processor is.

Square and PayPal may be the most convenient and popular options, but they’re also the most expensive. This is a good reason to stick with cash or check when getting paid, because if you want to make money as a musician you can’t afford to give any of it away just to get paid.


Getting paid as a musician is the same as if you were a freelancer in another artistic medium, but depending on the type of gig you have, you’ll want to consider the best option of payment. While getting a check sounds cool, sometimes it’s faster to get cash or be paid electronically. If you’re employed by an organization, you can expect to get paid via direct deposit. No matter what method of payment you take, it’s great when you’re a musician making money!

Paul Cassarly
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