When you think of how musicians make money, there are fewer methods that come to mind more quickly than the street musician.
For centuries, musicians of all kinds have taken to the cobblestone, dirt, and pavement to proclaim their musical prowess to the masses. A passerby on his/her way to their destination is simply walking down the sidewalk when they hear music out of the blue – it might be a percussion sound, the whine of a clarinet, or the twang of an acoustic guitar.
Street musicians have always fascinated the average pedestrian because it’s not something they see every day. In fact, unless they live in a big city like New York City or San Francisco, it’s rare to see someone on the sidewalk plunking away at a keyboard or guitar string.
To answer the question, “How do I make money as a street musician?” might seem obvious – we’ve all seen them on television with a hat, music case, or cardboard box to collect money from passing listeners. However, there is more that goes into this active method of making some spending money on the street.
You Need To Be Confident
Taking your instrument out of its case on a crowded city sidewalk is an easy task, and in theory seems like a simple thing to do. Just start playing…
Well, there’s a reason there are so few musicians who perform on a city sidewalk. For one, among musicians it’s almost a taboo activity. Many musicians believe that to make money as a street musician is a last resort; it’s not a proper way to make money as a professional.
Although it was more of a social experiment for classical musicians, Joshua Bell – one of the world’s most famous violinists – played in a busy Washington, D.C. Metro subway on January 12, 2012 to see how many people actually cared about classical music unless it was being performed in a concert hall.
The kicker is, he wasn’t doing it for money (obviously). He risked his professional image on a social experiment; he had a lot to lose, as public opinion could have easily portrayed Mr. Bell as having fallen from his professional status. Being that the violin isn’t exactly the most popular instrument, it was certainly an interesting experiment, and in his mind, it was a success.
The lesson here is that if you want to even have a chance of making money as a street musician, you need to completely eradicate the fear of what people will think about you. If a famous musician like Joshua Bell, whose albums sell millions of copies every year, would risk his career then you certainly don’t have as much to lose.
In fact, you have everything to gain!
You Need To Have A Strategy
Even if you’re a jazz player who only performs improvisational pieces, you should always go out with a plan. Ask yourself questions like:
What’s the weather going to be like?
When is the best time to perform?
Where am I allowed to perform freely?
Do I need a street performance license?
What equipment do I need?
How much money do I want/need to earn?
Remember that street musicians that you see aren’t usually outside without a strategy – well, the ones with normal lives, anyway – they’re generally music students, people with normal jobs, and serious musicians simply trying to get exposure.
Sell Merchandise With Your Performance
If you’re performing on the street, your audience is getting a free show – many will choose to stand and take a video of you and/or your group (if you’re performing with others). Many listeners who do stop to listen will do so attentively, and you may get quite a bit of donations.
If you’re really good, and you know you are, then show that through your performance by having merchandise for sale! It shows that you’re a serious musician and took the time to record a professional CD and create apparel for your audience to purchase.
CDs and t-shirts can easily be priced for $10.00 to $25.00 per unit. If you sell 100 t-shirts at $25.00 a piece, you’ve made $2,500 in one day! Quite a profitable day, and it’s more than many make working full-time jobs.
Results aren’t guaranteed, of course, but if you live in a big city and put on quite the show, you’ll most likely get quite a few sales.
Polish Up Your Online Presence
Making money as a musician is more than just performing for your audience in real life. No matter whether you choose to perform in concert halls, churches, or the public sidewalk, you need to make sure that you have a strong online presence in case your listeners want to look up any more of your music online.
When performing on the sidewalk or street (in the case that you find yourself at a street festival), make sure to hand out business cards or post links to your social media pages and/or website.
Some important online areas you will want to develop are as follows:
Have a professional-looking artist website ready to go. You can easily create your own website through Wix, Squarespace, or having a self-hosted WordPress site.
Create an artist Facebook page. Anyone who’s serious about making money online knows that having a Facebook page is an absolute must. In fact, having a Facebook page is almost as expected as having your own website.
The best part? It’s free!
Get your recordings on every store through DistroKid. One of the most popular methods of publishing your music online these days is through a company called DistroKid. When you sign up, it’s only $19.99 for an entire year. It’s an amazing deal that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. In fact, many people spend more than this on a night out at the bar! If you’re interested in signing up, you can do so here.
Constantly post updates about your music and behind-the-scenes content. The more your audience keeps you top-of-mind, the more listens you’ll get. Playing as a street musician is simply advertising for you as an artist, and doubles as a way to make money in real-time.
Dress To Impress
Many street musicians choose to dress in casual clothes, but as the saying goes, people hear with their eyes.
If you perform in shorts and a t-shirt, you probably won’t get many ears to listen to your musical performance. However, if you dress up as if you were going on stage in front of thousands of people, you’ll find a huge difference in your musical audience numbers.
Making money as a musician in any capacity involves more than just being a good musician – it involves looking good, including being a confident player. Sure, “wowing” your audience with your impressive skills will certainly attract listeners, but pair that with an impressive look, and you will double that number!
In short, don’t be afraid to get on the streets and show the world what you can do! Making money as a street musician is a rewarding – and uncommon – career choice. If you do it right, you may find that your musical fanbase will grow in a surprising amount of time.