It’s no secret that the days of making a living from performing in bars, pubs, and clubs is all but a bygone era of the early to mid-1900’s. The golden era of the “Roaring 20’s” is one of the most memorable and rich periods in music history – swing bands, jazz singers, and the rise of the record label exploded during this period of time.

After World War II, the United States went through a period of recovery, rebuilt its economy, and focused on growing various industries and scientific fields. The days of the Mafia were beginning to come to an end, and “speakeasies” as they were called – a direct byproduct of a failed period of the Prohibition – were closing.

People would pay lots of money to enter these “secret bars”, but now that it was all in the open, bars were not able to keep up with the demand of talented musicians coming through their doors. At least, this seems to be the common perception of how things went.

Other shifts in the music industry helped to end the days of the working musician, including the rise of recorded music. No longer did music fans have to go out and pay to see a show; they could stay in the comfort of their home and listen to a record.

What a time to be alive!

Thankfully, although the days of secure income as a working musician are gone, bands still find a way to make a few bucks playing gigs in their local area. You can still pay some of your bills playing for different events, but to get to that point you need to understand how to network with the right people and what kind of gigs pay the most money.

Weddings

By far, the most profitable gigs a band can book are in the wedding industry. On average, an engaged couple in America spends around $30,000 – $50,000! This cost includes a venue, the catering, a wedding planner, the officiant, but most importantly…

…the entertainment.

These days, DJ services rule the wedding industry, performing the role of both Master of Ceremonies (MC) during the reception and playing music that the couple requests. The wedding industry is actually quite an interesting one, combining not only financial abilities but also artistic taste.

About 1 out of 5 marrying couples actually prefer a live band, at least for those who can afford them. Now, keep in mind that these bands are usually cover bands, playing popular songs and hits from the past few decades.

Still, if your band is capable of performing covers of popular hit songs, you could charge a couple $3,000 – $5,000 for your performance to keep the guests moving on the dance floor! Do a few of these performances each month from Spring until Fall, and you can probably pay your bills with your cut.

Bars & Clubs

Although the era of making a living playing at speakeasies is gone, your band can still earn a few hundred dollars by booking gigs at popular bars in your local area.

Many bars – especially those in bigger cities – have the financial means to pay $200 to $300 to hire entertainment on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights depending on their most popular days of the week. In fact, having live entertainment for many venues is part of their brand and is the main attraction!

Your main competition will be the DJ, as all he or she has to do is show up with a mixer, sometimes their own speakers and lights, hook up their equipment and press the play button. This means it takes a different kind of skill, but much easier to learn than playing an instrument, and therefore isn’t nearly as expensive for a venue.

Still, many small bars bring in many of their customers by featuring a lineup of bands for customers to hear while they eat and drink.

Is your band ready?

Festivals

If your band is gaining popularity, you may enter a contest or be invited to play at a festival for a fixed contract.

A popular festival like Lollapalooza held in Chicago, IL brings in about 400,000 attendees every year. General admission passes for 2019 Lollapalooza start at $340 plus taxes and fees. There are also VIP and platinum VIP tickets available ranging from $2,200 – $4,200.

This means that a festival like Lollapalooza brings in anywhere from $50,000,000 to $250,000,000 every year. What does this mean for you?

Well, you’re going to get paid quite well!

Of course, actually getting booked for events like Lollapalooza would be a dream for many bands. It requires intense networking, a large following of fans, and your music has to have charted on some famous list.

Even being popular on Spotify won’t guarantee a spot.

Still, there are many, many small festivals throughout the United States that need bands to fill their time slots. It’s a lot of performing, but if you want to make a living performing then that’s what it’s going to take…as well as patience.

Parties & Private Events

If you live in a more affluent area, you may be able to book frequent gigs for wealthy folks. You’ve seen them on television: string quartets playing at a gala, jazz bands playing for a rich bachelor’s birthday party, a singer at a graduation party, and children’s bands performing for wealthy parents and their kids.

These types of band gigs are certainly rarer than the aforementioned events, but even so, they help add to the number of events that your band has performed!

It helps if you begin networking with those who are well known – local politicians, business owners, and others who are in the public eye. Money tends to follow these people, and during good times they may contact your band to perform for one of their events.


Although the days of making a full-time income from gigging are gone, if you and your band take it seriously, there are plenty of opportunities to earn a decent income through performing!

Paul Cassarly
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