Tip Jar: How to Survive the Music Industry in Tough Times

For most working musicians, it’s hard enough to make a consistent living in the music industry at the best of times. Keeping a diary loaded with gigs, a class filled with students and creative projects afloat takes a lot of effort, but it’s something we’re all used to and something we’ve adapted into our survival.

In a way, musicians are better prepared than most salary earners when it comes to dealing with the unexpected. But, in tougher times where everything goes wrong and the economy hits an all-time low, the entertainment and creative sectors suffer the most.

The events taking place across the world today are a big concern, not only for our loved ones but our livelihoods too. At the time of writing this, we’re at the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the US and around the world, and the entire planet is on lockdown. The stock market is in a big dive, and we’re facing some tough times ahead.

In this article, I thought I’d put together some encouraging points to help you get through this.

Let’s jump right in.

The self-learning industry is booming right now

As more and more people are working from home, there is a massive surge in digital learning and subscription services. I’ve noticed a lot of my colleagues have launched private music tuition over skype and video conferencing applications, and they’re getting a lot of interest.

If you are well connected on Facebook or YouTube, now is a good time to offer some private lessons simply by reaching out to your existing audience. It may not be enough to give you total financial security but having a small trickle of income coming in will mean less strain on your savings account.

Teaching music isn’t easy, and there is a lot of competition out there. If you have the skills and audience, getting 10 students should be very achievable and will go a long way to generate a little extra cash.

Now is the time to build a bigger audience

If you’re not comfortable providing music lessons over video, or if you simply don’t have a large enough audience to work with, then now is the time to build one. Orchestral musicians around the world have collaborated from their isolated practice rooms to create amazing videos, and it’s making headlines and bringing a little joy.

Everyone who is following the news is massively stressed out and looking for something positive to focus on. Chris Franklin wrote a rather crude poem, and this pianist turned it into a song (explicit language, just FYI!) which has over 180k views.

While you may not come up with something that gets as much attention as Chris Franklin’s poem, sharing your skills with really good content will help to launch your artistic abilities to a whole new audience. There are a lot of ways to promote your music on YouTube and Soundcloud, and the effect it will have on your future career could potentially be huge.

Tighten up on your spending

Not everyone will have a large savings account in waiting, but most freelance musicians who have been working in the industry for a few years have learned to save enough to hold them over for a few months.

There isn’t a clear indication of when things will return to normal, so it’s super important to stretch out your spending for as long as possible. Cutting back on subscriptions, altering your food shopping and looking for ways to cut costs in all areas of your life should be a big priority. It can take a month or two to adapt a budget, so the sooner you get started, the better.

If you’re in a tough position already, it can be difficult to ask for help, but you don’t have to be afraid to do so. Just be honest with your family and friends and figure out a way to stretch out whatever you can throw your way, and try to focus on positive efforts like building an audience on social media, which has no cost.

Diversify your income through freelancer

There are other ways to offer a service which can bring in more cash. If you’re good with maintaining your instruments, offer some repair or cleaning services to other musicians. You could even offer some recording services, mixing or creating jingles for YouTubers and other influencers (using services like Upwork or Fiverr).

It’s never been a better time to diversify your income stream, and while it doesn’t happen instantly, if you have no other options at the moment, promoting your skills and offering additional services will certainly help in the long term.


Bad times are inevitable, but they can’t go on forever. The hardest part in all this is staying positive. Remember, you are one of the lucky few with abilities that many people wish they had. Take a walk down memory lane and think about how hard you worked to learn the skills you have, and you built a career from it. Let that be the basis of your positivity because if you managed to do all that, you can certainly get through this.

So don’t let the stress and anxiety take control, music is a gift that has such a wonderful influence on our minds. If you take away only one thing from reading this article, remember that everyone is in the same position, so reach out and talk to your friends, family and colleagues about how you feel. We’re in this together, and we’ll get through it.



JEAN GABRIEL is a professional musician and educator who has worked in the music industry for the better part of 20 years. Jean’s ambition to continue learning new instruments and adapt to the ever-evolving music industry led to the creation of his blog, numusician.com.