[Today my man Dave from The New York Budget shares his rock star side hustle with us: playing in a band. And while most people want side money to pay off their debt or save for a house/wedding/etc, for him it's all about having fun and not having to pay for any of it. Which is yet ANOTHER reason to pick up a hustle - it can fully fund a hobby of yours!]
Like most New Yorkers I know, I didn’t grow up in the Big Apple. In my high school years, I lived in a Boston suburb, and before that, I spent 10 years of my childhood on the island of Maui in Hawaii. And before you ask – yes, it was amazing, and no, I didn’t wear coconut bras every day (some of the questions that I get about Hawaii are bizarre).
However, in 4th grade, while most of you were learning to play the recorder at school, I was learning how to play the ukulele. After getting my very own ukulele for Christmas, I proceeded to play for about another year before losing interest. It turns out, I just wasn’t interested in making it as a solo artist.
In high school and college, I started listening to more and more rap. I enjoyed fast, technical rappers as well as rappers that had interesting ideas and messages. While my parents weren’t thrilled with some of the content of the songs I was listening to, my mom did make an observation about my speech. As I learned the lyrics to rap along to my favorite songs, my mom commented that the mumbling problem that I had as a teenager had improved greatly.
I Accidentally Join a Band
Years later, I found myself moving in with a work buddy in a tiny Manhattan apartment. I found out that this friend had been a casual, but talented singer/songwriter throughout his youth and could handle a guitar pretty damn well.
“Dude, you have an uke?!” he exclaimed when he found out, “we have to jam together!”
With his motivation, I dusted off my old uke and picked back up where I had left off, a decade and a half ago. We started covering pop songs as well as originals that he had written. We added a bassist, drummer and another vocalist and suddenly, I found myself in a band, much to my surprise.
And when we started covering songs that had rap sections, it fell to me to pick those up as well – mainly because the other guys thought it would be hilarious to have the ukulele player be the one rapping. Eventually, I even wrote a few raps for our original songs.
Now I had fallen in love with playing music. Playing with a band and with people who could sing changed my perspective completely. I was having a blast.
A Side Hustle is Born
Then, we found our first paying gig. A friend of mine was chatting up a bartender one night, mentioned that she knew a band that would be willing to play on their stage and bring in a bunch of customers. The bartender, who also happened to be the manager, jumped at the opportunity. It didn’t matter how good we were, the promise of increased business was all it took.
We were paid a percentage of what the bar made during our set, which turned out to be a couple hundred dollars. Our eyes had huge dollar signs in them, but we soon realized that we all had day jobs and this was not something that was scalable for us. We kept gigging at similar bars, making similar money and everywhere we have played loves us. We are five guys who each bring a different friend group into the bar, so if nothing else, we create good business for each bar we play.
Most side hustles that I read about accomplish a certain goal. People want to make extra money to pay for a specific expense, to pay down debt, or to build wealth. My side hustle is a bit different.
As a band, we decided that all money we earn goes to the band fund. If we need new equipment, or practice space, the band fund covers it. We were even able to pay for studio time to record some of our original songs – recordings that we will have forever. I have found a way for a hobby that I love to finance itself and for me, it doesn’t need to be any more than that.
I believe that our hobbies, the ones we do for no other reason than we love doing them, are an important component of life. If you can find some way to finance your hobby the way I have, without having to depend on the income to survive, I have found the joy you get out of it is even greater.
How to Make This Your Side Hustle
If you are a musician interested in getting paid to play gigs, first find a band (or go solo if you can play and sing). I recommend starting off by covering songs you like, but more importantly, songs that your friends will like. Your initial audience is going to be your friends and you want them to like the experience enough to stick around and buy drinks!
As for finding gigs, we have tried going through websites and calling places, but at the end of the day, we have been most successful simply going into bars and chatting with bartenders and managers. We let them know that we are willing to play for a percentage of the bar tab and that we will bring in customers for them. We start by asking for 20%, but we’ve accepted 15% and 10% too. If you are just starting out, don’t be above playing for 10%.
Before the gig, get the word out to ALL of your friends. Facebook helps, but actually communicating with people directly through email or text is important. We are lucky to live in NYC where it’s fairly easy for our friends to come out to support us. Sometimes, we will ask the bar to provide drink specials as well, which entices folks.
Finally, if you can build up enough of a fan base via social media and a website outside of your friend group, even better! Just keep playing and chatting with people and you will be surprised what opportunities open up.
So far we’ve made about $2,000 as a band, and recently a local bar told us that we could come play there as often as we want. So our income should be increasing even faster!
Dave is an NYC blogger, currently living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. You can find more of his articles at The New York Budget, where he explores ways to save money while enjoying the best of what New York has to offer.
Want to read other side hustles? Like those who count worms or raise chickens, or even talks dirty on the phone? Check them all out here ;) –> J’s Side Hustle Series.
Have a hustle of your own you’d like to share? Hit me up here!