Financial Resources for Musicians: Scholarships, Grants, and Advice

Making a career out of music is the ideal end goal for a number of individuals. There are some things that you should consider when contemplating a career in music. There are advantages and disadvantages to being a musician — some advantages are:

  • The ability to connect your passion to your career;
  • Travel possibilities;
  • No formal education requirements;
  • Flexibility;
  • Artist collaboration possibilities;
  • There are numerous musician career options (touring musicians, recording musician, audio engineer, movies, commercials, educators — just to name a few).

Some of the disadvantages may include:

  • Lack of stability;
  • Life on the road;
  • Highly competitive industry;
  • Lower likelihood of benefits such as insurance and retirement plans.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data on musician employment, the median hourly pay comes out to around $30.39 per hour. There are certain things to consider with this number, namely that you do not always have guaranteed work, and most musicians aren’t getting paid for eight to 10-hour days. Income generally comes from smaller gigs coupled with record and merchandise sales.

The data goes on to show that in 2019, there were only around 175,000 jobs and the industry-growth projection is only 1% (much slower than the national average).

According to MusicEntrepreneurHQ, “90.7% of all artists are undiscovered, 6.8% are developing, 1.4% are mid-sized, 0.9% are mainstream, and only 0.2% are considered megastars.” There are plenty of musicians who make ends meet doing what they love, but it can be challenging in many ways.

Starting out in music can be difficult both emotionally and financially. The information below is meant to provide current/future musicians with financial and educational resources to help jump-start their careers in music.

Musical Training Tools and Resources

There are a number of musical training tools that individuals can take advantage of. Practicing and perfecting your musical instrument or voice can help you secure grants and scholarships. Additionally, if you are a sight to see, word of mouth can spread, bringing up a variety of recommendation-based opportunities.

  • BerkleeX: This is an online extension of Berklee College of Music that offers access to a free curriculum. There are over 36 different courses and programs designed to improve your musical abilities and knowledge;
  • BBC Music: This page is dedicated to providing musicians with a variety of different genre-specific information sources, and generalized tips/advice for starting out in the music industry, recording your music, playing live, and getting noticed;
  • Justin Guitar: This site offers a variety of introductory courses and lessons in a variety of genres for beginners, and detailed song tutorials for advanced players. The site also offers industry knowledge, insight into musicianship, and a variety of musical tools. There is also an app version for both Apple and Android users;
  • YouTube: YouTube offers millions of free videos from a variety of contributors that offer musical training. You can learn things like sight-reading, playing specific songs, instrument-specific instruction, and vocal coaching — the options are endless.

Apps and Tools for Learning to Sight-Read Music

Sight-reading is the ability to play a piece of written music placed in front of you without seeing the music prior. It is very similar to an actor auditioning and performing a part that they have not seen the lines for. Sight-reading is a skill that takes a lot of practice and there are a variety of apps and tools to help you hone this skill.

  • Soundfly: Soundfly offers a free seven-part course on how to read music. This is an introductory course, and each section is an hour long. It covers reading pitch and rhythm, counting and clapping, dots and ties, repeats, and an introduction/conclusion section;
  • Read Sheet Music: This site offers different tabs dedicated to the basics of sheet music, different exercises for practicing your new knowledge, music games, and even training on how to transpose music yourself. Read Sheet Music is free of charge;
  • MusicTheory.net: This free site can be broken down into three categories: lessons (animated walkthroughs), exercises (for practice), and tools (for measuring notes, intervals, and chords). They even offer a digital keyboard for piano learners;
  • eMusicTheory/ToneSavvy: This site/app offers a variety of free exercises and instructional information surrounding music theory. It’s useful for both educators and learners.
  • Teoria: This free site offers music tutorials and exercises that help beginners understand and finetune the basics of sight-reading. They also provide insightful articles and an online glossary of musical audio files.

Ear-Training Apps and Tools

Ear training is the process of connecting music theory (notes, chords, scales, melodies, harmonies, intervals) with the sounds that we physically hear. Ear training helps develop your musical aural skills, and this gives musicians the confidence to trust their ears over everything else.

This skill is extremely useful for all types of musicians. It helps with collaboration, transcribing by ear, intonation, tuning your instrument, musicality, composition, and staying on key. Ear training takes time and practice, but there are a number of apps and tools designed to help with this.

  • Tenuto: Tenuto is an app offered by MusicTheory.net that is compatible with all Apple devices. They offer 24 exercises and six calculators for developing aural skills. They also offer both a visual guitar fretboard and keyboard for guitarists and pianists. It costs $3.99 and is available for offline use;
  • Good-Ear.com: This free site is a very simple, easy-to-use resource that offers a variety of ear-training tools for both beginner and advanced musicians. This app is designed specifically for pianists, guitarists, and violinists, but the principle of recognizing sounds is beneficial for all musicians;
  • EarMaster: EarMaster is a versatile training app that covers ear training, sight-singing, music theory, and rhythm training. They have thousands of lessons and over 20 different workshops. It is compatible with all devices and there is even a free version. The pricing for the paid version varies depending on your device and the options you want;
  • Quiztones: Quiztones is an ear-training app that focuses primarily on equalization (EQ). This is a useful tool for audio engineers, producers, and musicians. It quizzes you on a variety of specific audio files to help hone your aural skills with a recording/mixing/producing mindset. It is available for $4.99 for Apple products only;
  • SoundGym: SoundGym is an audio ear training and learning center for musicians. It allows a community of musicians to offer tips, compete, and track/analyze your ear training efforts. You can create an account for free on the site to start improving your listening skills, frequency/compression detection skills, and audio engineering skills;
  • earPlugins: earPlugins is a free virtual studio technology (VST) plugin that focuses on frequency training. The plugin lives inside of your digital audio workstation (DAW) so that you can quiz yourself on the frequencies of projects you are creating. It is not compatible with Apple products.

Musical Composition Apps and Tools

Musical composition refers to the process of creating a piece of music. It is the collection of chords, notes, scales, melodies, lyrics, rhythms, and harmonies that make up musical pieces.

While many artists have successful cover music careers, composition is important for all musicians to learn in order to create cohesive, original music. There are a number of musical composition apps and tools designed to help introduce and improve musicians’ composition skills.

  • Audiotool: Audiotool is free production studio software that allows music creators to utilize a variety of equipment and plugins to design their musical masterpieces. You can also record or sample your own equipment using the platform;
  • Online Sequencer: Online Sequencer is a free browser sequencer that allows creators to choose from 13 different instruments when creating music. You place the different instruments and notes on the screen in the order you choose when sketching out a song. You can look at other musicians’ sequences for inspiration and you can also export your creations to use within your DAW;
  • GarageBand: GarageBand is a fully equipped studio platform for Apple users. There are numerous pre-recorded instruments to choose from, or you can record your own. You can also utilize the stock presets and plugins to design your sound the way you want it. This is available for both mobile and desktop users and it is free;
  • ScoreCloud: ScoreCloud is a browser music notation software that enables musicians to turn their musical creations into sheet music. There are both free and paid versions available;
  • Symphony Pro: A sheet-music notation app that allows music creators to write music compositions on their desktop or mobile Apple device. Users can start from scratch utilizing built-in instruments, or upload audio files. You are even able to draw music notes into sheet music directly;
  • AutoChords: AutoChords is a free tool that suggests chord progressions according to a key or the feel you are going for to help with writing songs. You can choose between piano or guitar chords and the tool will suggest one main progression and three alternatives.

Music Scholarships for College

Going to a music school can improve your chances of creating a career in music. At university, you have academic advisors who can offer advice, you’ll meet a variety of other musicians to collaborate and learn from, and you can take specific classes in areas you need growth in. When you graduate, you obtain a diploma detailing your music credentials.

There are music scholarships available to help pay for higher education. These can help reduce, or completely alleviate the cost of college. The scholarship amounts, application requirements, and academic requirements vary between each individual scholarship. Below are some examples of music scholarships that musicians can take advantage of.

  • John Lennon Scholarship: This scholarship is offered for songwriters and composers of all contemporary genres (alternative, pop, rock, indie, electronica, R&B, and experimental). It was founded by John Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, and the scholarship amount is $20,000. Applicants are required to submit one original song and they must fit the following criteria: you must be a part or full-time student, between the ages of 17 and 24, and you cannot be a former winner;
  • Aerosmith Scholarship: This scholarship is offered to full-time music business/management majors. The scholarship is only offered to current or prospective Berklee College of Music students, and the applicant must have at least a 3.7 GPA;
  • Jimi Hendrix Scholarship: This scholarship amount is $5,000, and it is available to current/prospective college students. This specific scholarship is for guitarists only. Applicants must participate in a live audition;
  • Davidson Fellows Scholarship: This scholarship amount is $50,000 and it is aimed at “extraordinary young people.” Applicants must be under 18, and have completed a “significant piece of work;”
  • Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Scholarship: This scholarship amount is $10,000. It is given to 20 exceptional pre-collegiate musicians ages 8 to 18. Applicants must have strong musical ability, and will be asked to display their musical talents;
  • Dusty Rhoades and Josephine Wright Memorial Scholarship: This scholarship amount varies and every year it switches between being offered to music majors and science majors/minors. Applicants must have a good GPA and demonstrate financial need.

Music Grants for Individuals

Music grants are similar to music scholarships, but they often have fewer strings attached. You don’t have to pay grants back, and qualification requirements are generally less strict than scholarships.

Grants are a great way to pay for schooling, or to pay for other music-related ways to advance your career. Some grants may have restrictions for what you can put the money towards, and others have none.

Depending on the type of grant, you may be able to use the funding to market/promote a project, buy new equipment, record an album, or even go on tour. It should be noted that a lot of music grants are by invitation only, but listed below are some examples of grants available for musicians.

  • New Music USA Grants: New Music USA offers a few different grant programs that vary on your musical abilities and location. Some examples of these grants include funding for music projects, small groups/bands/ensembles, venue creation, and composer-in-residence grants;
  • Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants: The Foundation for Contemporary Arts has awarded over $16 million worth of grants since 1963. They offer grants to nominated artists (you cannot apply for this type), and emergency grants that all contemporary musicians may apply for;
  • The Alice M. Ditson Fund: The Alice M. Ditson Fund was created in 1940 to offer grants supporting contemporary American classical concert music. There are two grants offered at this time: organizational support grants and recording/special streaming project grants;
  • New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA): The NYFA has multiple different fellowships, awards, and grants available for New York musicians. They offer 10 different awards and grants on their site — each with different qualification requirements;
  • Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation: The Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation offers several grants for new musicians. They offer creative fellowships, state-specific fellowships, international grants, and jazz artist grants.

Emergency Funds and Assistance

There are emergency funds and assistance available to musicians to help with finances, medical issues, and personal crises — below are some examples of organizations that offer varying levels of emergency funds and assistance for musicians.

  • Recording Academy Musicares: This program offers financial assistance for doctor’s bills, dental and hospital bills, prescriptions, addiction recovery treatment, psychotherapy, HIV/AIDS treatment, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other critical illnesses. They also offer basic living expenses such as rent and utilities. Assistance is available to musicians who can prove they have been in the industry for at least five years and have contributed to six commercially released recordings or videos;
  • New Music Solidarity Fund: This assistance program is an artist-led initiative that offers emergency funding to various musicians who were directly impacted by COVID-19. The intent behind the initiative is to increase support of new music organizations (venues, festivals, presenters, and others who are contributing to commissioning and artist development), provide resources to musicians who were impacted by canceled work, and sustain services as an advocate and resource by supporting those impacted the most by current crises;
  • Musicians Foundation: This assistance program offers one-time $200 grants available to professional performers, educators, and composers going through an emergency situation. Applicants must have been professional musicians for five years, file taxes as musicians, and have the proper documentation (proof of being a musician, and proof of work cancellation);
  • Music Maker Relief Foundation: This is a non-profit organization that has created a “sustenance” program that provides artists living in chronic poverty with emergency grants. There are no eligibility requirements listed on their site;
  • The Songwriters Lifeline: This assistance program helps artists going through personal, medical, work-related, or emergency financial issues. In order to be eligible, you need to demonstrate need, have been in the music industry for five years (making at least $6,500 in three out of the five years) OR have been in the music industry for 20 years (making at least $5,000 in 10 out of the 20 years).

Lines of Credit

It’s important to know how to handle life’s financial emergencies. There are options available to all consumers, including musicians, and lines of credit can be a helpful tool in times of need.

You could consider using credit cards or applying for bank loans. Running up your credit card balance or applying for a bunch of loans has its risks, and you should use lines of credit as a last resort. Don’t take on debt that you cannot afford, and avoid paying interest whenever possible.

How to Make Money as a Professional Musician

Some of the most common ways to make money as a musician include music sales/digital distribution, crowdfunding, performances/gigs, and teaching/giving lessons. It is important to:

  • Stay positive;
  • Be creative;
  • Remain focused;
  • Continuously learn and practice your craft;
  • Be smart with your money;
  • Avoid relying on one source for income.

Sales, Copyright, and Licensing

Sales, both physical and digital, are an important way to earn income as a musician, but you want to make sure you understand royalties, music copyright, and licensing as well. You can make money from physical/digital sales, downloads, and streams.

Additionally, distributing your music can help you get your name out there. There are several ways to distribute your music — below are the primary methods and a few examples of each:

When you are distributing your music, you want to be sure to research music copyright information. This is the set of rights for the music that you create. They exist so that you can control what you/others are able to do with your song, who can/cannot showcase your work for profit, and how you get paid for your music. There are two primary forms of music copyright:

  1. Copyright covering the song (composition);
  2. Copyright covering the recording (master).

When you copyright your music, you can license your music. Once your music is licensed, you can receive royalties for your music. There are six primary types of music licenses:

  1. Synchronization license;
  2. Master license;
  3. Mechanical license;
  4. Public-performance license;
  5. Print rights license;
  6. Theatrical license.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is a way to raise money as a musician. This can be done for individual artists, bands, or organizations. When you promote crowdfunding, explain your reasoning for needing the funding, and utilize social media, it can be a great way to raise money to support your music career and dreams.

When you are choosing a crowdfunding source, you want to do your research and compare what each site has to offer. Look at things like platform fees, payment fees, how soon you can get your money, and fraud protection. The following crowdfunding options are some of the most commonly used platforms:

Performance and Session Work

The gig economy is a very common method for musicians to bring in money. There are a number of gig economy jobs, and music performance, teaching/lessons, and session work are viable options for musicians. The gig economy is generally less consistent than traditional work, but there are a few things you can do to make yourself more marketable for gig/session work:

  • Utilize social media;
  • Post fliers;
  • Encourage word-of-mouth advertising/recommendations;
  • Engage with audiences/fans;
  • Always show up on time;
  • Practice your live performances;
  • Change up your song list;
  • Create competitive pricing;
  • Start out doing gigs for cheap (or even free).

Careers in Music

Even if you don’t start out being a full-time musician, there are numerous music careers that can help you get your foot in the door, or bring additional income to your musical ventures — some examples include:

  • A&R Coordinator: These professionals look for music talent for labels to sign and oversee;
  • Accompanist: Accompanists are pianists that accompany different acts for performances or rehearsals;
  • Arranger: Musical arrangers write sheet music and create instrument/vocal arrangements for recordings or live performances;
  • Audio engineer: Audio engineers record, mix, and master tracks for musicians to achieve the sound they are looking for;
  • Background singer/musician: Background singers and musicians accompany other singers/bands for both studio sessions and live performances;
  • Composer: Composers create musical pieces for a variety of different areas like movies or plays;
  • Concert promoter: Concert promoters organize shows, book artists, lock in venues, and spread the word about the events;
  • Cover musician/band: Cover musicians and bands perform famous songs written by other artists;
  • Instrument repair: This professional specializes in fixing any issues with musical instruments;
  • Jingle writer: Jingle writers create music for commercials or specific businesses;
  • Music critic: Music critics review different pieces of music and offer their opinion on the execution and musicality;
  • Music teacher: Music teachers educate individuals on all things music. They can offer lessons for specific instruments/vocals and work as a freelancer, or work within an academic setting and teach things like music history and theory.

Other Money-Making Opportunities

There are other methods of making money as a musician that can help provide you with additional income. If you have a large following, these can be used as a primary source of income, but they are generally less-consistent methods, so they are better utilized in addition to other money-making options.

Managing Money as a Musician

If you are a relatively new full-time musician, it is extremely important to manage your finances well. This is especially true for freelance finances since at times you can have multiple gigs lined up, and at other times you may have none. When you are coming up with a plan for your musical finances, you should consider budgeting, taxes, and insurance.

Budgeting as a Musician

As a musician, it is extremely important to create a personal budget because this line of work is not always steady, and there are a number of monetary factors to consider.

Musicians often need to plan for ways to live comfortably on a tight budget, or look for methods for traveling on a budget in order to make their personal finances work. Musicians will need to save money for things like new equipment or repairs, travel expenses, marketing, studio time, distribution, merchandise, and general living costs.

Use the following tips and suggestions for budgeting as a musician:

  • Map out exactly what your expenses are each month;
  • Track your earnings to gain perspective into what you generally earn monthly;
  • Plan your spending according to low-earning months;
  • Save as much money as possible during high-income months;
  • Utilize multiple revenue streams;
  • Take advantage of travel rewards;
  • Create an emergency fund;
  • Look for ways to reduce expenses/spending.

Important Tax Considerations

Taxes can be complex, and when you are a self-employed musician, there are certain things that you should understand and take into consideration since most musicians do not have federal and state taxes withheld from their pay. The self-employment tax is for small business owners, sole proprietors, freelancers, and independent contractors — musicians generally fall under this category.

Any musician who makes over $400 in a single year from self-employment needs to pay the self-employment tax. You will need to use the 1040 form in order to pay your taxes to the IRS. It is important to budget for taxes as mentioned above because you will generally be paying taxes, rather than receiving a tax refund.

Additionally, it is important to understand what is taxable and nontaxable income in order to properly file. It should be noted that the royalties you receive from your music are taxable. Lastly, it is important to write off all of the different music-related expenses that you can — musicians can deduct:

  • Music equipment and software expenses;
  • Home studio or home office expenses;
  • Vehicle expenses;
  • Travel expenses;
  • Food expenses;
  • Insurance.

You can calculate your self-employment taxes on your own fairly easily. Add up your taxable income, subtract any deductions, and multiply that number by 15.3% (self-employment tax rate) so you know how much you are going to have to pay.

Important Insurance Information

There are some instances where musicians will receive employee benefits through their employer (for example, music teachers), but in most cases, musicians must invest in their own — this includes things like health insurance, life insurance, and retirement plans.

There are ways to get employee benefits when you are self-employed, so be sure to research providers, compare rates, and choose the best plans for your specific needs.

Additional Tools and Resources

There are other tools and resources to help aspiring musicians reach their musical career goals. Below are some of the organizations that offer tools and resources for musicians:

  • Music for All: Music for All is a national nonprofit music education organization that is committed to expanding the role of music and arts within education. They invest in resources and personnel to expand access to music and arts programs;
  • American Federation of Musicians: The American Federation of Musicians is the largest union of musicians in the world. Their aim is to provide resources and opportunities for freelance, recording/digital media, symphonic, and theater musicians;
  • Charity Music: Charity Music provides musical instruments and music education to at-risk, disadvantaged youth who want to pursue music. They have two primary programs: the Gift of Music Program (instrument loan program) and The Sound Booth program (music education program);
  • Hungry for Music: Hungry for Music provides musical instruments for children who have a desire to learn music, but cannot afford it. They also provide instruments to educators to pass on to children who demonstrate need and want to participate in band class;
  • Manilow Music Project: The Manilow Music Project aims to improve underfunded music programs. They donate instruments, equipment, and scholarships to disadvantaged schools and students;
  • Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation: Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation provides support services to school districts, musical instruments to underfunded music programs, and music education access to disadvantaged youth.
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