Side Hustle #48: I Play In a Band!

[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

banned from the zoo 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.

banned from the zoo album

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!

You can learn more about their band here: And listen to a few of their songs here (they’re catchy!!):

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!

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  1. a terrible husband... March 6, 2014 at 6:03 AM

    Sweet! I actually have 4 songs up on Noisetrade right now (I play the drums (very rusty), guitar (same), base (same, but never great), and “sing”) and recorded a cassette back in the 90s and 2 CDs in the 2000s of original songs. Made some decent money selling them back in the day. Love this side hustle!

    1. J. Money March 6, 2014 at 7:54 AM

      Hot damn! I wish I could be half as talented as either of you guys! Just never had the patience to sit down and learn… or any friends/hotties throwing panties my way to motivate me to do so! Haha…

  2. Catina Mount March 6, 2014 at 7:36 AM

    Wish my side hustle was this cool!

    1. J. Money March 6, 2014 at 7:54 AM

      Haha, right? What is your side hustle? :)

      1. Catina Mount March 7, 2014 at 7:35 AM

        Social media mgmt. for a nonprofit….no guitar or drums involved. Ha ha!

        1. J. Money March 7, 2014 at 9:24 PM

          Still pretty cool! You can do that anywhere in the world :)

  3. Jon @ Money Smart Guides March 6, 2014 at 8:08 AM

    My best friend plays violin. He gets gigs all of the time to play weddings, Christmas parties and other events. He plays for a few hours and makes around $100 or more an hour. He loves it. He gets paid to do something he loves and he meets all sorts of people along the way.

    1. J. Money March 7, 2014 at 9:24 PM

      That’s a damn good rate right there. win-win-win all around!

  4. Dave @ The New York Budget March 6, 2014 at 8:48 AM

    Thanks for letting me guest post J$! It’s exciting to have our tracks put out into the (virtual) world!

    1. J. Money March 7, 2014 at 9:25 PM

      Yeah man – thoroughly enjoyed this! And even more so your music – it’s still on rotation over here on the speakers! :)

  5. John S @ Frugal Rules March 6, 2014 at 9:11 AM

    Very cool! I like how you’ve been able to fully fund a hobby and make some money while at that can be used to create even more opportunities. We have some friends that play sax and are usually able to make a nice little income on the side through different gigs.

    1. J. Money March 7, 2014 at 9:27 PM

      (For a second I thought you said you have some friends that “play sex” and make an income from it, haha…. I was like yeah! They have that! :))

  6. Brian@ Debt Discipline March 6, 2014 at 9:48 AM

    Very cool. Listening to a few tracks now. I’m sure there is plenty of opportunity in NYC for this side hustle. My son likes to play guitar and my daughter’s like to sing, so if they could get along, this is a potential side hustle for them some day.

    1. J. Money March 7, 2014 at 9:37 PM


  7. Becky @ RunFunDone March 6, 2014 at 10:04 AM

    I think this is the perfect side hustle, because it’s something enjoyable that just happens to make money as well!

  8. Stacey March 6, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    Very cool side hustle – and I enjoyed your music! Maybe a tour should be in the works… have you thought about playing SoDak??

    1. Dave @ The New York Budget March 6, 2014 at 8:06 PM

      Thanks Stacey! We will put SoDak at the top of the list for our next stop ;-)

  9. Mel @ brokeGIRLrich March 6, 2014 at 12:09 PM

    Why the heck were you silent about this when we all met up? Ukulele’s are cool! I do not know a single other ukulele playing rapper.

    1. Dave @ The New York Budget March 6, 2014 at 8:08 PM

      Haha – I guess it never came up! Yeah, it has been a lot of fun and ukulele rappers don’t seem very common, I suppose!

  10. Mad Fientist March 6, 2014 at 5:49 PM

    Nice, Dave!

    What “fast, technical rappers” did you listen to back in the day? I spent a lot of my time in college learning some really fast Bone Thugs stuff and while it didn’t really help me stop mumbling, like it did for you, it has provided me with a skill that makes parties in my 30s incredibly awkward (imagine a slightly dorky, drunk, 30-something white guy rapping “No Surrender” while the more “mature” people at the party look on in horror)!

    1. Dave @ The New York Budget March 6, 2014 at 8:13 PM

      Nice! Loved Bone Thugs! I never quite mastered any Busta Rhymes, but definitely loved listening to it. And my band actually covers B.O.B. by Outkast from time to time.

      Also – I DEFINITELY want to attend the party you just described.

      1. J. Money March 7, 2014 at 9:26 PM

        I’m joining y’all!! I’ll bring the boombox!

  11. Done by Forty March 6, 2014 at 6:12 PM

    Well, that’s pretty much the coolest side gig, ever. $2,000 is nothing to sneeze at, especially for doing something you enjoy.

    1. FI Fighter March 12, 2014 at 2:11 AM

      Rock on Dave, that is awesome! I wish I had started sooner, before college… $2000 is pretty sweet…

  12. Mario Adventuresinfrugal March 6, 2014 at 6:19 PM

    Ugh. I so wish I had the least bit of creative talent… or at least wasn’t tone deaf.

    1. Dave @ The New York Budget March 6, 2014 at 8:14 PM

      Well, you don’t need to be able to sing to play uke or rap. I highly recommend giving it a try!

  13. The First Million is the Hardest March 6, 2014 at 8:57 PM

    Very cool, I’m digging the songs! Makes me wish I still had a band. I guess playing to an attentive audience consisting of my dog will have to do these days!

    1. Dave @ The New York Budget March 13, 2014 at 7:54 AM

      I bet your dog appreciates your practice sessions more than my girlfriend does!

      “When I say bow, you say wow!”

  14. Crystal March 9, 2014 at 1:56 PM

    This sounds like an excellent side hustle!!! Super fun and creative. :-)

  15. Kalen @ MoneyMiniBlog March 17, 2014 at 9:22 AM

    I actually play in a band 2 or 3 weekends out of the month. It’s an extra $800-$1000/month (plus, free food and beer) and I really just do it for fun. We play bars, biker rallys, etc.

    I do some original stuff too, but never to make money.

    1. J. Money March 18, 2014 at 4:17 PM

      Nice!! That’s a nice chunk of $$$!

  16. ann December 1, 2017 at 10:54 AM

    I LOVE THIS! I am new to the budget game so I am just reading these for the first time. Playing in a band is my MAIN hustle. I play in an acoustic band with my husband almost every weekend. Tonight will be the first time that I take the cash, deposit it and send it directly to a credit card. I am calling it the American Express Tour.

    1. J. Money December 6, 2017 at 3:15 PM

      BOOM! Rock that American Express Tour, haha…. love that.