Even though you probably didn’t get into playing ukulele for the money, there are still many ways you can use your uke skills to make some extra cash. Ukulele teacher Willy M. shares 10 great ideas…
So you’ve been playing for a while now, you’re pretty impressed with your progress, and you think you’re ready to start booking some ukulele gigs.
Well, here are 10 ways to make money playing the ukulele!
Playing for weddings
It doesn’t matter if they’re young or old, people are always going to want to get married. Playing for weddings is a great way to make some extra cash!
Playing for weddings takes a little bit of prep work. Remember, this is the couple’s very special day, and you want to ensure you are up to the task of performing ukulele wedding professional-level music. If you’re still new to the ukulele scene, you may want to hold off on these kinds of gigs until you’ve mastered the craft. However, if you’re confident and eager to take on the wedding world, now’s your chance! Go solo or form a ukulele wedding band, and then follow our advice below.
First, you’re going to want to get a setlist of tunes you can play. You will need to be able to play the Bridal March (of course), Pachelbel’s Canon in D, and some of the more popular wedding songs out there in a couple of different styles. You might need to prove to a couple who only loves show tunes (or country music, or top 40, or contemporary Christian) that you can play multiple genres and whatever they like. After all, it’s a good idea to have a varied setlist to please not only the newlyweds but the guests, too. You’ll want some slow, romantic tunes along with some fast dance numbers. But once you’ve mastered this task, you’re gold!
I’ve found that songs from popular romance movies are always good ones to pitch to the love birds. Final word of advice; you need to look the part. You’ll also want to invest in at least one, really nice outfit. A formal dress or tux – whatever suits your fancy!
How do you get wedding gigs? Try searching on Craigslist, working with a wedding planner, or getting to know the local pastors. These are all great ways to find gigs.
Another way to make money is to play for private parties and cookouts. These kinds of events tend to be more relaxed and informal, so this is a great idea for those ukulele players who may not feel like they’re quite ready to perform at weddings just yet. Some hosts are always willing to pay a little money and provide some free food for a talented musician. Post your ad on Craigslist and see who responds!
Like playing for weddings, you will want to have a few popular, upbeat, and party sing-along songs in your repertoire. Get those down, set out a tip jar, and you’re ready to jam! Never forget or be shy about putting out a tip jar when you play. If you want to be a professional ukulele player, you need to be treated like one, and that involves getting compensated for your work.
One final word of advice about tips, always prime your jar with a few dollars of your own. I have found that a handful of change, a couple ones, and a couple fives is a great way to start off a gig.
It’s all about the illusion. When people look at it, they immediately think, “Oh, five is a good tip, and some people have put in ones, or change. I don’t want to be a cheapskate, so I’ll put in a five!” I have gotten better tips that way in the past, so I thought I’d pass it on.
Playing for restaurants
If you’re not already in the bar and restaurant circuit, don’t overlook this avenue. Playing for restaurants can be a tricky business, but it’s a good professional ukulele player gig if you can get your foot in the door. Sometimes restaurants are known for their live music, and other times it’s just an added bonus. You have to be careful to gauge which type of restaurant you’re playing in, so you don’t play too loud, or play the wrong kind of music for their vibe.
Many times while playing in restaurants or bars, some people will offer you free drinks. I learned this following tip early on from a guy who used to play with Glenn Miller and Count Basie: never drink alcohol on a gig!
Imagine for a moment that your plumber arrives to your house and starts drinking up all your alcohol. How would you feel about that? Probably like you didn’t invite a professional over. As tempting as it may be (especially if you’re looking to calm your nerves) it’s usually best to avoid alcohol.
Well, even though someone may offer, most restaurant and bar owners think the same thing. If you politely decline the offer of alcohol and instead ask for whatever your favorite non-alcoholic drink is, the venue will respect you more, and see you as a professional they’d like to hire back.
I have found that some establishment owners use the “you drank up all your wages” as a common way to rip musicians off. If you make it clear to everyone in the chain (owner, barkeep, wait staff, etc.) that you do not drink on the job, then there will be no excuse to send you away empty handed at the end of the night.
But other than that caveat, play away! Keep a sheet of songs that you like to play as a request sheet handy. You might even put a suggested tip for certain songs to keep things spicy! And while you’re at it, don’t forget to introduce yourself several times throughout your set. You never know who is listening or who might want to hire you for a future gig. This is your chance to network and make connections.
Playing for churches and places of worship
Believe it or not, many churches and synagogues hire professional musicians for many different types of events, including weekly worship services. Always be polite, make sure you know what type of music they expect, and brush up on your new set list.
Another cool place to play religious music for money is at nursing homes. Some retirement homes hire people to come in and play for the senior citizens. If you can also learn a few of the songs that were popular in their generation, they will thank you for it.
You don’t want to use a tip jar at a church or nursing home, however, it would be very tacky! Instead, just enjoy your new friends and the happiness you’re creating. And as we hinted above, you might be surprised at the people and connections you make along the way.
Playing for country clubs
When it comes to making good money as a professional ukulele player, country clubs are a great place to play. They are often in a nice, indoor environment, and they often have a lot of people who tip well. If you can get in on some of their special occasions — all the better.
The key to a great country club set is to figure out the average age of the group and then learn a bunch of songs from their generation. Be sure to have a nice variety of some slow songs and fast songs–you just might get some members up on the dance floor. Don’t worry; the tips will make it worth your while!
Playing for colleges
Colleges are awesome places to get a gig. Often, they budget a certain amount for entertainment, and they don’t care if you’re a solo act or a band. If they budget $300 for entertainment, and you are the entertainment, then you get the $300. I have never had a college stiff me on a gig, and they are always really polite.
If you are playing for a college dinner in a lounge type setting feel free to put out your request list and a nice looking tip jar.
With colleges, classical music and popular tunes from a wide assortment of eras are good to pepper your set list.
Playing for kids’ birthday parties
If you like working with kids and can learn a bunch of fun songs, think of a fun theme, get yourself a cool outfit, and build up a persona, especially for kids’ birthday parties. You might be a clown, pirate, ninja, magician, or something entirely new. Let your creativity run wild!
If you happen to supplement your ukulele playing with twisty balloons or magic tricks… you’re going to do even better. There are not a lot of rules when it comes to this ukulele job, so have fun with it. As long as you can hold the kids’ attention and interest, then you can consider it a job well done. What’s more, if you make a good impression, there’s an excellent chance you’ll have other parents lining up asking for your contact information for their own kids’ parties.
Some birthday parties, bar and bat mitzvahs, and special event parties pay really well, and you can make some serious money playing these. And they’re a load of fun!
Playing for tips on the street
Playing for tips on the street seems to be a lot more respectable than it used to. Some places even encourage you to come and “busk.” The best part is, last time I checked, the IRS still considers the money you earn while busking to be non-taxed. You might want to double check that, and you’ll also want to check to see if you need a license or a tag to busk in your area, but it can be a really fun way of making some extra cash.
I heard of one busker in California who made over $400 a day busking. The last time I busked anywhere, I made $3. So… I guess it can really vary depending on the day!
My advice is to find a well-trafficked area. Settle into a prime spot on the boardwalk on a sunny Saturday afternoon or head to the town center where everyone flocks for dinner and drinks on the patio. Look for areas where people are most likely to mosey or linger around. If you can capture their attention, you just might make some good money.
Another way to earn some money is to become a ukulele teacher. There really is the potential to earn some money if you are a good ukulele teacher, or if you have been playing long enough and think you have something to offer new players. And now, thanks to technology, you can now teach online ukulele lessons without even leaving the comfort of your couch. Not a bad gig, huh? Teaching is a good way to supplement your music income!
Fixing up and selling other ukuleles
Finally, if you are kind of handy and like working with tools, fixing up ukuleles can be a good way to make a few extra bucks as well. Advertise on social media, talk to local music shops, or give your information to ukulele teachers in your area. Once you get the word out, ukulele players will know where to turn for tune-ups or new instruments.
So there they are 10 different kinds of ukulele gigs that can help you earn a bit of money. I hope they help you out!
Can you think of anything we missed? If you know of other great ways to earn money with your ukulele, share them with us in the comments below!
Photo by Jonathan Rivera