Making a living related to Guitar

I’ve seen a pretty wide range of creative approaches to making a living or going into semi-retirement supported by music related actives, and a couple patterns that

This includes:

  1. setting up an entertaining Youtube/Social media presence (High difficulty, kind of a crap shoot).
    Required Skills: Advanced guitar technique, videography, marketing/consistent comedic writing and skit development, networking ability, or just being famous already (Herman Li)
    Examples: Bradley Hall, Stevie T, Jared Dines, Herman Li

  2. An educational Social Media presence that includes offering Skype lessons (High difficulty, but seems to offer steady growth)
    Required Skills: Elite level guitar technique, marketing, videography, pedagogy
    Examples: Troy Grady, Rick Graham, Justin Hombach, Cesario Fhilo, Bernth(?) plenty of others

  3. Writing and licensing out a lot of various short pieces for shows and games (potentially lower difficulty, high volume and a bit of a crap shoot also - trying to get as many pieces out and licensed/registered to the DBs that get tapped by studios and hope you get lucky)

  4. Obviously more traditional ways exist - local music teacher, gigging (especially successful cover band folks), getting lucky/getting connected and your band blows up enough to support you.

Wondering if anyone here has any thoughts on approaches that make sense here, or any insight on just how difficult some of these are.

In my ideal world, I would like to manage to progress along with 2) - I have a number of ideas for how to go about that and have on paper a couple ways to get a head start. Would be very interesting to hear from anyone who has tried the digital teaching route and tried to develop a presence to help drive traffic for that.


Indirectly related: a friend of mine started a youtube channel about 5 years ago dedicated to horror movies, his passion. He has a little over 16 thousand followers now, which isn’t a ton of course, but he’s gotten to a level of relevance where he now gets some minor film stars on for interviews (like the lead actress in Terrifier 2) and gets advanced press screenings for some films.

He did this with zero technical know-how on video creation, and to this day his videos are all almost entirely single takes with no editing. He never had a video go viral or anything, either - the only “secret” was putting out a ridiculous amount of content, at least one video per day.

He doesn’t make a ton of money doing this yet, but it’s increasing, and his hope is to be able to quit his day job at some point and do this full-time. He got to where he is with genuine passion about the topic, great knowledge on the topic, and tons of content - I think if you have those elements in place, you can make something happen if you’re patient. For guitar, if you are a skilled teacher, with a similar amount of followers you could potentially make waaaaay more money via also using the channel to get online students.


I played in an agency cover band for awhile and it was decent side cash. We werent full time though; the full time cover bands make the more serious cash, but I think Id get bored doing it 4-5 times a week honestly. 2-3 shows a week was my sweet spot. It was a lot of work, driving, but alot of fun. Private parties and weddings are where it’s at. I’d love to start another band that doesnt gig as much and only does private parties or weddings, that way it is less hustle and more money. Easier said than done though. My other ideal musical side job is to do session work on the side. I honestly think the hardest part about this is the networking/marketing aspect and just getting your name out there. I always see new people on instagram popping up as producers and writing tracks for artists i’ve never heard of and Im just like, how did you two even get connected?! Youtube is cool but then you have to film everything and that gets so tedious for me. Interested to hear what other ideas people share here! To recap, studio work would eventually be my number one choice because you can do it from your own home

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Justin Hombach has I think 12k subs and indicated a while back when he was around 10k that he was working full time on teaching and seems to have a fairly nice set up. Some of his key features are he is very fast at learning new songs and transcribing them, he has a series of videos learning and transcribing difficult pieces in 24 hours. I think he did this with a couple Jason Richardson songs the day after they were released but directed to JRs site for the tabs since he sells them.

I’m guessing someone at Rick Graham’s level has made a killing over the years with hundreds of thousands of subs, Skype lessons, a dozen instructional dvds, clinics, guest solos etc.

It’d be interesting to see if Pareto’s Principle holds true here, or if not that 80/20, if there is some average percentage of followers/subs who will end up paying for content. If you amassed 10K subs, and just .5% of them turned into regular students, you’d have a full teaching schedule (you could even diminish time commitment/increase earnings per hour by having some sort of group class). Or selling instructional products… I know Claus Levin has a ridiculous amount of instructional vids for sale, and over 200K subs on youtube.

The most important first step is, in my opinion, just taking the first step. Gotta put out content regularly and find your angle that’ll make you stand out. And for all the chops Rick Graham has, Marty Schwartz has over ten times as many subs, so there are more important factors than sheer playing skill in making something lucrative.


That is why teachers teach and guitar players… well they have to teach now cause of the times? :smiley:

Maybe the angle is to just teach the easiest stuff for the masses, cause the shred stuff is likely a niche genre. You can even see it with gypsy jazz type stuff, the subs and views, it is just a labor of love at that point.

Basically any sort of material, be it super shred ridiculousness or cowboy chords, has already been covered a million times over. People subscribe, I imagine, primarily because of the youtuber’s personality. Stevie T, for example, is mostly a shredder sort of guy, but he acts like a complete goof and apparently people love it (he has millions of subscribers). Marty Schwartz is not a shredder at all, but I guess he seems nice and approachable, and millions of people like that. lol I dunno. Troy himself is kind of positioned as the scientist of technique, and has an intellectual sort of appeal.

Something has to make you stand out if you’re looking to find success at this sort of thing.

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just eat a ghost pepper then do some shred solo stuff that should get the ball rolling. :laughing:

by all means i know people read stuff like this taking it to heart but i am joking, that can probably be dangerous for your body depending on how well you can handle capsaicin

its just meant to kind of explain what people like to indulge their viewing habits too and how people will succumb to doing things that are pretty dangerous just to get subs/views, la beast springs to mind

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Agree with with a lot of what has been said here. It is (from when I was researching this), very, very very, difficult to make meaningful money from YouTube. Difficult in the sense that it is a highly saturated market meaning very few will succeed. Of the options @cmcgee11235 listed I would think option 4, traditional teaching would be the most viable in terms of predictable income generation.


The upside of YouTube is that it is easy to get started, and can probably be done by most people without any investment (use your phone to capture video, use free editing software, etc). If one gives it a shot and it catches on, fantastic, and if it doesn’t, no real harm’s been done.

As for traditional teaching, having done it myself for around 20 years - talk about oversaturation! It varies by area of course, but here on Long Island NY, there are probably around 9 gazillion people giving guitar lessons. Getting started when no one knows who you are is a nightmare.


Yeah teaching is viable, no doubt. That’s something I would only mess with if I had enough people knocking down my door I can be picky which would rely on a large presence online.

For some background in my personal situation - I’m a software dev at a well known tech company, so I’m thinking going the online presence route is my best bet. I can easily spin up complex websites and build or clone a host of tools like online metronomes, chord analyzers, Guitar Pro plugins etc and just host them on a site to help drive traffic, plus I know a fair amount about SEO and all that.

I have some teaching background and friends with professional video editing skills, and I’m totally fine with very slowly building a base over 10+ years while I continue my day job. This is something like a “semi-retire” early gambit so I have a stream of revenue doing something I’m more passionate about.


I seem to recall John Petrucci saying he like categorized licks into a filing cabinet or something like that, but I think this would be a cool idea to categorize phrases/fragments/arpeggio/sequences into a like phrase database to pull from depending on scale/arpeggio sound for help composing solos over a chord progression. Then as you say like add in them other things to it. Either make it pay or free, and then just add the ad stuff to it for revenue to keep it running. That would be what I would try to do as I could teach it, but I definitely couldn’t play all of it up to speed. :laughing:

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Teaching is cool and right now I have 1 student that I charge a decent hourly fee for once a week. I also drive to and from their house. I don’t think I’d enjoy teaching full time even though the pay is decent. I’d much prefer like 3-5 students as a nice little side income. Problem with teaching is, my student is a kid, so at any point he can just decide he doesn’t want to play guitar anymore and that can honestly happen with anyone.

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I was planning on getting kinda weird with it - I have multiple personas planned out, my buddy is pretty well versed in Blender and Maya and agreed to help make some over the top green screen videos.

I was gonna try and attack it from several angles as far as getting attention.

I’m a full-time musician. I do a lot random shit. The bulk of my money comes from teaching private lessons, but my home studio is pretty busy mixing and mastering for rock/metal bands. I also have a couple of music projects that make a bit of money here and there. I occasionally get to write music for other artists, or perform session work such as guitar solos, backing vocals, synth, piano, light orchestration, programming drums, etc etc.

I have a website and I’m active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter but most of my work comes from people hearing my own songs/productions and approaching me for their own projects. Lots of word-of-mouth.


Could I check out your site? I’m curious, when someone asks you to track a guitar solo on a song, how does that whole process work?

Yeah totally:

I have a home studio here so I can do everything without leaving the house. Generally when someone hires me for a solo it’s usually implied that I am going to write the solo and perform/edit it to the project’s standards. If someone wants me to learn a specific solo that they’ve tabbed out, I need to see it first to make sure that it’s a) playable and b) within my skill level. I’ll also ask to hear the song so I know what I’m getting into and their timeline. I’ll come up with a rate based on how many seconds of music they need. They pay 50% up front and I get to work

I’ll usually sit down for a short session or two to brainstorm ideas, record some scratch takes. This is usually done direct into the DAW with an amp sim, but it may be with a live amp if I’m not being lazy. When I feel like I’ve got something cool, I’ll usually send them a quick clip to make sure they don’t hate it, then I’ll record it for real. I may restring the guitar before recording the final takes if they’re more than a month old.

I have a couple amps here (Peavey 5150 Sig + Modded JCM800) so I’ll pick whichever one suits the vibe, throw in a boost pedal and run that through my load box + an impulse response to get a live amp tone. I’ll also record a dry DI signal at the same time. I’ll send the artist both. If they don’t like the tone then they can use the DI to dial in their own.

I get the final 50% payment before they get any isolated .wav files from me. Then I’ll post about it on social media when the song is out.


Thanks for the write up. Have you ever been asked to write a solo for a song and after you listened to the song, didn’t think you could do it?

Hmm, nah. The only time(s) I’ve rejected a solo performance is if appearing on the song would make me look bad. The song would have to be egregiously bad and/or the subject matter would have to be in favor of something I wouldn’t want to align myself with.

If times were espcially lean then I might take the gig but ask not to be credited


For what it’s worth, teaching has been my only source of income since I was 18 or so (am 38 now.) This was all local/in person until about 7 years ago when I started doing stuff online as well. It’s also been basically all working for myself rather than for a music school. For what it’s worth #2 I think full time teaching can be a viable income source if teaching independently, but the income cap is much lower teaching for a music school, but of course in the latter you just show up and teach and don’t have to worry about all the business and administrative stuff.

Things have worked out well for me, but I know that’s not often the case in this profession. It takes a lot of business savvy - - I would say that whatever path you go down, if you’re interested in income you want to be studying things like business, marketing, sales, writing good ‘copy’, etc, and whatever is related to the avenue (like YouTube) and not get too hung up on only considering guitar-related factors.