The biggest challenge for the struggling or unestablished musician is figuring out how to fund your travels to different venues.
You may do a show in Oklahoma City one weekend and need to be in Denver, Colorado a week later. Not only must you have a reliable vehicle, you must also have money for gas and food, and motels if you don’t wish to sleep in the car or minivan. You do not want to gain a bad reputation by being scheduled and not appear as promised.
Fuel while traveling can be an astronomical expense, one that prevents many unestablished musicians from establishing a following by playing at various venues around the country.
What can you do when your credit cards are maxed out and no one will loan you money?
Make your own money while on the road and get paid in cash.
Selling at flea markets and swap meets is an excellent way to do that.
I am a professional vendor who earns thousands of dollars each month just working a few hours on weekends, selling at flea markets and swap meets. I earn a full-time income in less than 15 hours per week.
I am also a singer/songwriter/musician on the side.
You can put cash in your pocket in a couple different ways:
1. Sell your own CDs. Play them on a boombox so people may sample your music. Play along with it for tips. Everyone enjoys live music, including the other vendors around you. Just be sure to keep the volume at a reasonable level. The other vendors still need to be able to communicate with their customers.
2. Sell small lightweight items such as jewelry, music CD’s by other artists, DVD movies, etc. These can be purchased at low wholesale prices from wholesale distributors and import companies, allowing you to mark the price up a bit to make a healthy profit, and they do not take up a lot of room in your vehicle.
Many vendors drive full-size cargo vans and pull enclosed trailers, allowing them the storage space for tables, a chair, merchandise, awnings for protection from the sun and the other items they need to conduct business at flea markets and swap meets, festivals, bazaars, etc.
Many retired folks live in recreational vehicles and sell at flea markets, allowing them to go north in the summer and south every winter. It’s great way to enjoy life, and couples can set up a space for each person, doubling the amount of money they can earn on a weekend.
If you have several members in your group, such as a guitarist, drummer, bassist, singer, sound tech, etc., each member of the group could set up in their own space selling different types of items. If they each only make $150 a day in profit after expenses, the total profit earned could easily exceed $1,000 per weekend.
In cash. Accept personal checks and credit cards only if you wish to. It’s up to you. (Many flea markets have an ATM machine in the office when buyers run short on cash.)
Space rent at flea markets is very affordable, beginning from $5 per space per day. The average space rent is around $10 – $25 per day. Larger flea markets will bring in more than 20,000 buyers every day, so the exposure can be quite good.
Arts and crafts festivals are also very popular with the ‘moneyed’ crowd, and may run for four or five days straight. But space rent for the entire show may be a bit on the expensive side, running as much as $1,500 or more. Keep in mind that it may be worth your while as arts and crafts festivals can draw huge crowds of eager buyers, often more than 100,000 people during the week, greatly increasing your exposure.
I have seen everyone from classical and jazz violinists and guitarists to ten-person steel drum bands playing and selling their CDs at arts and crafts festivals.
If you are selling at a flea market in the same city where you will be appearing that night, be sure to print flyers or cards to hand out to everyone. After hearing you play at the flea market, that alone could mean a packed house for your set.
Selling your CD’s at flea markets and festivals will also allow you to create your own mail order business. Always include an advertisement about your other CD’s with every sale. It should have an order form they can fill out and mail (you can also get your own toll-free phone number for ordering).
Also, begin building your own email list. Begin collecting the first names and email addresses of everyone interested in your music.
Once you have their email address you’ll be able to stay in touch by email. Once or twice a month send them an email letting them know about your latest music, where you will be playing and the dates when you go on tour, etc. It’s important to stay in touch so they remember your name. Who knows? One of them might know somebody, who knows somebody in the business, you know how that could go.
If you haven’t yet done so, you should create an online presence. Create a fan website about you and your band, let people learn more about you, find out the latest, where you are, where you’re going next, etc.
When you tour, be sure to hit those cities and towns where you previously sold CDs at the flea markets or festivals. People will already know your music and will want to hear more, especially live.
Consider developing a ‘circuit’ of venues and flea markets. Just doing the circuit once a year can provide an incredible boost to your fan base, and there’s nothing like returning to a crowd of adoring and eager-to-buy fans.
Flea markets and swap meets can actually get you some much needed exposure, especially with the crowd that doesn’t normally hit the clubs and coffee shops. It’s a method that most musicians completely overlook.
Tip: To make your space look nicer, bring a nice Persian-style rug to spread out. Few vendors do that. It will make your space look much more appealing to the eye, it will draw attention to you and it will set your space apart from the crowd, potentially increasing your income and exposure.
You can make a very respectable income while traveling by selling at flea markets and swap meets as a sideline to your music career. I am a professional vendor and most-often sell only at flea markets and swap meets.
I travel coast to coast, on the road 24/7/365 because I like ‘life on the road’. I buy brand new merchandise from wholesale companies and sell them at flea markets, doubling and tripling my investment, and getting paid in cash, too.
If you have something to sell, you can literally work your way across the country any time you want, allowing you to make those larger venues and establish a solid music career.