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How can musicians build their career & make money in this fast paced industry?

Updated: Mar 17

A glimpse in the life of a musicians portfolio career.

Lisa Wilson | March 3, 2023


"Working in the music industry has many exciting aspects: it’s incredibly diverse, it requires ongoing skills development, wearing multiple hats, and it’s often seen as a non-traditional form of employment. However, interestingly enough, this type of ‘portfolio career’ is not only applicable to the music industry. It’s widespread, and following the latest research, it’s definitely on the rise."

(Beentjes, 2021)

Today, there are many struggling musician's and artists all over the world trying to get recognition and make a profit from their music. Everyday, there is about 100,000 new songs being uploaded to major streaming platforms, no wonder its hard to make it in this industry when there is so much music released daily, its next to impossible to be noticed in the pile of emerging artists. In this interview, I discuss and share the many ways musicians can make a living as a portfolio careerist and the skills needed as an independent artist.

Here's a video by Multiplier talking about the many ways you can earn money as a Music Producer.

Interview with a slasher

I met and interviewed entrepreneur, composer, guitarist, cellist, bassist, and pianist; Ilja John Lappin. To talk about his experience in the music industry and the many ways he make's a living, in a city where almost everyone is an artist.

Ilja is a multiskilled musician from Finland based in Berlin with an extensive education in music and arts. Mainly, his education in music was based around jazz and pop, but found himself always directed towards rock and progressive metal music. After His Bachelors he worked as a music teacher, playing bass and guitar in top 40 cover bands in Hannover. In 2020, he moved to Berlin and continued with his progressive metal band, "The Hirsch Effect", in which is still actively touring. They have released 5 albums, all on vinyl (releasing their sixth album in the fall of 2023) and plan two major tours in Germany a year. Ilja is the bassist and singer in the band. Having multiple streams of income through alternative professions, allows him to do what he loves while not letting his talent go to waste, this is why the term 'slasher' fits his persona.

Not only is he in a touring band but he is also a songwriter and cellist for "The Dark Tenor", a pop/rock meets classical act from Germany created in the Corona era by Billy Andrews. Ilja goes on tour around the world with Andrews where ever he's booked. This is a great gig for him as he gets paid and travels. In the music field as a freelance musician or artist, "regular" jobs are rare to find. You must be creative and versatile.

A music video by "The Dark Tenor", a musician Ilja John Lappin plays cello for.

Portfolio career

Ilja has written songs for other musicians and comedians, but mainly writes for The Dark Tenor and The Hirsch Effect. He recently began his new solo project as PINHEAD, now new music on all platforms. He has a full album to release but with the fast paced times we live in most of the album tracks will be released as singles, as there is a massive audience that wont engage with his work if its uploaded all at once versus the album format releases that it used to be 10-20 years ago.

Now a days, it seems to be wiser to release singles no matter the genre as so many people have short attention spans with the instant gratification everyone is subject to. To get noticed, artists have to create a lot of content on social media, and much of the work themselves whether its writing lyrics for the videos, posting video clips daily, cover art, the story behind the music, and constant promotion. Which Ilja feels, can take the artist away from the music and more into their personal lives, where the focus is all about getting noticed. Losing the significance and brilliance of dropping an album or an EP, now more than ever, it seems to be about being seen by as many people as possible on Instagram.

Iljas latest solo project, PINHEAD, and first single release of the album.

He has released 3 other solo albums each in the league of their own. With his solo projects, he alone does all the marketing, posting on Instagram, live chats with fans, and responding to comments in order to drive the algorithm (something he is not a fan of) towards gaining more plays and people listening. If you expect to thrive and survive, you need to have multiple skills. The more skills you have and the knowledge of them, the better chance you have to stand out from the competition. If you are just beginning your career, there are many aspects you must consider and do by yourself to get the gigs and the audience.

As a freelance independent Musician/artist, you are your own:

  • Booking Agent

  • Music Agent

  • PR Manager

  • Tour Manager

  • Business Manager

  • Social Media Manager

  • Promoter

exceeding expectation

Ilja has also recorded and produced his own bass sample pack with the Kemper bass amp, which he sells on his website.

With the massive competition in this industry, selling this pack has been tough being that its not on any big sample pack distributing platforms. The times for real bass sounds are changing and less favored as we are moving into the digital age where most music is made in DAW's. Almost all of them already include bass sounds in the stock folders or plug-ins, and with the popularity of electronic music, it has been difficult to find related jobs for his talent. Ilja states there is not many bassist's making a living by just being a bassist, as its not so requested anymore. The power of sampling and looping bass riffs are much more favored than hiring the real thing.

"As a musician, you always have to have a different main thing going on..."

This is where the term 'slasher' fits his persona. Which started as a joke, he created another stream of income parallel to his music career and started his own hot sauce brand. During the lockdown, Ilja developed his amazing and delicious (Yes, I've tried it!),"Slappin' Lappin - Brutal Hot Sauce", he thought it would be a great item to sell on tour as merchandise. Being a chili lover all his life, he was named "the hot sauce guy" on the road with his band mates, as he always brought hot sauce with him. The pandemic gave him the time he needed to finally create his idea and bring it to reality. And it worked! It sold really well, and because people are asking for more and showing a deep interest in his product he is now developing a second sauce. You can find his hot sauce in select bars in Berlin, at the merchandise stand at his shows and on his website.

Ilja and I, after the interview.

Ilja's advice:

  • Network, network, network

  • Set goals and take action

  • Be easily adaptable

  • Take risk's

  • Be good with people

  • know your audience

  • Master multiple skills

  • Be yourself!

There you have it musicians, as you can see, there are a plethora of avenues in which you can make your living! In reality, this is a tough business, but thankfully there are many different options to choose from and create, paired with ambition, confidence, knowledge and skills so you can continue working on your own projects without sinking your ship. In other words, get creative and grow your portfolio, it opens a lot of doors for opportunity.

Follow him at:


@pxnhead - PINHEAD project

@thehirscheffekt - The Hirsch Effekt

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