Four Figures a Day: The Life of an Educational Performer

Yes, you actually can make $1,000-2,500 a day doing educational performances in schools, museums, libraries, and arts centers.


I do it dozens of times each year.

But to earn that kind of money from performing, you really need to be four figures a day – and sometimes all at once.

how to make money with musicI’ll see if I can explain.

(NOTE: for discussion on why it might be important to earn this much as a self-employed artist, please see the article How Much Should I Charge? Three Pricing Strategies for Performers.)

Figure #1 – Educator

how to make good money in music

The Educator

It goes without saying that to be an educational performer, you’ll need some educational content to share with your audiences.

There are zillions of different ways to do that.

As mentioned in the article Educate Your Audience and Write Your Ticket, it’s best to take some things you’re already passionate about (separate from your artform) and build your material from there.

Some Examples

I took a quick look through an online catalog of arts-in-education performers recently, and found people combining their artforms with educational content in each of the following ways:

how to make a great living in the artsAs varied as that list seems, it’s really just scratching the surface. There are an almost infinite number of ways to integrate useful information with your performances.

Truly, the sky is the limit.

Combine what you love to do (music, dance, storytelling, etc.) with what you truly care about (history, wellness, science, mother earth, engineering, etc.) and you’re off to the races.

advice for musiciansIf this concept is new to you, head over to the DCMO BOCES Arts-in-Ed Catalog where you’ll find descriptions of each of the programs mentioned above, and dozens more, along with information on what people are charging for such performances.

Figure #2 – Entertainer

how to make money in music

The Entertainer

This may be the part you’re most comfortable with already, although that certainly wasn’t the case for me.

I spent years staring at my shoes on stage before I started figuring out how to interact with an audience.

Here’s what I’ve learned in this department (so far):

Make it fun – get the audience involved – make the education part painless.

how to make money as a performing artistDo that, and you’ve created a monster.


Because you are now that rare breed that can deliver messages, ideas, and learning in a user-friendly way.

You’re the sugar that makes the medicine go down.

How valuable is that? Very.

advice for musiciansIf the “Entertainer” figure doesn’t come naturally to you, you can learn it the same way I did (and still am) – go out and do it, over and over again. Trial and error, repetition, and learning from mistakes – that’s the shortcut. (The long way is to stare at your shoes.) Watch other performers do this work too – – invaluable!

Figure #3 – Entrepreneur

how to be an educational performer

The Entrepreneur

OK, so your show is engaging and fun, and you’re delivering great (or at least some) educational value when you perform.


Now, who’s going to hire you?

That’s where the “Entrepreneur” comes in, and unless you have a booking agent, guess what?

You’re it.

How are you going to promote yourself? What advertising mediums will you use? How often?

How much do you charge for a performance?

How does your show dovetail with the needs of the marketplace? What other markets might be interested in what you’re doing?

artist as entrepreneurWho are the people most likely to book you, and why? How do you give them exactly what they need?

How can you encourage repeat bookings?

This is the work of the entrepreneur, and he/she will make or break your opportunities for more and better-paying work.

advice for musiciansThe Educate and Entertain blog is full of articles, tips, and ideas to help you succeed as an entrepreneurial artist. You can subscribe right here, for free.

Figure #4 – Customer Service Rep

how to make a living with your artform

The Customer Service Rep


The first three figures will get you some good-paying gigs, for sure.

Skip this fourth figure though, and you’re almost guaranteed to sputter and fail over time.

It is delighted customers, repeat gigs, and referrals that keep our worlds turning as performers, and all of that can be accomplished by being great to work with.

how to make money as a musicianThink of it this way

I’ll bet the last time a vendor exceeded your expectations, you told somebody else about them. In fact, you probably still have a good feeling about the experience to this day, right?

When someone overdelivers, or at least makes things really easy for us, we notice.

Aiming to do that as often as possible is a great strategy.

customer service in the arts fieldHow do we overdeliver?

Here’s roughly what it looks like:

  • timely communications – the quicker, the better
  • easy to work with – friendly, accommodating
  • flexible at the gig – making it as frictionless as possible
  • always thinking of their needs along with your own – duh!
  • showing up on time – DUH!

advice for musiciansWhen you hire a plumber or a contractor to do some work on your bathroom, what kind of interaction do you hope to have with them? What would make you thrilled with the experience? Take your answer to that second question and do that for your clients.

Wrapping Up

Where’s the artist?

You may have noticed that “the artist” wasn’t even included on the list of essential figures. That part’s a given, and our artform is truly the “hook” that makes everything else work.

how to make money as a musicianBut unless you’re Baryshnikov, or Pavarotti, relying on your artform alone might not be enough to provide the kind of living you need.

That’s where the educator, the entertainer, the entrepreneur, and the customer service rep come in.

I’d love to hear what you think – please leave me a note in the Comments section below.

About The Blog

The Largest Online Gathering of K-5 Classrooms for Connected Educator MonthSince leaving a white-collar marketing job in 1992, Dave Ruch has been educating and entertaining full-time in schools, historical societies and museums, folk music and concert venues, libraries, and online via distance learning programs.

Along the way, he’s learned a great deal about supporting a family of four as a musician.

The Educate and Entertain blog provides articles, tips, encouragements, and how-to’s for regional performers (in any region) interested in making a great full-time living in the arts.

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25 Responses to Four Figures a Day: The Life of an Educational Performer

  1. Thank you so much for the DCMO BOCES Arts-in-Ed Catalog. What a fantastic resource! I am finding that every single blog post from you has so much useful info and value. Can I ask you for your thoughts? I teach chair yoga dance and have a YouTube channel called Dance Along Gal that I started during the lockdown. It’s geared towards seniors, but as a former elementary teacher, I would LOVE to take my dances into the classroom via potential grant opportunities. I know of a teacher in Spain that took chair yoga dance into her classroom and the kids loved it. Students would learn the and perform the dances in their chairs in the classroom. Would something like this be taken seriously by grantors? I am thinking I would definitely tie in grade level curriculum in history/social studies/PE…something along the lines of Popular Songs by Canadian Artists with Historical and Cultural Significance. My dances would be choreographed to songs like Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell sparking environmental awareness/ land clearing and logging or This Land is Your Land by The Travellers. Am I on the right track? Thanks, Dave!

    • Hi Lisette – I like the way you’re thinking! Too many questions and too much to cover here, but I do offer coaching calls where we can put a solid plan and roadmap together for you to pursue this. If that is of interest, feel free to message me privately and I’ll send you the application and fee info.

  2. Very interesting and encouraging – Just what I need to start doing and your advice is really helpful

  3. Dave – this is a GREAT Article guiding artists to think about all that goes into creating a viable career that enriches our own lives and others’ lives. Bringing together our art and a passion for a particular subject is a WIN-WIN.

    Great content – lots of good things to think about and accomplish.

    Thanks SO much!

  4. This is a good one, Dave,.. not that your others aren’t! But this article has convinced me to look deeper into educational performing. I’m averaging $150-350 per performance in restaurants, brew pubs, wineries, senior communities, etc. and feel I’ve plateaued. Performing in schools and museums and the potential “raise” in income (not to mention the satisfaction of sharing information about subjects that interest me) sounds like something worth stepping out of my comfort zone for. I’m already doing it in a way… at my shows, I often mention the the year the song was recorded, other artists that may have recorded it, the peak chart position, and other tidbits. So I’m thinking I’m not too far away from creating an “American History of Popular Song” educational show. Is this too broad a topic? Would it need to be more specific? I appreciate any thoughts you have.

    • Howdy Tom – that kind of topic might work for the occasional library gig. For the better paying stuff, I think you’re going to want to have a non-music topic that you combine with your music. The articles here and here would be great places to start.

  5. Hey Dave,

    Thank you so much for this advice blog. I am just starting a children’s theatre company and we want to perform in libraries, schools etc, so this blog has been SO helpful for us as we try and figure out what in the world we are doing. Question- do you have a specific kind of performers insurance? We are starting to run into a few venues saying they want us to have our own liability insurance, but we aren’t sure where to start with that or how to go about getting insurance specifically for performing. Any thoughts?

    • Hey Lauren – yes, this has been coming up a bit more often in my world as well. Mostly I’ve been able to work around it, and I’ve discovered that many of the places that say they need the performer to carry the policy will make an exception if they really want you. But there ARE companies out there that sell a single-day policy specifically for entertainers, and it can be very affordable. Sorry I don’t have any company names off the top of my head, but a quick internet search should turn up some ideas for you

  6. Dave, do you send out ‘thank you’ emails to those who hire you? Leave them your card? Follow up in any way?

  7. Dave, thanks so much for sharing your insights. I’ve been working [and often struggling,] as a storyteller for many years. The kind of information you are providing is helping me to become a viable resource for the community, Using what I know and love to educate while performing is profound…Thanks! Saundra

  8. Brilliant article. Just the advice I need for my inspire with music seminar that I am working on.

      • Thanks for the reply Dave, It’s basically a “Motivate with Music” seminar and I’m aiming for the labour force of the corporate market, What makes it different is I will be using live recorded loops on top of each other to build and demonstrate synergy and teamwork that relates to their business model and culture. I would also like to make it suitable it for personal empowerment and even take it to schools. I’m just sorting out the branding and logo, plus website and I need to shoot a show-reel to help promote it. Exciting and scary all at once.

  9. Thanks again Dave! Your blog post ALWAYS a bright spot on Mondays for me.

    For the past several years, I’ve considered myself an entertainer that happens to sing / play guitar/uke/dulcimer.

    You’ve managed to help me separate the entertainer / promoter / businessperson & look at how that all should work together. Plus … I’m working to put a platform together to educate also.

    Lord willing, I’ll have some schools, museums, libraries set up to play for in the fall …

  10. Hey Dave,
    This one caught my attention. The subject didn’t hurt 😉 you make a lot of great points about spectrum of work that’s out there. Good food for thought. Thx!

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