File Under: Making Money From Music

We've all heard of putting your money to work for you, but what if there were a way for you to make your gear work for you when you're not using it? That's now possible thanks to an innovative service called Sparkplug which bills itself as the Airbnb of gear.

SparkPlug is a gear and studio space matching and renting service for musicians. It connects a large inventory of gear musicians put up for rent with musicians seeking specific gear -- either for touring purposes, so they don't have to transport it, or specific recording needs.

In short, if you're a musician looking to rent something for your music -- say some lighting or PA equipment in a particular city -- you'd search the site for the item at a price you're comfortable with, and rent it. Just contact the owner through the site, reserve it for the dates you need, and arrange a delivery or a pick up or drop off. Sparkplug acts as the conduit handling the payment transaction and holds a security deposit. Once you're done with the equipment, you return it by the end date, rate each other (think eBay's ratings/trust system), and the transaction is complete.

Putting your gear to work for you can add up. For instance, musicians in Austin who rent equipment during SXSW earn on average $700 during that week alone. While this may be a unique example, if you have music festivals in your city, making your equipment available to rent may be lucrative.

There are at least three ways you can put money in your pocket with Sparkplug:

1. Make Money Renting Your Gear or Studio/Rehearsal Space.

If you're comfortable renting out your gear, Sparkplug makes it easy to set up an account and list it. It's free to join and list your items, and the fee only occurs when someone rents your gear. This is currently 12% of the transaction which the renter pays, plus transaction costs totaling approximately 4% which comes out of your share as the owner. Plus, the site charges the renter a 30% deposit of the value of the gear in case there's any damage or loss that is returned if the item comes back safely.

Sparkplug also gives you a lot of flexibility in the terms. For instance, you can set the price and duration of the rental -- per hour, week, or month -- to whatever you think is appropriate. If you want to offer delivery to your renters, you can set a fee and the delivery radius you're willing to travel to transport the gear. You can also charge fees for optional services such as changing strings, providing extra cables, tuning, and so on. You can even create custom quotes for one-off rentals. But this service is not just for music gear: if you have studio or rehearsal space, you can rent it out when you're not using it. Creating a listing requires just a few minutes to enter the information, create a catchy and accurate description, post photo(s), and list payment information.

2. Save Money By Renting The Gear You Need To Perform When Touring.

If you're a touring musician and play live you may be able to avoid the need to transpor amps, PA equipment, stage lighting, or other gear by renting what you need in the places you're touring ahead of time. Doing so requires some pre-planning, but it could be worth it, especially if you tour overseas since you could leave your heavier gear safely behind.

3. Save Money By Renting The Gear You Need When Recording.

If you're recording and know the one piece of gear that would really put your song over the top, you can browse the site for that classic, exotic, or vintage instrument you need rather than shelling out the money to purchase it. Unfortunately, the service didn't exist when members of our own band insisted we needed to buy a Talk Box (an effect that allowed our guitarist to make his guitar "talk" by adjusting the frequency of the sound via a plastic tube in his mouth) for a particular song on our When I Was Your Age album. We bought the device for the song and haven't used it since.

As with any sharing/renting service, there's always a possibility of your equipment getting dinged or scratched up so you'll need to decide which equipment you'll want to make available. Also, since you're dealing with the public, there's a customer service aspect you need to bring to this as well. Since there's a rating system, you'll want to make sure your customer is pleased with the entire experience -- this includes the collection or delivery process, how responsive you are, and the condition of the equipment you're renting.

Also, note the service was founded in 2014 and is not necessarily in every market. They're currently in the US; Europe in the UK, Hungary, and Eurozone; Australia; New Zealand; and Canada. And they are expanding as more musicians discover the service. If there's equipment you need that's not yet listed, the site has a button that allows you to notify them and Sparkplug will do its best to locate what you're looking for and add it to the site. They do this primarily by working with local rental services.

As we've discussed many times at The DIY Advisor, The Indie Band Survival Guide, and our Making Money With Music course, the most successful musicians today have multiple income streams. Sparkplug has unlocked one more stream for you. Plus you may even get a great story out of it like the Sparkplug member who rented her Nord keyboard and saw it on The Today Show.


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Photo credit: Larry Ziffle