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29-Year-Old Takes Side Hustle Full-Time, Makes $175k a Year

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This Side Hustle Spotlight Q&A features 29-year-old Jason Nelson, who turned his wedding entertainment side hustle into full-time business The Essential Jason Nelson.

Image Credit: Michael Romeo Creations

What was your day job when you started your side hustle, and why were you interested in entrepreneurship?
When I started playing the saxophone and piano for weddings, private events and nightlife in 2019, I worked as an email marketing coordinator for a retail company in the New Jersey suburbs. I’ve always been extremely passionate about chasing happiness over money, so becoming an entrepreneur happened by coincidence when I discovered a way to combine my love for entertaining others with my love for mainstream party music.

Related: I Started a Semi-Passive Side Hustle That Earns $33,000 a Week on Amazon: ‘Selling There Is a No-Brainer

Happiness for me is the ability to wake up every day to do what I love and know that my work makes a difference in the lives of others. After all, being able to entertain over 200 wedding couples during the happiest day of their lives and hearing the phrase, “You were literally the life of the party. You made our wedding — we couldn’t imagine it without you,” truly humbles me and makes me want to entertain as many people as I can all over the world.

When did you start your side hustle, and where did you find the inspiration for it?
While I started my side hustle in March 2019, I’ve played the piano for more than 21 years and the alto saxophone for over 18 years. From an early age, I learned that I have a perfect pitch which has allowed me to play any song by ear.

When I attended Rutgers, I became obsessed with mainstream house music. During my free time in college, I enjoyed spending hundreds of hours mixing dance tracks in my DJ software program to make mixes for my friends to play at parties (and even DJ’ed for my friends at parties from time to time, too). Around 2015, I started an Instagram account where I posted short videos of popular songs on the piano and sax (The Chainsmokers, Post Malone, Blink-182, Fetty Wap, etc.) and eventually was hired by a friend’s sister to play cocktail hour piano at her wedding. She also had me play along with the DJ for her intro to her reception, and I ended up staying the entire wedding.

What were some of the first steps you took to get your side hustle off the ground?
I was so attracted to the adrenaline rush from my first wedding that I became obsessed with replicating the feeling. I contacted several entertainment companies in the New Jersey/New York area and quickly started getting booked to play at events. Above any compliments I received about my musical talents on the sax and piano, I kept hearing the word “energy.” “Oh my God, you literally have so much energy” and “You’re literally the life of the party” were two phrases I heard over and over again, so I realized that my passion for entertaining others far outweighed any passion I’ve ever had for music.

Related: This Gen Zer’s Stylish Side Hustle Earns About $20,000 a Month and Paid Off His Parents’ $200,000 Debt: ‘I Enjoy the Hands-Off Nature’

While playing several events each weekend, I focused on building relationships with different vendors in my industry, including DJs, event planners, photographers, videographers and other entertainers. I also continued gathering content (both photo and video) from my events to grow my Instagram and TikTok accounts, where at least 50% of my event leads now come from. I’m so fortunate to be able to post content from weddings and other events and have the opportunity to reach virtually anyone across the entire world, which has led me to travel for incredible destination events in places like Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, and later this year, Aruba and Dubai.

@essentialjasonnelson Wedding guest energy was off the charts at this one ?? #weddings #destinationweddings #rosecliffmansion #rosecliffmansionwedding #theknot #weddingwire #bridetobe ♬ original sound – THE ESSENTIAL JASON NELSON

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while building your side hustle, and how did you navigate them?
I wanted to leave my 9-5 marketing job at the start of 2020, but once the pandemic hit in March, I lost practically all of my event bookings lined up for the rest of the year. However, I was so fortunate to still have a paycheck and work from home when most full-time event industry professionals were shut down. I remained patient and continued to grow my side hustle by networking virtually, posting content and working on the administrative part of my business because I knew it was only a matter of time before events came back. Sure enough, we saw a surge of events being played (including weddings) in 2021, and I knew I made the right decision to leave the 9-5 world.

Since the majority of my event bookings are operated through my LLC (I don’t have an agent or any employees), a few years ago, when I started receiving an increase in demand for myself at events, there was a period when I was overwhelmed with how manual the booking process was (scheduling calls, sending contracts and invoices, etc.). However, I started automating my booking process in 2022 using HoneyBook, which I now use to automate the process from a client inquiry through booking. I have so much more free time to devote to innovating my entertainment style in the ever-changing industry and can focus on getting myself physically ready to be on my feet and bring energy to the dance floor for many hours each weekend.

Related: I Was a 25-Year-Old Nurse When I Started a Side Hustle to Combat Anxiety. It Made $1 Million in 7 Months — Then Sold for a Life-Changing Amount.

How long did it take you to see consistent monthly revenue? How much did the side hustle earn?
Within the first year of launching my side hustle, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to play the sax at Angelina Pivarnick of Jersey Shore‘s wedding and the grand opening party for The Edge NYC. Events like these so early on in my career gave me the confidence to want to take my side hustle full-time. I was on track to earn between $45,000 and $50,000 in 2020, and at the time, my goal was to find a way to replace my email marketing income.

You’ve since turned the side hustle into a full-time business. What does total revenue look like now?
I currently earn between $150,000 and $175,000 a year playing events and was fortunate to make $176,000 in 2023.

What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
Being able to share my love of entertaining others through joyful celebrations is what I love most about owning my own business. I also love the ability to set my own schedule and decide when I want to work and when I want to take time off for myself. I’m so thankful that I have full control over my business and continue to strive to find the perfect balance between my career and my personal life.

Related: 4 Simple Mistakes That Can Crush Your Creative Side Hustle, From an Expert Who Raised $45 Million to Support Independent Workers

What’s your advice for others hoping to start successful side hustles of their own?
Ask yourself the question, If money didn’t exist, what would you do? I never feel like I’m working because I love what I do. While it may be frustrating to not see an immediate ROI with customers and sales, continue to build your business based on what you’d do if money didn’t exist so you can continue to have fun along the way and not get lost in why you started the business in the first place. Always be prepared, show up on time, strive to work well with others and be able to adapt to any and all situations.

Find your strengths and triple down on them. What sets you apart from everybody else?

Also, use social media to your advantage, especially since it’s absolutely free to post! You never know what might happen by being unafraid to share your story with the world. Be yourself, and I promise you, there will be someone who will resonate with you and your story.



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