Moses Lin never thought he’d make any money as a musician. Once, early in his career in 2016, he played a coffee shop for three hours and got $3 in tips.
“I was so discouraged, I literally went home and cried,” Lin says. “I was like, I’m never going to make a living performing music. This is never going to work out. And I almost just threw it all away.”
By 2021, though, Lin was working full-time as a destination wedding guitarist. He played around 40 to 50 weddings that year and brought in about $175,000 before tips. His work takes him to all corners of the U.S., from New York to Hawaii and even Cancun, Mexico. The best part: playing weddings “doesn’t even feel like work. “We’re just partying.”
Lin has invested most of his wedding income in the last two years into real estate. He’s currently the landlord of four properties in Little Rock, Arkansas. He also bought his own home in Anaheim, California, this spring.
In 2021, he brought in $42,000 in rental income and $28,000 in other income. Here’s how Lin went from college dropout to wedding guitarist, real estate investor, and homeowner, bringing in $245,000 a year.
A college dropout gets a call from Disney.
Lin grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. He spent a lot of his childhood at church, where his dad was the pastor and his mom was the pianist. He began playing the piano when he was three, and by the time he was in high school, he was also playing the guitar. Lin joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2011 to pay for college. He earned a spot in the Marine Corps band by playing guitar.
Lin says, “My parents didn’t have any money for college.” “I knew that if I went to college and did things the normal way, I’d end up owing a lot of money. I didn’t want my life to start out that way.”
Lin went to the Vanguard University of Southern California after his service ended in 2014. He made a YouTube channel and posted acoustic versions of popular songs. He also started giving guitar lessons for money. In the spring of 2017, Lin was in his senior year and had just one semester left. He decided to quit school and try to make a living from music full-time.
He gave himself the summer to make more YouTube videos, teach more students, and play more gigs. Even though the money wasn’t always stable and he sometimes had to rely on unemployment insurance and food stamps, Lin was happy with how he spent his time. I knew that if I went to college and did things the normal way, I’d end up owing a lot of money. I didn’t want my life to start out that way.
At the end of the summer, Disney gave him a call. They had seen his videos on YouTube and wanted to hire him to play in the hotels and restaurants at Disneyland. Lin got the job and decided that he would never go back to school.
Moses Lin plays the guitar at Downtown Disney.
Moses Lin dropped out of college, and it took a while for a Disney employee to find his YouTube channel and ask him to play in their parks. Lin played at his first wedding in June 2017 as a favor for a friend. He was hooked right away.
He says, “I went there, and it was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.” “Everyone at a wedding is drunk and having the time of their lives. It’s really amazing.” Lin decided to try it again and make money from it. He charged $250 for his first wedding gig, which was “ridiculously cheap” in retrospect because he based it on the going rate for restaurant gigs.
When he asked another wedding musician how much they got paid to play during the cocktail hour, and they said $1,200, he realised he had made a mistake. “When I got home, I doubled my prices and started getting more bookings right away.” Even after he raised his prices, clients kept coming to him.
Moses Lin plays for the crowd at a wedding.
Moses Lin’s first gig as a wedding guitarist was at the wedding of a friend. Lin now charges between $4,000 and $6,000 per wedding, depending on when the couple wants him to play. His clients pay for his travel costs and usually give him between $50 and $100 in tips. Lin also pays his assistant about $250 per performance to film it for social media.
He says that a common mistake about making a living with music is that you have to put songs on Spotify or book shows at venues. “But that isn’t how money is made. Weddings are the big secret. There is where people buy music.”
How he spends his money
In June 2022, Lin did the following with his money: Housing: $4,980, which includes $4,755 for his 3-bedroom house’s mortgage and $225 for utilities.
$1,000 to spend on home repairs, shopping, and hobbies. Food: $398. Lin spends about $800 a month on food, but about half of that is on business meals with clients or networking, which he can write off.
Gas: $223. Lin counts the monthly payment on his car as a business expense, but he pays for the gasoline himself. Home and car insurance cost $154 a year. The VA gives him free health insurance. Phone: $50 Lin put down about $30,000 when he bought his main home in Anaheim in the spring of 2022. He paid $900,000 for it and moved in.
He says that he is “very careful” with his money and works hard to keep his personal, music, and real estate money separate. Lin’s budget is pretty simple and includes housing, utilities, gasoline, insurance, and phone bills. In June, he spent about $1,400 on food and entertainment. He kept track of how much he spent with an app called Dollarbird.
Lin doesn’t have any savings, investment accounts, or retirement funds of his own. During the pandemic dip in early 2020, he got scared and took out all of the money he had saved, which cost him fees and made him miss out on market swings. He is also worried about digital currencies. Instead, he puts the roughly $10,000 a month he makes from weddings into an account that will be used to buy another investment property. Lin thinks that real estate makes up about 80% to 90% of his net worth.
Lin became interested in real estate investing in 2014 and bought his first property in May 2020 as a “pandemic pivot” when COVID restrictions slowed his wedding gigs. He did some research and decided on Little Rock, a secondary market with a lot of potential: “The rents are good and the property values are low, so there’s a lot of cash flow to be made.”
Lin looked online and found a 4-bedroom house for $120,000. She put down 20% plus $10,000 to fix it up. Including closing costs and other fees, Lin spent about $40,000 on his first home in Little Rock. He paid for it with the money he made from his wedding. He put the house up for rent for $1,425 per month and found a tenant right away. He had so much fun that he decided to buy another house before the end of the year.
Lin owns four homes in Little Rock that he rents out. He bought them without ever seeing them and fixed them up. He went to see them for the first time in May, when he booked a wedding in the area. Lin’s rental properties didn’t make him any money in 2021, but he’s in it for the long haul.
Lin pays someone to take care of things on the ground, “so I can put all of my attention on weddings and music, and real estate is just a side job that brings in money. My main plan for my business is to make money from weddings, put that money into real estate, and let that grow on its own.”
Lin wants to buy about two homes every year. Before he starts using Zillow, he saves up $50,000 to $60,000 for the initial costs. “Otherwise, you get FOMO,” he says. “You look at a house and think it would be perfect, but you can’t buy it. You don’t want to be in a place where you’re investing too much.” He has about $30,000 saved for his next property, but he is waiting to see how the economy does before making any moves.
Millionaire by 30
Lin’s next big goal is to have a net worth of $1 million by the time he’s 30. His end game in real estate is to get to the point where the passive income from his rentals pays for all his bills. He figures that at his current pace, he will reach that goal in the next three to four years. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re overstretching yourself to invest.
Then, Lin says he’ll use all his wedding earnings to fund his lifestyle. He eventually wants to hit $200,000 in wedding income in a year. “There are hundreds and hundreds—in some cases, millions — of weddings every year, and there are billions of dollars spent in this industry,” he says. “There’s so much money for me to take out.”
He also hopes to go international: “I’d love to do a wedding in Italy or Greece.” Moses Lin plays the guitar during a wedding ceremony. Moses Lin is invested in growing his wedding guitarist clientele. He hopes to break $200,000 in bookings within a year and even play abroad. Lin has no plans to return to college.
“There has never been a moment where I regretted dropping out of college,” he says. “It is by far the best move I’ve ever made in my entire life.”