Small Business License

October 18, 2016 at 03:21 PM · My daughter played a couple of gigs last year. She paid income tax. The city of San Diego contacted her and demands she buy a business license for last year and pay a fine. The lady at the tax office would not tell the min. hours before she was required to buy the license. She only would ask "how many hours did you work". She only demanded payment. How would one find out the amount of hours before one would have to buy a license? I could not find it on google. Thanks in advance. TM.

Replies (9)

October 18, 2016 at 03:52 PM · As far as I know, business licensing is specific to a municipality.

The nature of the gigs will change the licensing requirements. Is she contracting for a per-service orchestra? Playing weddings? Playing in a band at a bar? Playing at an outdoor music festival? Etc.

October 18, 2016 at 04:21 PM · "The city of San Diego contacted her and demands she buy a business license for last year and pay a fine. The lady at the tax office would not tell the min. hours before she was required to buy the license."

I've been in business for myself since 1996 and have operated in three different cities. In all these towns, each business owner has to obtain a Privilege License from the city prior to opening for business. This probably explains the fine the City of SD demanded your daughter to pay. Seems to me she should have obtained her license beforehand. If SD is like my town, and if she continues in this line of work, she will need to renew annually.

October 18, 2016 at 07:19 PM · She did not consider herself a business. Live and learn.

October 19, 2016 at 12:37 PM · I've been playing gigs, teaching lessons, and paying self-employment tax for over 30 years in two different locations, and not once have I ever been asked to get a business license. I would suggest your daughter get in touch with other freelance musicians in San Diego and find out what their experience has been.

October 19, 2016 at 02:30 PM · I don't know the U.S. Politics very much, but contacting local MP in Canada always clears things. It may be the same for Local Senator representing your town.

Especially if an official demands fine paid and license registration, and refusing the definition of business, this is something to talk to the politicians for.

If you e-mail the senator, be sure to CC the municipal representative. That'll give them a kick in the pants to do their jobs properly, and answer your questions.

October 19, 2016 at 08:57 PM · I agree with Mary Ellen. I've never heard of a freelance musician being asked to get a business license.

October 20, 2016 at 03:23 AM ·

October 24, 2016 at 03:27 AM · Yes, this is strange, I've played lots of paid performances in Southern California for 20+ years and have never heard of an individual being required to get a separate business license to work at a music "gig."

The business that *hired* her must have the appropriate licensing.

October 24, 2016 at 11:57 AM · If your daughter is going to be doing a lot of freelancing, one option is to set herself up as an LLC -- there are some advantages there in terms of liability and so on. She could call around to a few local attorneys and see what the fees are for setting that up. It's not really a DIY thing.

I've been playing gigs for a long time in my locality and I've never needed a permit. I just include my aggregated gig income for the year under "tips and other income" (or whatever) on my Federal 1040, without further specifying its source. Some venues run a little tighter and require W4 forms.

I suspect that the place to start in terms of getting information on how things work in your area is your musicians union (AFM) local. For all you know, they might be driving the local government's enforcement of business permitting since these rules tend to protect individuals who are making their livings that way, and dissuade scabbing. While you're at it, find out what local scale is for the type of gigs your daughter is playing and make sure she charges at those levels -- as the guarantee, not including tips.

Our Kokopelli
Please support
through your
one-time donation or
sponsorship campaign. is made possible by...

Shar Music

Yamaha V3 Series Violin

Coregami Performal

Metzler Violin Shop

Connolly Music

Corilon Violins

Anderson Musical Instrument Insurance

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases


Heifetz International Music Institute

Long Island Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Pro-Am Strings

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop