It’s every musician’s dream: getting paid to do the one thing you would gladly do for free. But it doesn’t have to remain a dream. Making a living off your art is an achievable goal, and there are many ways to do it. Below, we’ll give you some tips for how to get the most income from your skills and passion, and share some expert advice given to us by some of the brightest minds in the industry.
1. Sell Merch & Media
Touring and performing live have always formed the backbone of most musicians’ income. But if you’re getting out there, appearing in front of new audiences on a regular basis, then there’s something else you absolutely should be doing: selling merch.
The great thing about touring is that you always have a new audience to look forward to, which also means you always have new customers to sell to. More importantly, every piece of merch you sell essentially becomes free advertising for you. Audience members who have something to remember you by are more likely to become full-fledged fans, and when they show off your merch to their friends, you quickly gain greater exposure.
Don’t limit yourself T-shirts and stickers, though.
“Sales from optical media are still one of the best ways for musicians to earn money, especially when compared to the digital streaming industry,” Leslie June, who works for CD reproduction company Blank Media Printing, explains. “Streaming services are perfect for discovery and do provide a trickle of income, but make far less overall for the artist than pure CD sales or even merchandise sales. With CDs, musicians can earn a profit of about $7.50 per disc, versus $0.0011 per play on streaming networks.”
2. Teach Music Lessons
One of the most reliable ways of turning a talent for music into a source of income has been to teach others how to develop their own talents. And thanks to the Internet, it’s never been easier to find students.
“To get started, just reach out to everyone in your personal and professional network to tell them you are doing this,” Chris Reed, lead singer of California reggae-rock band Sunny State, advises. “If you have their email, send them a message, even on social media, and ask them to share this info with their network. You will slowly start to gain clients. The income will help to provide you with freedom to have more time for your career as a musician.”
Those looking for help growing their customer base can also take advantage of online services like TakeLessons, which representative Candice Stokes says “helps teachers streamline the day-to-day management of their business, including client scheduling, communication and payments.”
Don’t fret if you have grander artistic ambitions; music instruction doesn’t have to be your main source of income. Musicians of all walks of life teach on the side, something that Lessonface CEO Claire Cunningham knows well.
“On Lessonface you’ll find Grammy winners, members of major orchestras, professors from top music conservatories, as well as conservatory graduates, major touring and recording artists, and many, many wonderful professional educators,” she says, pointing out that musicians don’t have to be physically present to teach, with her own company specializing in lessons conducted over live video calls.
3. License Your Songs
Music is made to be heard. That much is obvious. For those who put their heart and soul into crafting original songs, there’s no greater joy than having more people hear them. Except maybe getting paid for it.
Aside from selling your music directly to customers via CDs and digital downloads, another great way of finding new listeners and bringing in steady income is to license your songs for use by other content creators. Video game developers, filmmakers, advertising companies, and the like are always on the look for catchy tunes to complement their creations. This allows musicians to reach audiences they may never have had a way of attracting before, and it can also be a very good source of income.
Best of all, music licensing has become easier for independent artists thanks to new apps like Vampr, a networking service that could be described as “LinkedIn for musicians.”
“There are no upfront costs for the artist, the contract is non-exclusive and non-binding, and the artist gets 75% of the royalty (compared to the industry norm of 50%),” Josh Simons, CEO and Founder of Vampr, says. “With super easy mobile submission (3 clicks!), musicians have the opportunity to make big bucks with a song placement!”
4. Know the Business
For many musicians, the creative aspect of their art is the only one they understand or care about. But music isn’t just a creative endeavor, it’s a business as well. And while learning the more rigidly business-oriented mechanics can be dry, difficult, and exasperating, it can also make a huge difference.
“Other than the obvious, touring and selling merchandise, I noticed a huge percent of artists and producers aren’t aware of back end royalties,” West Coast-based artist and producer Yung Rizzo noted.
“Sure, they get royalties per stream from streaming platforms, but that also excludes a publishing and mechanical royalty that many artist and producers are unaware of. The front end funds are always good but through my experience the back end is as important. I’ve generated a solid amount of income through back end royalties.”
Emily Deaton, who writes for financial website Let Me Bank, also cites having an understanding of royalties and similar business components as being indispensable for anyone serious about making a living in the music industry.
“Just because you’re a musician doesn’t mean you have to have an empty bank account,” Deaton says. “With hard work, creativity, and business knowledge, you can make money from your passion.”