Musicians have more control over their careers than ever before. But one of the biggest challenges facing musicians is making money.
According to the MIDiA report Independent Artists: The Age of Empowerment:
"Artists’ income streams vary widely. Streaming income, along with earnings from live performances, make up the majority of artist revenues today. For independent artists, streaming is now their primary source of income at 30%."
Streaming continues to take up a larger percentage of an artist’s revenues. Given that streaming music payouts are measured in fractions of pennies, it’s more important than ever to find other sources of income to help you build a sustainable career.
How musicians make money
Some of the revenue streams outlined below might be obvious, while others might be new to you. But hopefully this list of twenty-six revenue streams for musicians will spark some ideas for generating more income for your music career.
Wait, aren't CDs dead? While CD sales continue to drop, they remain a revenue generator for musicians in many genres.
If you’re going to be playing live shows, having CDs at your merch table is still a good idea. They’re cheap to produce, and you can easily sign them for your fans.
Resources to sell CDs
Vinyl sales continue to surge in the digital music age. Part of this is because many fans still want a physical souvenir of your music. Just be sure to factor in the cost of producing and shipping vinyl, which can be significant.
Resources to sell vinyl
Cassette sales are at their highest in over a decade. While still a niche format, they can be a unique item to offer your fans at shows, and to sell online.
Resources to sell cassettes
4. Digital downloads
Digital downloads are experiencing a similar fate as CDs. Sales are now decreasing with the popularity of streaming music platforms. Yet just like CDs, digital downloads remain a source of revenue for many independent artists.
When selling digital downloads, be sure to sell direct to fans through your website. Not only will you make more money, but you'll also collect valuable email addresses. This way you can let your fans know about new releases, upcoming shows, and more.
Resources to sell digital downloads
Make more money as a musician! Keep 100% of your revenues when you sell music through your website. Build your music website with Bandzoogle now.
5. Streaming revenue
Streaming music can be a sensitive topic for some musicians and songwriters. While payouts from streaming music tend to be small, they can add up to become a significant revenue source over time for some musicians.
In addition to streaming music being an income generator, it’s also about music discovery. Streaming platforms provide actionable data that you can use to help with marketing your music, and booking gigs.
Resources for streaming your music
- We recommend distributing your music to streaming services with CD Baby, who are a preferred distribution partner of Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube.
- How to Get Your Music Featured on Spotify Playlists
6. Live shows - original music
Performing live is also one of the best ways to sell merch. If you’re going to be playing a lot of live shows, be sure to stock your merch table.
Resources for live shows:
- Sell tickets commission-free with Bandzoogle
- For help with show and tour booking, check out Indie on the Move
- Use Bandsintown for Artists to reach fans and promote your shows
7. Live shows - cover songs
Playing cover gigs is sometimes frowned upon by musicians. But these shows often pay well, and allow you to get paid to play your instrument. Plus, there’s often no need to do promotion for these gigs.
There are lots of opportunities to play cover gigs. These include at bars, restaurants, weddings, corporate events, and other private parties.
Resources for cover gigs
For help with private gig booking, check out GigSalad
8. Live Shows - house concerts
“In the ecosystem of gigs, house concerts are king!” - Joy Ike (Singer-songwriter)
House concerts can be a nice way to fill gaps in your touring schedule, and can also net you some impressive income.
While attendance for house concerts is limited by nature, ticket prices are often higher for these intimate events. Plus, the majority of the revenues goes right to the performer, and the potential for merch sales is very high.
Resources for house concerts
9. Live shows - online
Online shows let you reach fans from around the world in areas you might not be able to get to while touring. Plus, they’re a great way to generate extra income.
You can broadcast the live show right from the comfort of your own living room. Fans can pay to get access to the live stream, or you can pass the virtual hat for tips during the show.
Resources for online shows
- The complete guide to live streaming for musicians
- YouTube Live
- The complete Facebook Live toolkit for musicians
- Instagram Live for musicians
- How musicians can use Twitch to build an audience
- Tips/donations: Venmo, PayPal.me
10. Physical merch
Selling physical merch can create a nice additional income stream, especially at your live shows. If you play live often or go out on tour, always have plenty of merch in stock.
T-shirts, CDs, and smaller items like buttons and stickers are usually good sellers. Be sure to also have all of your merch items available for fans to buy directly through your website.
Resources for selling physical merch
- CD Baby Merch
- Sell physical merch commission-free with Bandzoogle
- The Ultimate Guide to Selling Band Merch Online
11. Digital Merch
Merch doesn’t only have to be physical items. You can also sell digital merch items like video lessons, sheet music, and lyric books to your fans.
While they might take longer to create, the cost to produce can be much cheaper than physical merch, and there’s no need to keep track of inventory.
Resources for selling digital merch
Crowdfunding can be used to generate enough revenue to cover the cost of producing your album, and more. But don’t just treat it as a way to make money.
With crowdfunding, it’s all about making a connection with your biggest fans. Bring them along the journey with you, from songwriting, through recording, to the release and marketing of your album. Communication and creativity are key, and with proper planning, the money will follow.
Resources for crowdfunding your music
- Crowdfund your next project commission-free with Bandzoogle
- Crowdfunding your album: 11 dos & don'ts
Subscriptions are where fans pay a monthly recurring fee for access to content, like your entire discography plus any new releases. You can also offer early access to new music or videos, merch discounts, exclusive subscriber-only online shows, and more.
Subscriptions can be incredibly rewarding for you and your biggest fans, and help you generate more predictable revenue.
Resources for selling fan subscriptions
- Sell subscriptions commission-free with Bandzoogle
- How to sell fan subscriptions on your music website
- 71 ways to reward your music fan subscribers
Build a professional website in just a few clicks where you can sell fan subscriptions commission-free! Try Bandzoogle now.
14. VIP fan experiences
In the age of digital music, scarcity is valuable. You should include VIP fan experiences in crowdfunding campaigns, or as part of your subscriptions offering. But it doesn’t have to stop there.
For any gig that you play, try offering your superfans a little something extra. A meet and greet after the show. VIP seating with drinks included. Maybe even a pre-show dinner with the band.
Resources for VIP fan experiences
Sell tickets for VIP experiences commission-free with Bandzoogle
15. Public performance royalties
If you’re a songwriter, it’s important that you sign up with a Performing Rights Organization (PRO). A PRO collects royalties on behalf of songwriters and publishers to ensure that they get paid for the use of their music.
PROs collect public performance royalties. When a song is played on the radio, on TV, in music venues, restaurants, sports arenas, shopping malls, or any other public place, they must pay for the use of it. The PRO collects those payments and distributes the money to the rights holders.
Resources to collect public performance royalties
- Music Licensing 101: What is a Performing Rights Organization?
- How To Get All Your Music Royalties
- CD Baby Pro Publishing
16. Digital royalties
When your music gets played on non-Interactive streaming music services, they must pay royalties. This includes SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Pandora, webcasters, and cable TV music channels. Make sure to collect your non-interactive digital royalties by signing up with SoundExchange.
Resources to collect digital royalties
Sign up free with SoundExchange
17. Live performance royalties
You can also earn royalties from your live performances. When performing original music, PROs will pay royalties to the songwriters for those performances. This includes at bars, clubs, theatres, and any other licensed venues.
This might be the single most underused income stream for musicians. If you perform live, be sure to collect these royalties from your performances.
Resources to collect live performance royalties
18. Mechanical royalties
Mechanical royalties get paid to songwriters or rights holders for purchased music. This includes CDs, vinyl, downloads, and streams.
In the US, retailers include these royalties with payments to digital distributors. But outside of the US, these payments get sent to royalty collection societies. These societies then distribute the royalties to music publishers.
To collect those royalties outside of the US, you would need to register with each royalty collection society. Instead of doing that, you can sign up with a publishing administrator which will collect those royalties on your behalf.
Resources to collect mechanical royalties
19. Master Use / Sync Licensing Fees
“Getting songs placed on TV shows and in movies is a highly sought after part of the music industry. Some musicians make their entire income off of it.” Ari Herstand
If you get your song placed in a film, commercial, or TV show, they need to pay a licensing fee. In fact, they need to pay two licensing fees.
One is a “Master Use” licensing fee for the use of the recording. The other is a “Synchronization” or “Sync” licensing fee for the songwriter(s) & publisher(s).
These fees can vary. It will depend on the budget for the project, and how much they want to use your song.
Resources for getting song placements
- How to be wildly successful at licensing your songs to TV, film, and ads
- How to Get Songs Placed on TV and in Movies
20. Facebook and Instagram video monetization
Did you know that you can earn money when your songs are used in Facebook videos or in Instagram Stories? If people upload videos that use your music, even if it’s just playing in the background, you can get paid for that.
Resources for Facebook and Instagram video monetization
When music is used in a YouTube video that is running ads, YouTube pays part of that ad money to the rights holder of the song. This includes videos on your own YouTube channel, as well as videos using your music that are not on your channel.
Digital distributors can collect that money from YouTube on your behalf. They’ll search YouTube for any uses of your music, and you might collect money from videos that you didn’t even know about.
Resources for monetizing YouTube
If you’ve built up a fanbase, local businesses, music companies, and even major brands could sponsor you to reach those fans. You can offer visibility with your live shows, on social media, your YouTube channel, and more.
Sponsorships are sometimes paid in cash, but at first, it's likely that it would be in the form of free products, services, or gear.
Resources for sponsorships
23. Music grants
If they’re available to you, grants are an excellent form of financial assistance for musicians. Unlike loans, grants don’t need to be paid back.
Grants available to musicians are usually given out to help with writing new music, recording new music, or going out on tour.
Resources to find music grants
- Funding for musicians: music grants in the USA
- Funding for musicians: music grants in Canada
- Funding for musicians: music grants in the UK
- Funding for musicians: music grants in Australia
24. Session Work
Another way to make some extra money as a singer or instrumentalist is by doing session work in studio for other projects. If you have a flexible schedule, you can also look to get hired to go on tour with other bands.
Resources for session work
If you’re a songwriter you could look to write songs for other musicians, or co-write songs with other artists.
You could also compose music for film and television. This type of work can generate significant revenues in licensing fees and royalties.
Resources for songwriting/composing
- How to Get Songs Placed on TV and in Movies
- How to be wildly successful at licensing your songs to TV, film, and ads
26. Music Lessons
Another way to generate revenue for your career is to teach your instrument to others. It’s a great way to supplement your income, and allows you to hone your craft at the same time.
You could offer music lessons in-person, or online, and even sell video lessons through your website.
Resources for music lessons
- How to Build a Music Teacher Website
- 10 Ways to Make More Money Selling Music Lessons on Your Website
Hopefully this post has sparked some ideas on how to make money with your music. Remember, great songs and a great live show come first. Once you’ve honed your craft, you can use some of these tactics to increase your income as a musician.
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