Musicians have more control over their careers than ever before. You can record, distribute, sell, stream, and promote your music with many affordable tools and platforms. But one of the biggest challenges continues to be how to make money as a musician.
So how do you make money from music? Whether it’s through gigging, selling merch, or making money from your music online, it’s important to diversify your revenue streams to build a sustainable career. Below are twenty-two ways you can make money from music.
How to make money as a musician
Some of these revenue streams might seem obvious, while others you might not have tried yet. Hopefully this list of revenue streams for musicians will spark some ideas for generating more income for your music career.
1. Sell CDs
Do music fans still buy CDs? While the number is less than it used to be, in 2021 CD sales rose for the first time in two decades. Selling CDs is a great, low-cost way to make extra money at gigs, and if you sign them at the merch table you’ll give your fans a nice souvenir from the show.
2. Sell vinyl
Vinyl sales continue to surge, with sales last year surpassing $1 billion for the first time in 35 years. In a 2021 Spotify survey, vinyl was also found to be the top merch choice across almost every genre.
3. Sell cassettes
Cassette sales almost doubled from 2020 to 2021. While cassettes are still a niche format, they can be a unique item to offer your fans at shows, and to sell online.
4. Sell digital downloads
Digital downloads remain a source of revenue for many independent artists that sell music online. In 2021, Bandzoogle members sold over $600,000 worth of digital albums and singles direct-to-fan through their websites.
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5. Revenue from streaming music
Even though streaming music payouts are measured in fractions of pennies per stream, they can add up to become a significant revenue source over time. So you should give fans every opportunity to support your career, including having your music available to stream, which can also help other fans discover your music.
6. Play live shows
There are many avenues available to play live shows. These include traditional music venues, bars, restaurants, clubs, coffeehouses, house concerts, colleges and universities, music festivals, or private events like weddings, corporate events, and other private parties.
7. Make money with live streams
During the pandemic, live streaming became essential for musicians to perform for their fans. While live shows and touring are now an option again, online shows are still a great way to reach fans from around the world and in areas outside of your touring scope.
8. Sell merch
Selling merch can generate significant revenue for musicians, both by selling merch online and at live shows.
T-shirts, CDs, and smaller items like mugs, buttons, and stickers are usually good sellers. If you’re not sure what to sell, or would rather not have inventory to store, you can also sell merch through your website using a print-on-demand service like Printful.
9. Sell digital merch
Selling merch doesn’t have to mean selling only physical items. You can also sell digital merch items like sheet music, video lessons, and stem files. The latest trend in digital merch for musicians is selling music-related NFTs.
10. Run a crowdfunding campaign
Crowdfunding can be a great way to generate revenue to help cover the costs of producing and marketing your music. But crowdfunding shouldn’t be treated simply as a way to make money.
With crowdfunding, it’s all about making a connection with your biggest fans. Bring them along on the creative journey with you, from songwriting and recording to releasing and promoting your album.
11. Offer fan subscriptions
With subscriptions, fans subscribe to your website and pay a monthly fee for access to rewards and content, like your entire discography plus any new releases. You can also give early access to new music, offer merch discounts, exclusive subscriber-only live streams, and more.
Subscriptions can be incredibly rewarding for you and your biggest fans, and can help you create a reliable, recurring income stream from your music.
12. Collect public performance royalties
If you’re a songwriter, it’s essential that you sign up with a Performing Rights Organization (PRO). A PRO collects performance royalties on behalf of songwriters and publishers to ensure that they get paid for the use of their music.
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 proper rights holders.
13. Join SoundExchange to get digital royalties
When your music gets played on non-interactive streaming music services, those services have to pay royalties. This includes SiriusXM Radio, Pandora, webcasters, and cable TV music channels. Make sure that you’re collecting your non-interactive digital royalties by signing up with SoundExchange.
14. Collect live performance royalties
You can also earn royalties from your live performances. When performing original music at licensed venues, PROs pay royalties to the songwriters for those performances. This includes bars, clubs, theaters, and any other licensed venues that host live shows.
15. Collect all of your mechanical royalties
Mechanical royalties get paid to songwriters or rights holders for purchased music. This includes CDs, vinyl, downloads, as well as music streams. If you’re in the US, you can join The MLC to collect these royalties. Outside of the US, these payments are sent to royalty collection societies, who then distribute the royalties to music publishers.
To collect these royalties outside of the US, you would need to register with each royalty collection society. Or, you can sign up with a publishing administrator which will collect the mechanical royalties on your behalf.
16. License your music
If your song is placed in a film, TV show, or a commercial, those productions 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 greatly. It depends on the budget for the project, and how much they want to use your song. But composing music for film and television, or licensing songs you've already recorded can be a significant source of revenue for musicians.
17. Social video monetization: TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook
You can earn money when your music is used in video content on social media platforms. This includes platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook.
The fees vary depending on the platform, but be sure that you’ve opted into social video monetization with your digital distributor to start earning that revenue.
18. Make money from your YouTube channel
If music is used in a YouTube video that runs 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 for you.
If you’ve built up a fanbase, local businesses, music companies, and even major brands might be willing to sponsor you so they can reach those fans. You can offer those brands visibility on social media, on your YouTube channel, at your live shows, and more.
Sponsorships are sometimes paid in cash, but at first it's possible that it would be in the form of free products or services.
20. Apply for music grants
If they’re available to you, music grants are an excellent form of financial assistance. Grants available to musicians are usually given out to help with writing new music, recording, or going on tour. Canada, the USA, the UK, and Australia all have excellent grant programs for musicians.
21. Do session work for other musicians
Another way to make some extra money as a singer or instrumentalist is by doing session work for other musical projects. If you have a flexible schedule, you can also look to get hired to go on tour with other bands.
22. Teach music
Teaching your instrument to others is a great way to supplement your income, and allows you to hone your craft at the same time. You can offer one-on-one music lessons in person, or online. You can even use fan subscriptions to sell access to your teaching materials like video lessons and sheet music.
Remember, focusing on writing great songs and having a great live show should come first. But once you’ve built up a fanbase, these ideas can help you create recurring revenue streams and make money as a musician.
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