18 ways musicians can make money

If you’re going to go full-time as a musician, you’ll require some other source of music industry income. Part of the reality of being a working musician today is the need to diversify your revenue streams. The more you can diversify your income, the more lucrative your musical endeavors will be. With record sales in decline, you will need to approach your sources of potential revenue streams with an open mind. But, if you have a good business sense, making money as a musician isn’t actually that hard. A little creative ideas can get you started.

1. Sell Your Music

Digital distribution is a must; you need to be readily accessible through all media platforms, or find a friendly aggregator that places your music all over the net for you or you may choose to set this up yourself.Selling music at shows is also important. You can sell CD-Rs, make sure they are reasonably priced to sell at all your gigs, or online. If you’re pressing physical copies, check out your local record shops to get them in on consignment. You can easily duplicate your CDs without spending much, including printing and a plastic-wrapped case, so most of each sale will be profit, even after huge discounts.

2. Sell Merchandise

Band merch is a big business, especially if you’re a musician or a band that is known for having a very loyal following. Both indie bands and signed labels can sell their own merchandise fairly cheaply. If you’ll be playing live shows, printing a small batch to have at your merch table can help generate extra income. But don’t get carried away with expensive purchases until you’re sure there’s a demand. Make your own t-shirts, buttons and badges, stickers and other merch and sell them at your shows and on your website. Merchandise does especially well at shows, after your fans have just seen you play and are all caught up in the spirit. As long as you keep your overhead down, merchandise can give your income a nice little boost. Merchandise sales is one of the most unreliable ways to make money in the music industry. It’s very possible to end up selling no merchandise, even if you play at a packed venue. But then, any advertising is good advertising, and maybe you can afford to have some giveaways.

3. Gigs / Play Live

Playing live is an obvious choice when it comes to making money as a musician. Most musicians enjoy performing live, and it can be a fantastic way to make money. However, you need to think bigger regarding income streams related to live performance. Try to get your own gigs. If you don’t have much of a proven track record when it comes to pulling in an audience, you’re not in a great position to demand large fees. Building up to this will take time. You won’t be in a position to expect large fees if you are a relative unknown. Maybe even offer a trial run, or consider offering your services for some charity work to get yourself known. No matter how little you earn when you start, take the long term view, and concentrate on building your reputation to greatness. When possible, retain control over ticket sales through your site, eliminating the commission charged by ticket agencies. This doesn’t mean that this is the only type of gig you should pursue though. Treat each low-paying gig as a step towards increasing your earning potential.

4. Create a Website

A website or blog is a great way to showcase your music sell your CDs, and advertise your availability for gigs. It is a good idea to have a website which features some examples of your talent. Ask your client to write a recommendation on your website if they are happy.

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5. YouTube Channel

YouTube is another platform that continues to prove its success. YouTube allows musicians to make money every time that viewers play their content. The beauty of using YouTube as a platform is that it’s free, you don’t need to know anyone in the industry, and you can try over and over again. Grab a camera, record yourself, and take advantage of YouTube’s advertising program to make some extra money. The easiest way to earn money on YouTube is with Content ID. Content ID is a popular digital fingerprinting system that content creators can use to easily identify and manage their copyrighted content on YouTube. Videos uploaded to YouTube are compared against audio and video files registered with Content ID by content owners, looking for any matches. On YouTube, whenever your music is used in videos that are running ads, YouTube pays a portion of that advertising money to the rights holders of the song. There are so many successful musicians and even pop stars started on YouTube, from Justin Bieber to Soulja Boy.

6. Teach Music or Instrument

Depending on the amount of time you have available and your work schedule, you could teach music to others. Many musicians teach a particular instrument, theory or a combination, to inspire budding musicians generate revenue towards their own career. It doesn’t matter if you’re old or young, you can sign-up to be a substitute teacher. And some school districts will even let you choose the type of classes you want to substitute for. Once you get your foot in the door, you could be the sub they call upon to fill a long-term music teaching position. You can even create YouTube lessons for music and instrumental learning. You can earn well if you attract a sufficient number of eyeballs. This can be a nice way to supplement your income, and allows you to hone your craft at the same time.

7. Record labels

If an artist works hard enough, network connections, and promote themselves in the right manner, he is can earn a living by signing with a major record label. That being said, record labels typically won’t sign newbies and also most record labels really don’t give much money to band mates. If you don’t have a following of your own, they won’t give you a penny. If you do have a small-but-growing following, you may be able to get a record deal.

8. Streaming

When online streaming has become a trend in the music industry, it should be a no brainer that your tracks need to be on this platform. Whenever your music is played on streaming websites, they pay royalties. Although per-stream payouts from streaming services tend to be small, they can add up over time. These services also help new fans discover your music, and shouldn’t be seen solely as an income generator.

9. Songwriting/Composing

If you’re a songwriter, you could write songs for other musicians, or compose music specifically for film and television. You’ll earn performance royalties whenever the song you wrote is performed.

10. Session work

Another way to make some extra money is to put yourself out there as a session musician. Studios often hire artists for session work. As a singer or instrumentalist, you could do session work for other musical projects, or even in advertising. Solo artists need people in the studio to play various instruments on their recordings, and backup vocalists are also in demand. You may even have the opportunity to become a member of an artist’s backing band once the album is cut and the tour starts. Even if you do not, it is a great way to network in the industry. You already know you have talent, but working with other musicians can further hone your skills, and also help create a useful network for you.

11. Licensing

Every single movie and television show will need to have a soundtrack or a background song at one point or another. Music supervisors on film, TV, commercial, and trailers are always looking for fresh tunes that fit the mold for their project. If you get your song placed in a film, commercial, or TV show, chances are they’re going to pay you a licensing fee. Licensing refers to the act of getting the rights to use the music. Musicians will often contract themselves out to create soundscapes for movies and television. Some musicians even offer their music licensing rights to production companies for a set fee. These fees vary greatly, depending on the budget for the project, and how badly they want your particular song.

12. Compose Music for Theatre

If you like to collaborate with others and you are willing to start off small, then the opportunities for creating music for theatrical productions are endless. A great jumping off point is your local theatre. You can associate with a theatre group for work. They have frequent requirement of songs and compositions for their acts specific performance.

13. Perform in Cafes, Clubs or Malls

There are plenty of malls and stores, restaurants, and hotels that need musicians to set the mood for their customers. You can definitely consider this if you’re about to start your career as a full time musician. Sometimes the company provides equipment, and other times you have to bring your own. The first gig is the most difficult one to get, but once your reputation is established, you should be able to find them more easily. You might not be paid much for the work, but it’s a chance to practice and display your singing ability.

14. Gig at Weddings or Bar

Playing cover gigs at bars, weddings, and other private events is frowned upon by some musicians. You won’t become a rockstar playing at weddings. But those shows can pay really well, and allow you to get paid to play your instrument. There’s no shame in that. And if you do well, word will spread and you’ll soon have a bonafide business on your hands. If you’re still working on getting a regular following for your own music, this is a relatively reliable source of income that lets you play music. If you,re performing original composition, you can earn royalties from live performances. Whether you perform at a bar, restaurant, club, or other music venue, Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) will pay royalties from those live performances.

15. Create Sound Files

For those who play an array of instruments, especially the more unique ones, composers often need your help when creating their music. And since you can’t be everywhere all at one, recording those sound files and creating an online database where they can purchase them is good for them and for your pocketbook. In this way you can earn well that too online.

16. Sell off Old Instruments

Websites like Olx and Quicker provide easy opportunities to clean out your closet. If you’re hard-pressed for some money, it might be time to let go of old instruments that you have replaced or no longer work.

17. Crowdfund Your Song or Concert

Crowdfunding can be a great way to generate income for your music career. Sometimes, part of being a great musician is throwing concerts that are really above and beyond a standard performance. A well-executed crowdfunding campaign can help you raise enough money to offset the cost of producing and marketing your album. Musicians ask for their fans to chip in, if they are unable to monetize the for concerts. That being said, this can actually be a fairly good way to get a large one-time round of income as long as you deliver what you promise to your fans and market yourself correctly.

18. Work as a DJ

You know music and you know how to have fun, right? Start djing for events, and while you’re there, throw a couple of your own songs into the mix. Most venues will give a very large percentage of the money people spend on concert tickets directly to the band. The bigger the venue you’re able to fill, the bigger your paychecks are. DJs generally make money through bookings at clubs and bars. Rock bands tend to book in rock venues and the occasional nightclub. When you’re a band with a good following, throwing a lot of concerts is a very financially wise decision. It’s a great way to get exposure for your music. Well, unless you’re producing hip-hop and you’re djing a polka party.