Wondering how to make money from music? You’re not alone. While streaming platforms have made it simpler for independent musicians to access new audiences and unlock revenue streams, it’s not always easy to secure a healthy income. According to a recent survey, independent artists were earning as little as $12,200 from their music. Unless you want to subsidize your musical career with a full-time job, you need to be thinking about how to monetize your music.
The good news is that you have many different avenues available to you. From streaming royalties and digital downloads to live gigs and sync licensing agreements, there’s plenty of profit out there for independent musicians.
Understand the Music Industry Landscape
While music downloads have been around since the 1990s, few people would have anticipated the dramatic shift in music industry trends and the streaming-first landscape we now find ourselves in. For listeners, the age of digital downloads and streaming platforms has made music more accessible than ever before. In theory, this is also great news for artists. Without having to secure contracts with record labels, they’re free to distribute their content on their own terms. However, many of the same challenges that have always faced musicians remain. Emerging musicians looking to earn a steady income really need to be leveraging multiple revenue streams.
Aspiring musicians can tap into earnings from streaming royalties, music sponsorships, sync deals, and physical sales. For up-and-coming talent, music crowdfunding platforms are becoming increasingly popular as a way to raise capital to get ambitious album plans off the ground. There are also more conventional ways to secure an income, such as from touring and performing live gigs. More established artists can access further revenues from music merchandise.
Different Ways To Make Money From Your Music
If you’re wondering how to make money in music, streaming should be your focus. Once your music has been uploaded to and released on platforms like Spotify, Deezer, and Apple Music, you can start to reap the rewards of streaming royalties. However, don’t expect a fortune to land in your lap overnight. While streaming can bring in a trickle of income, you’ll need to secure a significant number of streams to take home any real money. Spotify is often considered one of the better-paying platforms out there, reimbursing artists around $0.004 every time a track is played. As of 2023, Spotify has paid out more than $40 billion in streaming royalties. Artists can turn to distributors like IndieFlow to ensure their content is uploaded directly to the most lucrative streaming platforms.
2. Publishing Royalties
Music publishing royalties are another valuable revenue stream for independent artists. Your music is your intellectual property, and, if an organization wishes to use your content, they’ll need to shell out for an annual license. This music licensing agreement is composed of two types of royalties: performance royalties and mechanical royalties. If you hold the sole copyright of your music, you profit from both.
3. Live Gigs and Touring
Live gigs and touring have always been an important source of revenue for new talent. Even with the advent of streaming platforms, live shows remain a staple earner for independent musicians. Artists can enjoy a slice of ticket sales and door fees, as well as direct payment from venue owners. The most successful musicians continue to keep live performances at the heart of their artistry. In 2022, The Rolling Stones pocketed more than $8.5 million per show from touring.
4. Physical Sales
While streaming and digital downloads are now considered the chief marker of success, there’s still room for physical sales. Although many artists consider printing hard copies of CDs and vinyl an unnecessary expense, it’s surprisingly cost-effective and a must if you’re looking to merchandise your music at live shows.
What’s more, more listeners are rediscovering the joy of owning physical copies of the music they love. In 2022, vinyl sales were at their highest since 1990, with the likes of Taylor Swift and Harry Styles topping the charts.
5. Music Sync Licensing
Music sync licensing is another way to monetize your music. These deals can be hard to secure, but with a sync licensing deal under your belt, you’ll earn a tidy sum every time your music is played in visual media. This can include video games, television shows, movies, and more. Under this type of deal, musicians receive a flat fee for their music to be used. However, they also benefit from ongoing royalties if content is redistributed or a broadcast is repeated. Unfortunately, this kind of licensing agreement isn’t readily accessible to aspiring artists. In order to tap into these revenues, you’ll need a music publisher with connections with the right networks and streaming services.
Tips for Monetizing Your Music
1. Establish Your Brand
As you can see, there is no shortage of ways to make money from your music. However, before you can start earning, you’ll need to work on your music brand, establish yourself as an artist, and build a fanbase.
Every type of revenue stream requires that you have an audience. If you’re an emerging musician, you should be thinking about curating a unique brand persona anyway. Take the time to work on your brand identity and messaging, creating a consistent presence across every platform.
2. Use Social Media
Social media is an essential part of any musician’s toolkit, making it easy to drum up interest in new content, promote shows, and engage with fans. However, it can also be used to generate additional income. If you have a sizable following, you can even turn your hand to influencer marketing, promoting products and/or services. However, you need to be careful not to tarnish your brand and present yourself as a sellout. To play it safe, use your social media channels to market your own merchandise.
A far more credible way of monetizing your social media channels is to sell ads. Partner with companies that fit organically with your brand identity and core values. You can also explore affiliate marketing. While the gains might be small, they can still yield a steady return. Again, you’ll need to be delicate with your approach here. Make sure anything that you’re promoting is a natural fit with your brand persona.
3. Networking and Collaborations
Struggling to make money from your music? You need to up your game when it comes to industry networking. Collaborations are good for broadening your reach and securing new listeners. If you already have a large online following, finding talent who’ll be prepared to work with you should be easy enough. You can air on the side of caution and partner with musicians producing similar music within the same genre, or explore a more left-field collaboration.
If it’s still early days, you’ll have to be a little less ambitious when identifying potential side hustles. Look for up-and-coming bands and singers searching for session musicians and backing vocalists to help record a new single, EP, or album. Alternatively, consider selling samples of your work as digital assets.
4. Sponsorship Deals
Once you’ve established a fanbase, you can start securing music sponsorships from major brands that are looking to capitalize on your audience. Some sponsorships can be incredibly profitable, while others might remunerate you with free products and services.
Resources for Musicians
Not sure where to start with monetizing your music? We’ve put together a list of useful resources to help you on your way:
It’s not as easy for independent musicians as more established artists, but securing a sync licensing deal is entirely possible. There are many platforms out there that allow unsigned artists to upload their tracks for exposure. Consider some of the following:
- Artlist: This marketplace is designed for video content creators looking for music. For musicians, this service is free to use, while artists are free to offer their content elsewhere.
- MusicBed: Geared mainly toward the film production market. This platform does charge a membership, but users also need to consider licensing type implications.
- Music Vine: Another online marketplace that makes it easy for musicians to connect with video content creators. There aren’t subscription costs here, although Music Vine does take a cut of every transaction.
- Songtradr: Marketplace for a wide range of music licensing deals, including TV, films, games, and advertisements. No subscription, but users need to pay a one-time fee. A percentage commission is also applied to every transaction.
- Soundstripe: Another free-to-use platform. Easy to use, although online content creators have to honor exclusivity with any content uploaded.
Performance Rights Organizations
In the United States, there are a handful of rights organizations you’ll want to get to grips with:
- ASCAP: This non-profit rights organization is overseen by industry professionals, including composers, songwriters, and publishers. As of 2023, ASCAP has more than 90,000 members. It’s free to join if you’re a songwriter, while publishers need to pay a one-time fee of $50.
- BMI: Another non-profit and ASCAP’s main competitor. BMI currently represents 1.3 million publishers, composers, and songwriters. Once again, it’s free to join if you’re a songwriter.
- SESAC: This invitation-only performance rights organization has been around for more than 90 years. It’s licensed millions of tracks from some of the most successful musicians on the planet.
Streaming Tools and Services
If you’re using streaming platforms to access royalties, now’s the time to claim your artist profile. Some of the best streaming tools for artists include:
- Amazon Music for Artists: Get instant oversight of key stats if you’re using Amazon Music to monetize your content. Although the data analytics on offer here are pretty standard, you can get useful insights into metrics like how many listeners accessed your content by using a voice assistant.
- Apple Music for Artists: Get insights into metrics like number of streams, audience location, editorial playlist additions, and more. A nifty detail here is that you’ll find out how many times your music has been accessed by music discovery services, like Shazam.
- Spotify for Artists: Arguably the best ‘for artists’ streaming tool. You can submit your music to Spotify curators or seek out valuable connections. You can use this tool as an individual, or set unique access permissions for a wider creative team.
- YouTube for Artists: Worth subscribing to if you’re uploading a lot of video content. You get all the usual data sets as a standard YouTube channel, such as average view duration, audience demographics, and more. You can also access real-time analytics and delve deep into content engagement and revenue generation if you’re enrolled in the YouTube Partner Program.
Grants and Funding
Need a little help getting your career off the ground? In the US, there are several open funds and grants worth investigating:
- Foundation for Contemporary Arts: Established in the 1960s, the FCA has awarded thousands of grants to artists, including emergency grants.
- New Music USA: Aims to inspire creativity across the United States. Funding is available to small groups and independent music projects.
- New York Foundation for the Arts: Open to artists at all stages of their development. Fellowships are relatively modest but can help aspiring musicians on their way.
Your music is your intellectual property. This also means that you have control over copyright, making it one area where independent musicians enjoy significant leverage. As you own the copyright of your music, you can exploit all revenue streams available to you. In theory, you own musical copyright as soon as your song is composed or a track is recorded. However, you’ll be able to safeguard your IP by registering it with the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO).
In the event that you need to file a lawsuit against someone who has used your material without prior consent, you’ll need to be registered with the USCO. While you can register after your music has been misused, processing an application takes months. What’s more, you’ll usually only receive a fraction of the damages that you would have if you’d filed a lawsuit immediately.
If you’re looking to monetize your music via licensing deals, you’ll have to read the fine print when it comes to exclusivity. Some platforms will allow you to market your material elsewhere, while others will be strict about this.
If you’re at a point in your career where you’re looking to sign a recording contract with a label, it might be worth bringing in a music lawyer to help you navigate the process. If you’re going it alone, make sure you’re clear about what you’ll be paid. Many independent musicians jump at the chance of a cash advance, but these advances aren’t always as generous as they first seem. In many cases, advances are offered in lieu of royalty rights.
Even though you’re an independent musician, don’t undersell yourself. Try and argue for a clause that leaves you with a higher share of royalties if you achieve a certain level of sales. This can be negotiated annually. You also need to be wary about signing on the dotted line for a multi-year agreement. Consider the advance that you’re being offered. If you can’t realistically live on this for a year, don’t commit yourself to more than one album. Building in a break clause is also essential. If a company fails to bring your album to market in key territories within a certain timeframe, you need to be able to free yourself from the agreement.
Ready To Start Making Money From Your Music?
Just because you’re not making a living from your music, doesn’t mean it’s not a profitable industry for unsigned artists. However, if you want to start earning your share from music, you need to expand your understanding of the industry. Keep updated with the latest trends, challenges, and new revenue streams that are becoming available to artists. You also need to explore all the possible ways you can monetize your music. This typically starts with identifying all the royalty types you can benefit from. However, branding, networking, and social media can all be leveraged to monetize your content. Social media can be especially lucrative, allowing you to use paid ads, affiliate marketing, and sponsorship to generate additional income.
Before you can profit from your music, you’ll need to consider the legal side of things. Protecting your intellectual property should be a priority. Make sure to have complete control of your tracks by claiming copyright with the USCO as soon as possible. This way, you’re good to go immediately if someone decides to plagiarize your creation. Furthermore, be wary when signing deals with labels and distributors. Unsigned artists are often tempted by the prospect of a cash advance, but these deals typically work against an artist, rather than in their favor. It might feel good to imagine a five-figure sum in your bank account, but this could be sacrificing your entitlement to future royalties. In every respect, you should be thinking about long-term gains, not short-term ones.