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A Bunch Of Ways Musicians Are Actually Making Money (& One Way They’re Not!)

As a music producer, artist or musician (especially if you’re starting out) you’re probably wondering how it’s possible to take your passion and push it so you’re able to do it full-time, without having to worry about how you’re going to pay rent. How to make money from music?!

Well, believe it or not, there are a bunch of musicians who are actually making it full-time and doing alright, so here’s (to the best of my knowledge) a rundown of the ways in which these people are managing to keep afloat.

Just bear in mind that most are doing at least a few of these simultaneously, and it’s not a case of doing one specific thing. You’ll have to mix and match, see what works and then push that further.

Live and DJing

OK, let’s get this one out of the way. If you have enough of a name to get gigs that you don’t have to beg for, from promoters who actually care about their nights and performer-satisfaction, then you might be lucky enough to make some cash from your gigs, DJ or otherwise to begin with, but it’s not just a case of starting to DJ or perform and suddenly watching the money roll in.

Those with a big enough name will be able to command at least a few hundred dollars/pounds/euros for their gigs, plus travel and accommodation – which is a pretty good chunk of cash, considering the time-commitment.

That said, you’re not just getting paid to pick the music or perform it. You’re getting paid for the years of experience, the name, your presence, your curation ability and all the other things you do which amount to your brand.

I’d imagine you’re probably going to want to line up at least 3-5 gigs per month minimum in order to make this a viable source of income.

One thing I learned recently is that even if you’re just booking a local DJ gig with a mate – don’t be afraid to ask for payment. Mates-rates or otherwise, I think there’s a lot to be said for not undervaluing your work. You’ve turned out to DJ, you’ve got people in the door, got them dancing, kept them there buying drinks, you need to be remunerated for that.

Sample & Patch Packs

Music producers and creators are ALWAYS searching for new sounds and source material, and despite the fact that Loopmasters have something of a monopoly on the sample-pack market, there is still plenty of room for you to get your sounds out there and make some money.

Generally more expensive than a single or EP (and often more than an album) these packs are often a way to tap into a different market, but require you to have the base knowledge to create them.

In the past I’ve worked on both sample-packs (audio sounds, loops, breaks, synth sounds, pads and sequences) and synth patches (e.g. “sound” presets for software synthesisers like Native Instruments Massive).

A good way to do this (especially if you’re an electronic music producer) is to render any unfinished tracks as stems – export 8 and 16 bar loops of your original sounds and keep them safe. Once you build up enough of them you can start arranging them by styles, key, sounds and so on – and before you know it you’ll likely have a set of samples that either you can tap into for your own future productions, or package up and then sell as a sample pack.

Even bigger producers buy packs of samples, and if you’ve got a name as a producer people rate, then you’ve got a good chance of shifting some of those samples. If not, you could use them as a great place to start a collaboration with other artists.

If both of those options don’t look feasible, consider approaching people like Sample Magic, Loopmasters, or sites that provide these sounds like ADSR Sounds and see what you’d need to do to provide a pack for them to sell on your behalf.

I know for a fact that there’s good money to be made here, since I’ve done this a couple of times in the past both with patches and samples, and if you were to dedicate some time to this and built a good strong collection you’d probably be able to pay rent for a year on the cash you make.

The profit will tail off as your pack becomes older, but there’s nothing to stop you releasing them regularly.

Tutorials / Teaching / Tutoring

This one is a little more involved but could definitely bag you some solid cash.

I have, in the past, been asked if I’ll teach someone how to use Ableton Live – just the basics, just to get them to where they can take things on themselves and push their tracks. I did a few sessions at their house, and was paid a pretty decent fee. Considering the fact that it’s something I can do, know about, and didn’t mind talking about for a few hours – it required minimal preparation and all it needed was the confidence to organise it and to be able to answer questions in a useful way.

You may live somewhere that makes travelling difficult, or you may not want to go to people’s houses or have them come to you – but you could just as easily run these sessions with screen-sharing via Skype or Google Hangouts. There’s no reason you couldn’t use your experience with playing an instrument, using a synth, working in a DAW or something else to teach others to do the same either one-on-one or to a small group.

I have also started this very blog and course platform, and as a testament to it’s success – you’re reading this particular blog – that means that you must at least see some value in the content I’m offering, and I offer a couple of paid courses which people can buy if they like – this is a small passive income for me, where I’m sharing knowledge that I’ve gained as a music producer and label owner.

Licensing / Micro-licensing

This is something you may feel like you want to do, but don’t know how to get into it. I have to confess I’d love to do more licensing of my music, but often feel like the world of film and TV is impenetrable.

Often referred to as “sync” this is essentially the practice of licensing your music to people needing it for a film, an advert, a corporate video, or some other purpose.

Securing a lucrative deal could involve lots of work, and may involve sending your work to music supervisors and with that comes a huge amount of advice on making sure music is tagged, properly labeled, license-ready, free of samples and all sorts, but there’s another option.

Still requiring sample-free and claim-free music, but far easier to get started on, there is what some people call “micro licensing” – basically the practice of providing your music to a company who will then make it available to people looking for low-cost non-exclusive rights to use your music on a project.

This could be a small corporate video, a short Vimeo animation or anything really – but the money comes as many small fees, as opposed to one large one.

I know people making money from this these days – and the key here is to make sure you have loads of music ready to go, that you can get onto these non-exclusive platforms to spread it far and wide.

Having (and Owning) A Vast Catalogue

This is an interesting one, because my final point is going to contradict this slightly.

Ultimately if you have one album out and a couple of EPs and you’ve got them on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon etc and you’re set up to get the payments from these platforms via a digital distributor or aggregator, then you probably won’t see a huge amount of money there.

What you will find, however is that as you start to build and release a much bigger catalogue of music, you’ll start to see sales, licensing and stream money come in from them. Perhaps at first just a small amount, but over time this might grow as your reputation as a musician grows.

This is a really good argument for retaining your own releases, rights and releasing yourself. There is more to be made from sales and streams if you keep control, since you’re not losing that 50%+ to a label before it’s passed back.

I see the most money in this respect from Spotify and iTunes and I have 3 albums up there doing pretty well, as well as a few EPs and another album on the way.

I don’t make enough to pay the rent on that alone, but it supplements my monthly income nicely and with a push or with more of a catalogue, could become more of a strong source of income.

And How Musicians Are NOT Making Money

Well for a start, they’re not making money by:

  • Expecting to be super famous and successful right off the bat (it takes years to build your fanbase and become well known for your craft)
  • Putting out their first 5 tracks and wondering why the money’s not rolling in.
  • Looking and hoping for a manager or agent (you don’t need either of these things, nor will they even be interested until you’re successful in your own right anyway)
  • Sitting about, expecting their one single or first album to get signed and blow up.

I see all of these things all the time – people convinced that they’re going to be huge just off the success of their first single. People convinced that they’re the next big thing and if they could only convince a manager to represent them. People so abhorrently self-confident that they assume that they’ll be massive based purely on attitude and image.

None of this is real life for anybody – you won’t make music just because you believe in yourself. Nor will you make money if that’s your only goal. Don’t waste your time.

You should be doing music because you love it or because you want to do it. It should be something you do because it’s fun, fulfilling, satisfying or providing a release.

The main way, however that musicians are NOT making any money is by selling their music.

It’s pretty sad, but in this day and age, releasing EPs and albums is not a profitable endeavour, so don’t expect to make loads of money from people wanting to buy your music – unless you have either a 10,000 strong email list of fans and followers (more on how to do that here), or if like mentioned above, you’ve got a vast catalogue of music (we’re talking at least 5 albums I’d say) – by which time if you’re not even close to being popular, you might have to start changing your approach.

So there you have it – it’s something I get asked quite often by people wanting to make a living from music. I think it’s possible – I just realised long ago that it’s a huge amount of work.

Do you have any ways you’re making money, that I’ve not covered – let me know. I’d be keen to find out!


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