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The Ultimate Guide to Making Money Through Music

Last updated on February 24, 2020

Now I’ve divided this into 3 categories according to their role – Artist, Curator and Business.

Artist – The Person who has the talent or the skill to sing, write, play, DJ etc.

  • Live Shows – This is the most common way to earn money for both a beginner artist as well as a professional artist. Live shows are basically a showcase of your covers or your original work that you present in a bar, pub, cafe or any other space. You charge a ticket price from the audience who is coming to see you, or you charge a fee to the venue directly. The fee to the venue can either be flat i.e. ‘Rs30,000/hr’ or it could be a percentage of the sale such as ‘50% of all sales after 5 pm on 30th July 20xx’. This also includes National and International Touring.
  • Sponsorships – Sponsorships are gaining increasing traction for music as brands are trying to create their own “Sonic Branding”. But it is also a way for brands to reach their target audience as well as maintain a great relationship with their customers through artists and their music. Redbull is increasingly getting into music and other forms of sponsorship opportunity to reach niche audiences.
  • Teaching – If you’re a singer, you can teach others to sing. If you play the guitar, you can teach others to play the guitar. Teaching is a noble job and if you consider yourself good at something, teaching that new thing is your duty to the world. You can start teaching by working with an already established teacher/studio or you can start your own classes. Another way to teach more cost-effectively is to give home lessons. You save money on the rent and can charge higher for the same amount of time.
  • Freelance – As a musician you have numerous ways to freelance both offline and online. If you’re a singer, you can do voice-overs for documentaries or cartoons. If you’re a music producer or DJ, you can take up freelance production gig on upwork or freelancer.com. If you’re a guitarist, you can freelance with other bands or artists. This is called session playing. Whatever your skill is, you can find work in it through the online platforms available these days.
  • Streaming – This is the most popular form of money-making that we know of for musicians, but sadly it is also the least money maker. Streaming is really bad at making money for artists and they are getting paid in pennies for each stream. So unless you have millions or more streams, there is no proper money stream coming through here. But streaming is important to give access to people to your music. And once they know you have published work in the world, they respect you a lot more and other opportunities open up for you.
  • Licensing – Licensing is a way to use your asset – your music, your creation – and allows it for use to someone else in exchange for a lump sum fee or a royalty fee. Or it could be both. Licensing is everywhere, most hollywood films, tv shows and other media use Licensed tracks from Record Labels for a fixed fee. Online Stock Music Libraries are places to find easily licensed music for your videos or projects. All streaming sites have licensed music on them presently, worth Billions of Dollars.
  • Merchandising – Merchandising is the creation of super fan for your music. To allow listeners who are crazy about your music and want to spread it by wearing your name on their tshirt or shoes or wallet. This is when the artist becomes a Brand. Merchandising is very lucrative for artists but musicians rarely use this opportunity. You get good margins, you get strong word of mouth for your music. Ed Sheeran does it really well.
  • Crowdfunding/Membership/Patreon – Crowdfunding is on the rage these days. But Crowdfunding is only applicable for the daring ones or the ones who are just starting out. The idea behind crowdfunding is that you pitch a project to your audience and they raise funds to give to you to finish that project. The problems here are one, you need to have a project in mind before crowdfunding. Second, once the project is funded, you NEED to release it out in the world. Even if you’re not happy with it as much. Other than crowdfunding, there’s another way creators are earning. It’s through a platform called patreon. It is a subscription for your audience to support you regularly to create your work, as well as get into your VIP fans list.

Curator – Someone who is an ardent music fan, but only from the bottom of the stage. These are people with great opinion, taste and love for music but haven’t ventured into becoming an artist themselves because of whatever reasons. I am one of them.

  • Playlists – Believe it or not, people are making money through making playlists. AlexRainBird and LastCigarrette are good examples. It is quite simple in theory. Make great playlists and get a good audience to listen to them. Then ask artist submissions for featuring their work in the playlists. It’s both amazing and crazy at the same time. You can do this anywhere, Youtube, Spotify, Gaana, Saavn etc. But Youtube or Instagram works best to showcase the number of followers or number of listens to the playlists.
  • Event Curation – Curators also are great for Event or Festival Curation as well as Hosts of these. Since they are knowledgeable about a multitude of genres and artists, they can really understand how to portray the festival for the audience. As well as they can give real deep insights into the music that is shared by the artists, that even artists are surprised by. Curators can either start their own festivals with tickets or sponsors or find a job at an event management company. Many streaming services also actively keep looking for such curators.
  • Music Therapy – Music therapy is the use of music to heal pain or stress or depression. It is gaining popularity as a true medium for mental health patients as well as in the workplace. Music therapy is still quite niche, that means you can charge a good amount for this service. But you will need to be very proficient with the methods and skills in this to be considered good.
  • Music Journalist – Music journalism although declining, is still in demand for certain niches and genres. The basic idea is to give a written description and opinion of the music that an artist creates for the audience. Its like a review that you are giving to an album. Rolling Stone used to do a lot of these earlier.

Business – All of the above are one-person jobs or freelancing opportunities. The ones below are businesses built around Music.

  • Artist manager – Artist management is an extremely important profession. The job is to get the artist paid gigs or collaborations for which the manager gets a 15–20% commission on the sale. Its very high risk and involves a lot of talking and discussing and managing. Other than this, it also has an overarching duty of thinking about the artist’s overall career development and brand development. It is highly specialized but also very rewarding. Especially since you are helping the artist directly by filling their pockets with hard earned money.
  • Record Label – Record Labels have an infamous past. They are the ones who steal artists’ work apparently. But they are also the ones who create artists. Record Labels are people who find, polish, present and publish artists. Think of them like a 360 degree agency taking care of the artist’s every need. And they take quite a lot for all that work, almost 50–70% of all earnings by the artist sometimes. The specifics obviously can differ, but because Record Labels mostly take up all the risk like putting in marketing dollars for an unknown artist, or giving an album advance to a new artist, or taking up legal and other issues regarding the music. Today, they are becoming increasingly useless as technology is taking care of most of their work, but they still hold quite some power in 2019.
  • Music Distributor – Music Distributors are the ones who are taking away Record Labels. They are the ones bridging the gap between the artist and the consumer. Artist ->distributor ->streaming services. Most of them are online services taking a flat fee or a percentage fee of the streams and in return provide a transparent way of publishing and keeping track of your music online. CDBaby, Ditto, and UnitedMasters are popular ones.

That’s it. These are all the different ways you can make money through Music. There are a lot more ways like music content writing or legal specialization in music, but music is not the core skill or service that they provide so I’ve excluded them.

If you want to know about my thoughts on the new Age of Content find it here.

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