Something you ought to know as a professional musician is how to make money and where that money comes from.
The topic of “making money as a musician” has often been an elusive one, especially for aspiring professional performers and composers.
To be successful as a performer or composer outside of consistently steady employment, you definitely need to have three qualities.
First, you must be excellent at what you do, from a musical standpoint. By excellent, I mean you must be communicative and able to inspire emotion in your listeners – you don’t necessarily have to be more technically proficient at your instrument or in your writing than most other musicians.
Second, you must have flexibility and patience – I am about to reveal to you 26 revenue streams that you can take advantage of, but tapping into even one-fourth them over a five-year span is certainly no easy task.
And third, you must have knowledge, knowledge of how to make money.
Too often, the most talented of musicians do not understand the basic mechanics of making money in the music industry in any genre. I have seen classical and jazz musicians trained at conservatories seem as lost as beat makers and aspiring producers when it comes to making money.
Today, I will cast light on where exactly in the music industry you can make money as a performer or a composer.
Note that this list of revenue streams applies to ways you can make money exclusively performing or composing music in your career – if you are interested in the many dozens of careers available to musicians with a music degree, see this popular article I wrote back in November.
Here are 26 revenue streams, listed alphabetically, you can take advantage of as a performer or composer, each one with the potential to be exceptionally lucrative.
Advances are sums of money doled out by a publisher or record label to an artist or composer prior to creating a work that will be sold under the name of both the artist and label company.
Thirty or forty years ago, advances were a highly sought-after means of making money as a musician. In 2015, they have become exceptionally less common, due to the fact that record labels have less prominence than they used to and because most small independent labels and publishers can’t afford to provide advances to their artists.
In many small labels, artists actually fund their own record creations.
Still, advances do exist on some labels, and they can be a lucrative way to make money.
Advertising On Your Web Properties, Especially YouTube
This is one of my favorite methods because the potential is so high and any musician can start making money with it.
You are likely not familiar with the term “eCPM” as it pertains to digital advertising and how you can make money. Basically, if you have a video on your YouTube channel of you playing music, and you run advertisements from YouTube on it (it’s not hard to set up), you can make a certain average amount of money per thousand views.
Thus, eCPM means “earnings per one thousand impressions.” eCPMs on YouTube vary, but generally speaking they are about $3 – $5.
So, if have have YouTube channel for your music, earning a few thousand views for a video will only bring in $15 – $20, which is clearly not a lot of money.
But, if you work hard to make it popular, you could make $300 – $500 for a video with 100,000 views, or even $3,000 to $5,000 with one million views, or $30,000 with 10 million views.
Now you understand why some people have made lucrative livings off of YouTube.
Making a lot of money this way takes a tremendous amount of hard work and true industry, but if you can do it, you will not only reap the rewards of monetary gain, your visual social media presence will also skyrocket, which will undoubtedly lead to many other musical opportunities.
CD and Mp3 sales are a way to make solid extra cash from your music. Like publisher and label advances, sales have been consistently declining for CDs and Mp3s over the past ten years, mostly due to the advent of digital torrenting and Spotify.
Still, you would be cheating yourself out of not selling at the very least Mp3s on a personal website of your music.
Take a look at new age pianist David Nevue’s website – he has set up an elegant way to spotlight his CDs and Mp3s on the very opening page of his website in order to effectively sell them. David has spoken in interviews how he successfully makes a living off of his solo piano music, thanks in large part to the elegance and ease of his website designed for commerce transaction.
For composers, commissions are perhaps the most sought-after method of making money for original work.
There are two kinds of commissions.
The first is a concert music commission, where a composer is paid a certain sum of money to write music for an ensemble. These kinds of commissions usually occur in the classical and jazz fields, though they can occur in any genre.
The second is a commercial music commission. These can come in the form of either a lump sum for a one-time project, such as a movie score, or in a recurring contract, such as a television series score.
Sometimes, composers can find long-time employment being commissioned to write television scores.
One of the most popular methods for generating seed capital (cash for starting your ventures) for musicians is an online crowdfunding platform.
You are likely familiar with this; basically, you raise money by asking your friends, family, contacts, and anyone interested in what you are doing to pitch into a central platform online.
There are some different ones that have key distinctions, so I will go over four of the most popular ones briefly here.
Perhaps the first online crowdfunding platform that really caught widespread online popularity, musicians on this platform consistently raise money to fund albums, ensembles, and tours. One musician has raised over $1,000,000 on it. When it first caught popularity, I even successfully used it with a couple friends back in college.
On Kickstarter, a project manager sets an allotted amount of money, then must raise the entire amount of capital asked for in order to have the project funded. Should the project not receive all of its funding, the project itself will not receive a penny of the pledged funds.
Certainly, a twist of drama is part of the attraction behind Kickstarter.
Very similar to Kickstarter, the major difference between Indiegogo and Kickstarter is that even if you don’t raise all of the money you asked for in your original Indiegogo campaign, you can keep the amount of money that you do end up raising. A couple of my friends recently raised over $15,000 on it.
Kickstarter and Indiegogo both have time limits for the funding; usually less than 90 total days of an actual round of funding is permitted.
On GoFundMe, you can have as much time as you need to reach your maximum goal. Good for those who are not on a tight deadline to have their project funded.
Perhaps the most intriguing of online crowdfunding platforms, Patreon allows an artist’s patron/supporter to pledge a certain amount of money on a recurring basis. Sometimes this recurring basis can be monthly, or it can be for a specific action the artist takes.
Here’s a 21st century off-the-beaten-path poet who uses Patreon; everytime he makes a video highlighting his work, he is paid a specific amount by Patreon from the several people who support him.
The potential for this can be huge – imagine if you had 2,000 people give you one dollar every time you released a song, wrote a post on your website, or released a video? Patreon could be an interesting development for the future of musicians.
A common method for raising money, it is especially prevalent at clubs and live venues. Essentially, an artist solicits an audience either in person or online for donations to go towards their music creation. Donations are a flexible way to make income, as you can ask for donations in nearly any musical performance setting.
Obtaining employment as a performer in an orchestra, military band, professional opera chorus, chamber orchestra, or established big band or rock group can be a lucrative way of making a living in your career.
Although these vocations are wonderful for those that truly want them, I have frequently stressed on this site that getting a job in an ensemble is, most certainly, not the only way to make a great living as a musician.
Fan Club / Membership Site
A more obscure way to make money as a musician, a revenue generating fan club usually consists of an artist who releases premium and exclusive material to users who pay a monthly subscription fee to access said material.
There aren’t a whole ton of these out there, but some do exist.
Check out musician Matthew Ebel; using a digital platform called Ziibra, Matthew sells subscriptions for various levels of membership in the “Officer’s Club” section of his website. Apparently, he has enough subscribers here to pay his rent.
Once you have generated interest in your work and have connected yourself thoroughly on a Facebook page, Twitter page, and an email list, getting subscribers for your membership page may not be as difficult as you may think.
Grants and Awards
Are grants, awards, competitions, etc. a waste of your time?
Perhaps sometimes, especially when the requirements are too burdensome for your time, or if you have to pay a substantial fee to submit an application.
That said, there is merit in winning awards and grants; they do look good on your resume, they can offer you a cash prize that you may desperately need for an upcoming project, and they can provide opportunities you may not have had before.
Although I do not think a musician should focus on winning grants and prizes as a primary form of monetary sustenance, they can be of benefit to some.
Lessons – Conventional
As a teacher, you can either provide lessons out of an independent studio or through employment at a music school (not a music college). There are some digital platforms, such as TakeLessons, that act as middlemen, helping music teachers find students.
Lessons – Unconventional
With the advent of digital technology, musicians can now provide lessons online utilizing creative approaches.
Some musicians simply extend their active student body by providing live online lessons to more students all over the globe via Skype.
Other musicians prerecord lessons, then market their courses online for a fee to people who want to learn that instrument.
Check out virtuoso clarinetist Ricardo Morales’ profile on Artist Works; Ricardo Morales has dozens of videos available online of etudes, lessons, technique instruction, etc. Students who are enrolled in Morales’ clarinet program not only have the opportunity to watch all of these videos in their paid lessons portal, they also can upload their own playing in the system to Morales, who will provide personal feedback to the students at his convenience.
Pretty cool era we live in.
Licensing (Master Use Synch)
A synchronization license is basically when someone wants to take a track you own the rights to and use it for their own visual media. An example would be if a production company wanted to use your music for a television commercial they are producing – they would pay you a licensing fee to use your music.
There is a reason many musicians as well as entrepreneurs and marketers in essentially every single niche and field put so much work into building their mailing lists.
When you have thousands of subscribers on your mailing list, all of the sudden selling yourself becomes so much easier because you have a list of people who are interested in your work.
Imagine having a mailing list of, say, 15,000 subscribers who personally signed up to be on your mailing list – when you launch a CD, you can probably convert at least 2% of your mailing list subscribers into paying customers. At $10 per CD with 300 (2%) of your audience buying, a weekend CD launch through your mailing list alone would be $3,000.
Also, filling out an audience at your show can become a much easier task when you have a mailing list – simply write your fans about your show, and if you have many subscribers, your audience will get filled up faster than you may think.
One of the best ways to get subscribers is to offer something for free in exchange for their email address – an Mp3, a free downloadable CD, an email newsletter, etc.
A mechanical license is a license that permits the usage of either someone else’s original sheet music or musical recording for re-recording, improving, studying, etc.
The owner of the original material gets paid a fixed amount when the license is issued. Most mechanicals in the US are obtained through the Harry Fox Agency.
Tote bags, t-shirts, hats, coats, mugs, you name it – put your band/ensemble name on a piece of clothing or accessory and sell it at your shows and on your site. Then, whenever other people wear your clothing or use your accessory, they will be promoting your brand to potentially thousands of other people daily.
When you perform at a corporate reception, recital, wedding, cocktail party, or essentially at any other gig, you are entitled to a performance fee for you and the musicians you are playing with. This fee can vary greatly based on the prestige of the gig, who is hosting it, and your reputation/desirability in the field.
As a composer, whenever a piece of yours is performed in public outside of an academic setting, you are entitled to receive a royalty from said performance. Simply register with one of the two major performing rights organizations, BMI or ASCAP, submit evidence of your performance (such as program notes), and you will be mailed a check for having your music performed.
Additionally, you can also be paid by a PRO (performing rights organisation) for plays of your music on satellite radio, fm and am radio, internet radio, network television, and more. Here’s a good article on CD Baby’s DIY Musician blog about royalties.
One of my best pieces of advice I can disclose to aspiring young performers is get to know recording studio operators.
Why is this?
Well, many music studios frequently have paying artists who need back up musicians in their tracks, but may not have access to or personally know many classical/jazz/other genre musicians.
So, when studio operators need backup musicians, they get their book of contacts out and hire people they know, that they like, that they socialize themselves with.
In any case, recording studio session work can pay very well on an hourly rate. Seasoned session players can make great livings on session work alone.
Sheet Music Sales
Sell your sheet music through your website or through a platform like musicaneo. Although having a reputable publisher can help in the marketing end of things, self-publishing has become the trendier way to sell today, mostly because you get to keep all of the revenue for yourself.
Many in-demand composers and performers are asked to speak about their careers and successes with audiences in conferences, residencies, and academic settings.
Also, some musicians get asked to speak about specific things in their discipline outside of their own music making. Find something about your instrument or field that you are passionate about, and find ways to vocalize those thoughts – you may end up being asked to speak and present about it.
I was at the Eastman School of Music’s pre-conference presentation at Chamber Music America in mid-January and there was an interesting strategy for making money employed by two jazz musicians.
These jazz musicians and smart businessmen, Mark Iacona and John Nugent, realized that by marketing a jazz festival of theirs to tens of thousands of people, they had the opportunity to create “advertising impressions” for another company that may want to pay for such impressions.
What I simply mean by impressions is number of times seen in the advertising phase (not in the actual concert). So, if you are promoting a concert of yours and you can confidently say 100,000 people will see the name of your concert in all sorts of places (online, social media, flyers, etc.), see if you can get an interested company to have their name seen 100,000 times while promoting your concert, festival, event, etc.
That’s what Mark and John did – they found a sponsoring advertiser in Xerox, the faxing company, and named their festival the “Xerox International Jazz Festival.” Hundreds of thousands of people now associate the name Xerox with a cool, hip, trendy music festival, and the festival creators found a way to profit from it.
Although this graph is telling about how little we artists actually get paid for streaming, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
If you are an independent artist and you have some tracks on Spotify, you can make much more than .00029 cents per song streamed.
No, it’s not going to be much; maybe about ⅓ of a cent, but imagine making ⅓ of a cent on a higher volume of plays.
I am including this one more for full disclosure than anything else – streaming does generate income, but the amount is usually not much unless you are able to generate millions of plays.
Taxi (not the driving kind)
Here’s an interesting one not enough people outside of the commercial music world talk about.
There’s a website called Taxi in which you can upload your music and tracks for consideration in television commercials, movies, record deals, and the likes.
More composers and music makers should be sending their music to Taxi – their placement rate is actually pretty damn good – they’ve been in the business a long time and send stuff to high-level people.
Also, even if you don’t get placed, you will get direct feedback from industry professionals about your music in some of your submissions.
Teaching At a High School or University
For musicians looking for stable employment, teaching young musicians the greater mechanics of performing and composing at a high school or university can be a satisfying way to make a consistent paycheck.
In order to teach at the high school level, you almost always need to have a Music Education degree. Here are some of my suggested programs, although many schools beyond even these ones develop excellent teachers.
To teach at the university level, you almost always need a terminal degree in your field of study.
On top of the aforementioned performance fee that you can make when putting on a show, you can also make cash from ticket sales.
Usually, unless you have your own venue, the ticket sales you sell at a show will be split among you, other acts, and the venue. You can sell tickets both at the show and online.
Touring is a great way to make money as a musician, since you are going to perform for so many people in so many different cities.
Touring is also a really good way to convince sponsors to pay you for spreading their name, since, again, you will be performing for many people in many different cities (read above on “Sponsorship Advertising”).
Touring itself usually does not present its own kind of revenue stream, but rather, is a way to take advantage of multiple revenue streams.
When touring, you should sell tickets, merchandise, CDs, mp3s; offer sponsors the option to promote their brand name along yours; get people to sign up to your mailing list; promote your website; solicit donations and cash for any crowdfunding platforms, and more.
As you can see above, there are so many great, creative ways to make money as a professional composing or performing musician in today’s world.
Sure, you can’t make a great career happen overnight, but you can start working on tapping into these streams of income today. Imagine, ten years down the line, having a number of these streams work in simultaneity for you – you could impress the world at your self-sustenance, money-making abilities as a musician.
Any more ideas for making money as a performing or composing musician? Leave them in the comments below.