How Do You Make Money As a Performing or Composing Musician? 26 Revenue Streams Disclosed

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 (Record/Publishing)

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/Mp3 Sales

photo by opethpainter via Flickr Creative Commons

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.


  1. Pete May 26, 2015
  2. Samson Audu July 2, 2015
  3. Don Whitt August 28, 2015
  4. Neil Burke February 18, 2016
  5. Nicklaus Cicero March 3, 2016

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