Posted: Feb 19, 2019
Category: The Musician Business
**Guest post written by Donna Maurer, a contributor on multiple music blogs and lover of creating helpful articles for her fellow musicians and music lovers.
"One of the most significant challenges for a musician is generating a reliable income. It used to be that a band could rely entirely on income generated from tours and music sales, but times have changed. If you want to be successful as a musician today, you must learn to diversify your income streams. That way, when the live gigs and album sales slow down, you’ll still have money coming in from other areas to keep you going until things pick up.
Using a combination of traditional and more modern revenue streams can help you generate reliable income as a musician. Here are some unique and creative ways to make money when your career hits a lull.
Teaching private music lessons is a great way to generate a reliable income with your music that you can fall back on when things get slow. Many musicians teach others how to play their instrument while fine-tuning their craft at the same time. Nowadays, you have the option of teaching music through online lessons which means you’re not limited to teaching just in your hometown. With online music lessons, you could teach your instrument to students on the other side of the country, or even the world. Do some digging and find a local music school in your area or research a company that offers online lessons and seek out an application. Or keep things more casual by putting out a personal ad in your area and on social media letting friends, family, and neighbors know that you’re available to teach. You may be surprised by the power of word-of-mouth.
Some musicians are hesitant to play cover gigs at bars, weddings, or other private events, but those types of gigs often pay quite well, and many famous artists started out that way. They allow you to make money doing what you love, and it could be a great way to make money while you’re waiting for your career to take off. The easiest way to book a cover gig is by approaching the venue organically. Pitch yourself or your group to the bar owner or manager and ask about their audition process. If you’re hoping to be booked for weddings or special events, you can either publicize your availability yourself or you can apply to be a musician for a wedding band service.
Do you write your own songs? If you’re a good songwriter, consider writing songs for other musicians, or possibly even composing music to be used for television or movies. By writing with other signed songwriters or by developing relationships with music publishers organically, you may have the opportunity to turn songwriting into a new career path. The best way to get your work into the hands of a fellow artist is by signing with a publisher as a songwriter.
Consider doing session work as a backup musician during live performances or in the studio for artists that are recording. Seek out the contacts you’ve made in the music industry and see if anyone is recording that may be in need of a session musician. Advertise locally, reach out to local recording studios and attempt to get in touch with any local groups or artists that may be in need. While it may have less of the glory compared to recording your own material, there is good money to be made in session musicianship.
If you have a strong fan base, certain companies like to sponsor musicians in order to appeal to their fans. A sponsorship could mean cash, gear, or free products or services. Like many of the items on this list, the easiest way to acquire a sponsor is to start locally. If you can secure gigs at local joints, most local businesses will take the advertising benefits into account. Even if your career feels stalled, use the power of your already-established following as a bargaining tool.
YouTube provides a few great opportunities for musicians to make money. Whenever a YouTuber uses your music in a video that’s running ads, YouTube will pay the rights holder of that song a portion of the advertising money generated from that video. You could also start your own YouTube channel and monetize your videos. If your videos get a lot of views, you could end up making some pretty good money. Your videos could simply be of you playing your music, or you could make video music lessons to teach beginners how to play your instrument. Keep in mind that you should always promote your videos on your other social platforms in order to increase viewership.
When your song is played on a television show, commercial, or in a movie, they’ll pay you a licensing fee to use your music. The amount you get paid will vary greatly, based on the project’s budget and how much they like your song. Do your homework and seek out submission opportunities online. If you’re signed with any sort of label, most companies have a designated marketing head who is in charge of pitching your music to companies for these types of opportunities.
If your music gets played on Pandora, Sirius XM radio, or webcasts, they must pay you royalties. Check out Sound Exchange to learn everything you need to know about collecting digital royalties.
Crowdfunding could be a great way for you to generate income from your music. A well-run crowdfunding campaign could help you raise enough money to pay for the cost of marketing and producing your own album. There are plenty of websites that you can use to create campaigns, such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe, or Fundly. The key is to spread your campaign online, using social media and any other website that you can find to promote your cause (which, in this case, is your music).
If you’ve got fans and you do live shows, you can sell merchandise like photos, T-shirts, posters, buttons, hats, stickers, and more during and after the show. You might even consider selling digital merch like videos and PDFs of your lyrics. The best way to break into the merch “game” is by finding a reputable company to produce your merchandise. Get your logo or name on as much as possible for as cheap as possible to turn the greatest profit and benefit from the advertising. Remember, though, that a little creativity will go a long way, as fans will pay more for unique products that have a sense of style to them.
You’re not going to get rich quick from per-stream payouts, but they do add up over time. You’ll also have the added benefit of new fans discovering your music. Remember, the key is to have diversified sources of income. The best way to start benefiting from streaming profits is to get your songs on streaming services. Spotify is one major streaming service that offers instructional videos indicating how artists should go about getting their music on the service.
Your band has a website, right? You should be selling digital downloads of your music right from your own website for the best payoff. You can also sell through online retailers like Amazon and iTunes, but keep in mind that they get a percentage of your sales.
Every time you do a live show, you should have a batch of your CDs available for purchase on your merch table to strengthen your following and boost your income. Consider having band members autograph the CDs for souvenirs after the show. While the music industry is leaning towards digital, there is still power in putting actual albums into the hands of new listeners when building a fan-base.
Why not offer to be a stand-in for other bands when they have a sick or otherwise absent band member? It’s a great way to earn some extra money, and it will get your name out there, which could lead to bigger and better things in the future.
Saxophonist Josh Greenburg got his start playing on a cruise ship right out of music school. You can find cruise ship work through booking agents, or be your own agent to avoid limiting your income potential.
If things are going slow in your career, try entering some songwriting contests. It’s a chance to win some cash, not to mention prizes and recognition.
There aren’t as many singing competitions nowadays as there used to be, but they’re still around if you hunt for them. You can seek out casting calls in major cities for shows like American Idol or you can take a local route and look for open mic nights that offer prize money for the best performer. A lot of famous singers were discovered through singing competitions, so they’re definitely worth considering.
You might have to get creative to make money as a musician, but there are lots of opportunities out there if you look hard enough. Try some of these strategies to establish a diversified income stream to get you through the slow times when live performances are hard to come by. "
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