How Musicians and Composers Make Money

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The Future of Music Coalition just released the results of a research project they conducted where over 5,000 US-based musicians were surveyed about how they earned money. Below is the list with their findings.

Songwriter and Composer Revenue
1. Publisher advance. Bulk payment to songwriter/composer as part of a publishing deal.

2. Mechanical Royalties. Royalties generated through the licensed reproduction of recordings of your songs — either physical or digital.

3. Commissions. Typically a request from an ensemble, presenter, orchestra or other entity for a composer to create an original work for them.

4 Public Performance (PRO) Royalties. Revenue generated when your songs are played on radio, TV, in clubs and restaurants. Paid to songwriter/composer/publisher by ASCAP/BMI/SESAC

5. Composing Original Works for Broadcast. Typically a commercial request to compose an original jingle, soundtrack, score, or other musical work for a film, TV or cable show, or an ad agency.

6. Synch Licenses. Typically involves licensing an existing work for use in a movie, documentary, TV, video games, internet, or a commercial. Paid to songwriters/composers either via publisher or record label, or via a direct licensing deal with the licensee (movie studio, ad agency, etc) if you are self-published.

7. Sheet Music Sales. Revenue generated by the sale of songs/compositions as sheet music. Paid to songwriter/composer by publisher, or directly from purchasers if you are selling it on your website or at performances.

8. Ringtones Revenue. Generated from licensing your songs/compositions for use as ringtones. Paid to songwriter/composer via your publisher, your label or Harry Fox.

9. ASCAPLUS Awards Program. Awarded by ASCAP to writer members of any genre whose performances are primarily in venues outside of broadcast media.

10. Publisher Settlement. Payment from publishers to writers for litigation settlements.

Performer and Recording Artist Revenue
11. Salary as Member of Orchestra or Ensemble. Income earned as a salaried member of an orchestra or ensemble.

12. Shows/Performance Fees. Revenue generated from playing in a live setting (for non-salaried players).

13. Record Label Advance. Paid to artist as part of signing a deal.

14. Record Label Support. Money from label for recording or tour support.

15. Retail Sales. Revenue generated from selling physical music in retail stores or via mail order. Paid to artist/performer by your label, or digital aggregator like CD Baby.

16. Digital Sales. Revenue generated from selling music digitally/online. Paid to artist/performer by your label, or digital aggregator like CD Baby or Tunecore.

17. Sales at Shows. Revenue generated from selling recordings of music at shows/live performances. Paid to artist/performer directly by fans.

18. Interactive Service Payments. Revenue generated when your music is streamed on on-demand services (Rhapsody, Spotify, Rdio). Paid to artist/performer by your label, or digital aggregator like CD Baby or Tunecore.

19. Digital Performance Royalties. Revenue generated when your sound recordings are played on internet radio, Sirius XM, Pandora. Paid to performers by SoundExchange.

20. AARC Royalties. Collected for digital recording of your songs, foreign private copying levies, and foreign record rental royalties, distributed to US artists by AARC.

21. Neighboring Rights Royalties. Collected for the foreign performance of your recordings.

22. AFM/Secondary Markets Fund. Paid to performers on recordings used in TV and other secondary uses.

23. AFM/Sound Recording Special Payments. Paid to performers for the sales of recorded music.

24. AFTRA Contingent Scale. Payments paid to performers when a recording hits certain sales plateaus.

25. Label Settlements. Payments from labels to recording artists for litigation settlements (, Limewire).

Session Musician Revenue
26. Session Musician/Sideman Fees for Studio Work. Revenue paid to you for playing in a studio. Paid by label, producer or artist, depending on situation.

27. Session Musician/Sideman Fees for Live Work. Revenue paid to you for playing in a live setting. Paid by label, producer or artist, depending on situation.

28. AFM/AFTRA Payments. Payments from the AFM/AFTRA Intellectual Property Rights Distribution Fund, which distributes recording and performance royalties to non-featured artists.

Teaching and Producing
29. Music Teacher. Revenue generated from teaching your musical craft.

30. Producer. Money from producing another artists’ work in the studio or in a live setting.

31. Honoraria or Speakers Fees

Brand-related Revenue
32. Merchandise Sales. Revenue generated from selling branded merchandise (t-shirts, hoodies, posters, etc.). Paid to artist/performer by fans.

33. Fan Club. Money directly from fans who are subscribing to your fan club.

34. YouTube Partner Program. Shared advertising revenue, paid to partners by YouTube.

35. Ad Revenue. Or other miscellaneous income from your website properties (click-throughs, commissions on Amazon sales, etc.).

36. Persona Licensing. Payments from a brand that is licensing your name or likeness (video games, comic books, etc.).

37. Product Endorsements. Payments from a brand for you endorsing or using their product.

38. Acting. In television, movies, commercials.

Fan, Corporate, and Foundation Funding
39. Fan Funding. Money directly from fans to support an upcoming recording project or tour (Kickstarter, Pledge Music).

40. Sponsorship. Corporate support for a tour, or for your band/ensemble.

41. Grants. From foundations, state or federal agencies.

42. Arts Administrator. Money paid to you specifically for managing the administrative aspects of a group that you are a member of.

The information from this post was originally published on the Future of Music’s micro-site related to their “Artist Revenue Streams” research project. The Future of Music Coalition is a national nonprofit organization that works to ensure a diverse musical culture where artists flourish, are compensated fairly for their work, and where fans can find the music they want.

60 thoughts on “How Musicians and Composers Make Money

  1. Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thank
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  2. To be honest everyone is talking about not making money and blah blah blah and dying broke and all this jazz mess. Compose your song, Copyright it, sell it yourself, sell it to others who need or want to use it in movies, commercials, clubs, bars, Franchise hotels. Back then when I first started doing music I would take my music and compile them on a memorex cd-r and have them in those colored slip cases for the cd’s and sell them to who ever I sell them too for a mere $5.00 a pop, went to a upscale bar and got permission to sell in there and even paid the manager a bit to leave a few that they could sell and I was making dang good second income. I had to have made a mere $300 within 2-3 days of constantly doing it on top of composing my music. Stop trying to worry about the third party and discover and open your mind and make contacts to bleed your way into the industry YOURSELF and make the initial sale. If an industry wants your Copyrighted music, $250 and YOU make out what royalties are and YOU decide what money YOU earn per usage. None of this social media mess, GET OUT AND DO IT. THAT’S WHERE THE REAL MONEY IS. and it’s there if you strive. i’ve been there and just about ready to make a push again. You gotta know who to cater too and find a market for your music not walk into a hip hop club and sell them Spanish music, Let the puzzle piece fit not force.

    Some people need to open their mind and understand that in the beginning, it will be a bit tough but when you blind yourself with a million other negative people that never moved anywhere, it’s time to do it yourself.

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  4. The unfortunate thing is that the way to make money in the music business posted here is just part of the story. This is the old way. The new way includes building an App. It includes partnerships with brands. It includes creating your own demand by starting a conference or online event. In short, the music business is more entrepreneurial than its has ever been. On the question of the order, its like asking can you make more money on iTunes or Well kiddies, it depends on your strategy. There are more channels and markets today than ever before. You know what nothing works and everything works. Lastly, someone here mentioned writing great songs. Well that is a gift not everyone possesses. You don’t need great songs. Today’s audiences want great experiences more than than great songs. If you happen to have a great song, that is your over-the-top money. However, you can have a great experience with a terrible song “Who Let The Dogs Out” anyone? Bottom-line is to create music because you love it. Find and audience that gets you. Once you have an audience, things become possible. If you don’t have an audience, hell you can be Mozart and not make a dime. Oh yeah, how do you find an audience, well that’s why social media, marketing professionals and your local market place are there for you to use.

  5. A whole new list or revenue streams could be generated from #29 – Music teacher: salary as a teacher in a school, university, junior college; private lesson tuitions; Skype private lessons; online teaching website — advertising and/or tuition; authoring, publishing or selling instructional videos, books or CDs; employment at a music camp; giving workshops in music stores or other venues (tuition or charging venue); etc.  

    Of course the biggest and most common revenue stream is not listed: “day job.” 

  6. Although this is a good list of WAYS to explore making money, I have to agree with the previous comments.  Being in the business is tough if you have not become a songwriting star (such as Dianne Warren) or performing star.  The rest of us keep grabbing for that brass ring any which way we can, some of us more obsessively than others.  We all love to play music, maybe even perform our own original songs.   I’ve given years and MONEY to that side of it.  Getting other musicians onboard requires time, energy and MONEY,  or finding the right players who will commit for FREE and for YEARS because they love playing, or they love you and your music. They say (who is “THEY” anyway?) that persistence is the key to success.  I just heard a jazz combo play in LA last Tuesday night.  The leader of the band had CD’s out since 2000, and this band was simply AMAZING in terms of making a real and fresh contribution to real progressive Jazz Music.  Yet I’d never heard of him until last Tuesday night!  And I’m pretty up on people in the biz.  I believe all the guys in the band, as good as they were, were still working day gigs.  The money those 5 guys made that night for 3 excellent sets was from the 20 or so people who showed up for $15 a head.  So much for persistence.  Most musicians, stars or not, die broke.  It is a shot in the dark we all take, no matter how hard we try to cover all our bases.  Schooling helps, but there is just no recipe for success unless you make it HUGE at a young age and then keep it going until you are old.  Even Paul McCartney just lamented on ‘they’ say “get out of the way and make room for the young”!   But he hangs in anyway.  Even being an icon never guarantees people will always love you, though having millions helps cushion the blow.  We do it because we love it.  The internet levels the playing field a bit.  When a woman from RUSSIA wrote me to tell me how much she loves my song DREAM, one song I wrote and recorded years ago, I could have died and gone to heaven.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

  7. I thought it was an interesting post. As an independent musician there are a few things on here I hadn’t thought of.

  8. I will be checking back to this list whenever I feel stuck. It’s a great, uplifting summary of all the possible ways we as musicians can make money, and the different avenues there are to explore. This is good news, people, no matter how you spin it.

  9. Many bands are purchasing boxes of their recorded CD’s and selling them at their gigs, which helps with
    making extra money while waiting for the big gigs to happen if that’s possible.
    It is tough keeping bands together if the practice times, travel and equipment costs are too much to bare.

  10. Some musicians seem to think it is a cop out, but the cruise ships are great employers for musicians and most are really great musicians!  And depending on the ship, time on the job, or if you are a band leader, etc., the money can be over $30K a year.  If you have no obligation for a house payment or rent at home, you live rent-free and your food is provided too.  The travel is unbelievable.  A few ships (I believe registered in the U.S. or plying U.S. waters) provide health insurance, vision insurance, social security, etc.!  A couple that perform full-time as a 2-piece band (I’ve seen them and they were fantastic) were featured on HGTV buying a vacation home in the Caribbean.  I’ve heard of others who stashed their earnings and paid cash for houses and cars.  So if you are not tied down to land by a relationship or looking for steady income and are versatile (i.e. can “read” as well as improvise), don’t starve.

  11. With the economy the way it is, sales have dramatically dropped (unless you are a mega star) and without a full time job (or two), you won’t make it as a musician. People don’t even go to shows anymore due to less money in their pockets.

    These are all good lists, but a few links at the end for places we can submit our music to for licensing would have made this article a lot better.

    I have seen a lot of bands that I am friends with promoting like crazy and hitting the stage, and they are still thinking of giving it up. You have to have a lot of money to be able to promote your band and do live shows, so for you new musicians, don’t believe it when someone says you don’t have to have money to make it. they are wrong. You have to pay for: CD manufacturing, processing your album, flyers, posters, stickers, t-shirts…..and you have to kiss a lot of butt just to get fans to come to a show. If you don’t have the stamina to do all that and more, give it up until you get rich and can pay someone to do it.

    Being a musician definitely fits the “starving artist” scenario these days. I wouldn’t say to give up music, but I would say to be prepared for massive stress, promotion and money just to get rolling.

    As for writing the perfect song, that could mean a lot of things. The crap I hear on the radio today is not what I would call a perfect song, and they are making tons of money from it… if you want to make big bucks, you might just have to bite the bullet and make crappy music to get your band noticed.

  12.  I may have missed this in scanning most of the comments but I did not see any mention of working as a full or part time worship leader in some local church.  From my experience, there is a strong demand for folks who can do this type of work and the pay is not bad.  You earn money with a job that also keeps you immersed in the type of music you love.

  13. Yeh, I just have to add my 2 cents.  The way a musician/songwriter/composer/whatever makes money is by selling the product.  So what else is new under the sun?  I didn’t know what I was going to read when I came here but I didn’t read anything new either.  The fact is nothing happens till the money changes hands and all the lists in the world will not help you sell the product.  nuff said.

  14. Supply and demand. Music fans demand great songs with catchy hooks, if you can’t supply them with great songs/catchy hooks (No money for you.)  Write great songs,get a great recording of them (Production! & Mastered!),manufacture your product (Disk Makers),Promote your product (relentlessly!) Play shows,make shirts,act professional,create a DEMAND.  Remember, you’ll have to grease some palms along the way (PAYOLA). You must own everything you do.= Your songs,record label,publishing,product,merchandise and everything else.  You pay for everything. (day job)   Writing a great song is the hardest part of it all. So work on the craft of songwriting.   Create a DEMAND by writing Great songs.  

    1. I agree with your comment about writing great songs, but I am sure we are on a different page
      as to what determines a great song. That said I have always liked the saying “the good is the enemy of the best” in this case it is not enough to write a good song, and have friends and family say
      wow, you’re as good as (fill in the blank.) It all starts with the song, so write a GREAT song!

      1. Regarding writing good/great songs.  I used to attend songwriting seminars where established music publishers would be invited to critique songs.  When asked, “How do you know when you hear a good or great song?”  The standard reply was “Well, after you’ve been in the business as long as we have, you just know.”  But after a while I realized that the same guys who were knocking down songs were the same guys who admittedly had passed on many songs that became gold records, totally destroying their own credibility.  So the whole thing is pretty subjective if you ask me.  Yes, there are basic elements about songwriting that should be adhered to, but I think sometimes it gets down to sending demons to different people, because you cannot just go by what one set of ears hears.

  15. I want to thank whoever it is that assembled this list — it was intended to be helpful for anyone seeking such ideas.  However, regarding the whining posted about this list… here’s a novel concept:  Make a living from something other than music, then make whatever music you want without being constrained by the necessity of making money from it.  At what point in our evolution did we think that creating art gave us some kind of entitlement to be self-sufficient from it?  It’s a naive approach to think that the free market should not pertain to the arts.  And if you are repelled by the free market, that’s just fine — don’t participate in it.  Simply make a living doing something else.  That will free you from the creative constraints you find so annoying, so you can enjoy making whatever kind of music you want without restrictions.  However, please remain aware that to capture an audience for your art, you must participate in the free market of acceptance, which may or may not be a lucrative endeavor, regardless of your devotion.  This frustrates many artists, but it should not stop him/her from pursuing their calling.  In fact, it often leads to creating much better art.  

    1. I haven’t seen anybody whining here, just asking questions. The list that started this conversation is misleading and so not helpful. Nobody posting here has said anything about quitting, just that the list is not realistic to the “free market place” you mention. There has always been inequity in the market place and the history of the music business has always been the grossest example of this. I know lawyers in LA that refuse to do anything in the music business because it is so slimey. Here are a few examples of “the free Market place” as it pertains to the music industry. In Nashville publishers and writers don’t worry about someone stealing their songs because the subsequent lawsuit will net them more money than the song would ever make. A well know famous rock producer bought the first 500,000 of his wifes debut release making it gold certified and thus driving it up the charts to go on to be a multi-platinum album. Sometimes labels sign and shelve artist that might be competition of their pet project at the time. And who can forget the payola trials in the 80’s or the fact that the mob got into show business because of controling the teamsters and trucks and hmmm, distribution. If you’re going to do business you have to get it to “the free market place.” Nobody in this conversation mentioned “creative constraints” I mean except for you. What working writers / recording artist want to know is how to navigate the minefield that is the business of music.

      1. No whining here?  We must be looking at different postings.  Perhaps you should screen your reply for that very thing.  Someone makes a list, in an attempt to be helpful — which I think it was — and most people gripe about how hard it is to make a living making music.  The “creative constraints” I referred to were those obstacles that people create themselves.  I think explaining that doing what is necessary to try to make a living at music is constraining creativity is merely pointing out the obvious.  My point is that you have the option of avoiding those constraints by making a living doing something else and creating at will.  That’s the way it was mostly done before this century.  And, that’s the way I choose to do it.  My music will prevail, regardless of how many sales I have or how much money I make from it.  I hope the same goes for you as well.

        1. Most obstacles in life we create. You have this limited way of defending that list by making people who question it seem unreasonable. Using words like “gripe” and “whine.” And thanks for the suggeston about screening my own reply. I did and I’m good. No whining. I have a music career and while I have never made a killing I have been able to make a living which is all I ever wanted and enjoy the occasional “little victory” like havig a song cut or get one in a soundtrack. So I weighed in on this conversation to maybe help with practical albeit unsolicited advice. I am not your enemy and truly hope your music does prevail. I will say this, every real deal meeting I have ever been in with music publishers or record execs, they were keenly aware of me as a person before we ever we listened to my songs. Nobody needs the hostility man.

        2. There is no hostility in what I wrote, whatsoever.  I just observed a lot of wasted energy in the comments of the disgruntled.  You may see it differently.  Fine.  That’s what makes horse racing.  Believe it or not, I was trying to offer a positive alternative perspective.  My main point is that people should strive to be happy about their music, whether or not they make a living from it.  I wish you all the best in your musical endeavors — and everything else, for that matter.

  16. All good comments hereinbelow. I have added some “codes” to live and work by: Consider an “advance” as an interest free loan; as in any performing art, music is a hard way to make a living so don’t do music as a “hobby” but as a secondary job and consider it “additional income” when you get paid; always maintain the utmost in professionalism and proper attitude; and lastly never give up…….

  17. The best way I have found to make money off my music is to join taxi and get rejected, rejected, rejected, rejected, rejected, rejected……………. even though they say I have great songs, they are never right for the listing.  LOL………. you can even listen to them at my website .  But a real tip that I am going to do with my songs is do some public speaking and play one of my great songs at the beginning and some after I am through speaking.  Hopefully, people will love it.  Learn to speak at colleges and high schools and use some of your own songs to establish you as a hit.  Sell a book, t-shirts, CD’s and so forth.  Multiple streams of income is the only way to make a living at it.  Play a gig, speak at a high school, charge $2,500 for speaking.

  18. It is really hard to make a living off music – do the numbers. Even if you go gold in a country like Australia, you will hardly be able to live after you divide by four.  Music is simply not viable.  It is like mining for gold in the last century- the stores selling the equipment make money.  Do music for your soul and get a day job.

  19. This list should be prefaced with “In A Perfect World” and not as this pie in the sky presentation.
    It’s very misleading. Most artist spend 80 hrs a week just to get to the 30 minutes they spend on stage
    and all the general public sees is the 30 minutes and they go “wow, what a gifted life musicians lead.”
    From the songwriters POV who write without a deal 300 songs and pay to have demo’d half of those
    in hopes of getting a song cut and then be told that the writer can keep a very small % of their publishing
    if they want the cut, and some huge monolitic company like Universal steam rolls them, or from the
    merch table of touing artist with 360 Deals where the label sends out someone to collect their cut at the
    end of the night etc. And like someone has already mentioned there is redundancy throughout this list so lets not blow too much smoke up the asses of the unknowing musician. It’s a hard job at best and you need to have the facts presented in proper perspecive. 

    1. Also, how much of there income came from which example.  I would love to know more about working artist change in revenue.  What examples go with that stupid graph. That could at least help a new artist which directions are going to lead to the most money.

      1. I see what your saying, but it is not possible to spell everything out for everybody all the time. People have to use there heads a bit too – this is just a list of of various ways that producers and musicians can make money – as it clearly states… It is then up the producer or musician in question to take this information and maybe bother to actually do a bit of research in the area that he/she feels is most fitted to 

      2. I see what your saying, but it is not possible to spell everything out for everybody all the time. People have to use there heads a bit too – this is just a list of of various ways that producers and musicians can make money – as it clearly states… It is then up the producer or musician in question to take this information and maybe bother to actually do a bit of research in the area that he/she feels is most fitted to 

  20. This is a beneficia program,i hav been associated wit disc makers 4a while,and I appreciate all da info.,dvds of knowledge…..thanx u guys…vengance enterprises

  21. Listing the percentages of income that each one contributes to its sector would be incredibly useful. Unfortunately, this list is in only moderately useful in enlightening us to the different revenue streams, as the order doesn’t seem to reflect any percentages or amounts. I was hoping for some real numbers!

  22. No. 1 and 7 are the same thing, in essence: An advance on royalties for publishing is an advanced payment against what you expect to earn on royalties from publishing, it is the form of the payment that differs. You aren’t “making money” on your advance payment (whether for publishing or for a recording) and if you don’t earn the amount in royalties that you were advanced, you’ll have to pay back the difference. (No. 13 has this same problem). These different forms of payment are not truly different ways of making money as the headline suggests. 

    1. Actually that is incorrect.  It’s very rare that a songwriter has to pay back his/her advance on royalties.
      If so he/she should either fire their lawyer or obtain one before signing a deal.

      1. I have had a few writing deals in both Nashville and LA and you are wrong.
        It is an “advance” not a bonus or gift. While it may feel like a salary it is a recoupable
        advance to help the songwriter pay their bills and deliver X amount of songs according
        to the writer / publisher deal. I mean you got to eat right? If the publisher will let you out without paying back the advance that’s great but they will keep the rights to every song
        you wrote for them and if they have any success with your songs they will keep back the advance money owed them before you see dime one.
        A record deal advance is even more binding as they will keep you from signing with
        or releasing any material  until the advance has been repaid or recouped as the lawyers
        you suggest like to say. To hire a lawyer is another conversation entirely.

  23. I don’t know of another industry that can boast as many different revenue streams. This amount of diversity equals an even greater amount of opportunity!

    1. Opportunity to make 10 cents a stream and barely earn enough money on a domestic tour to put the gas in your tank and get back home. 

      1.  Yes me too — these aren’t findings; it’s a dream list. Most musicians, composers, and other artists are making their money with odd jobs or other industries. That’s my 2 cts.

        1. There are countless bands in the underground metal and punk scenes that even have major label deals and work day jobs or find some other income even as a signed act. I was shocked when I found out how some of these guys even had midnight TV appearances or features in print and still don’t really “live off” their music. Maybe 2% of them do. 

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