One approach to making money with music is to focus on business customers. Check out these revenue streams which don’t require any audience or fans.
Building a fanbase for your original music takes time and hard work. First, you need to find a group of people who might like what you do and turn them into fans. This includes getting them to follow you on streaming services, social media, and coming to your live shows, whether online or at a venue. Next, you need to convert your fans into customers; ideally, fans who pay you regularly. But what if you don’t want to build a fanbase? Can you make money without a following and just focus on making the music? You can, by tapping the dozens of revenue streams that don’t require any fans.
Fan base vs. business customers
Instead of going about the work of developing your own audience, fans, and supporters, another approach is to focus on developing a good set of business contacts. By pursuing this route, you can then make your living by pleasing just a handful of customers who pay you for your music.
Business customers have specific musical needs and, to the extent you can satisfy them, they’re willing to pay for your services. Some need music for their audio-visual works such as films, TV, movie trailers, video games, and advertising. Below are some of the revenue streams you can tap when you deal with business customers:
The Licensing and Royalties chapter of Making Money With Music is the longest for a reason: there are some complicated details and many revenue streams available. The bottom line is, people need to pay you if they want to use your music in their videos, movies, shows, or video games. You can charge whatever you want for the license. Because of this, some musicians make a living simply licensing their recorded music to these business customers.
If you want to get involved in licensing, get to know music supervisors. These are the people who choose and license the music for their projects. You can get to know them personally and turn them into business customers by knowing what they want and networking. But if you don’t want to leave your studio and meet with people, you can always place your music into music libraries which serve these business customers. The spray-and-pray, low-effort approach to generating licensing deals is to use non-curated libraries like SongTradr or SynchTank. These are resources that many music supervisors, film makers, and other creatives browse to find the right music for their projects.
You can aim slightly higher by spending a little effort to reach out to curated libraries to see if they’ll accept your music. A few examples of these include APM, Jinglepunks, Audiosparx, AudioSocket, GettyImages Music, and MusicSupervisor — and there are many more. Some specialize in particular uses, such as Songlily, which focuses on licensing music for games and apps, and Motionarray, which is focused on video. Curated libraries may include your music “as is” or may ask you to write music in specific genres and styles (or you can suggest that to them). If that happens, you’ll need to enter into an agreement with them for your services, most of which are work-for-hire: they will pay you up-front for your services, but they’ll then own the copyright so they can license the music themselves.
One additional example is TAXI, which aggregates “wanted” listings from media companies. They charge fees to join and per submission, but if your music is chosen by the potential licensor, TAXI puts them in touch with you to work out a licensing deal.
Naturally, Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming services pay royalties when fans listen to your music, but since we’re talking about non-fan income streams, keep in mind royalties are paid out regardless of how your music might be used. For example, once you get your music licensed in a film, TV show, movie trailer, or advertisement, it will generate royalties for you. So to make sure you receive these checks you’ll still want to register your music. To help you with this, we created a list of 14 registrations you should do before releasing your music into the world in our book, Making Money With Music.
Make sure you’re signed up for the composition PROs (like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC), SoundExchange, and the MLC. Also, make sure to ask for foreign royalties so you can collect the money generated outside your home country.
If you want an “easy button” to help, check out publishing administrators like CD Baby Publishing, which can help you collect many of your registrations for a cut of what they collect. Note that no single publishing administrator collects all of the royalties you’re owed, so there’s still some work you’ll have to do if you want to collect everything owed to you.
3. Studio and production income
You can license and sell more than your finished music. If you record at a home on a DAW, you generate all types of music files such as stems, beats, (original) samples, and sound effects which can be licensed for sync use in film, TV, movie trailers, advertising, and more. Plus, you may create synth sounds, unique presets, and other sound design files that musicians want to license and use in their work. Curated marketplaces like Splice, Beatport.com, Beatstars.com, and Airbit.com are around, and if you reach out to these curators and they don’t agree to use your files, you can sell them yourself at download sites like Shopify and SquareSpace.
4. Live music income
There’s no need for a fan base for your live show if you book weddings, parties, and corporate events. You can always cultivate a good set of customers using traditional marketing or use sites like SonicBids and Gigmasters. You can also focus only on the college tour circuit. Doing so simply requires you work with The National Association of Campus Activities (NACA) or the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities (APCA) who will let you audition, for a fee, for college organizers and bookers. Also, if you’re a performer, you can play as a gigging musician or even join as a backing musician behind a touring band that did the hard work of generating a fanbase.
Tapping These Streams
To tap these streams, a lot depends on learning how to develop relationships with business customers. You might need to develop a different skill set than getting fans into your music, but it can be simpler because there are fewer people to reach and all you need to do is convince a few to do regular business with you. These depend on your networking skills and your ability to cultivate business relationships.
— — —
These income streams are still available to you even if you want to build a fanbase, but these options give you the opportunity to generate steady income from private customers before going through the expense and effort to build a fan base. Of course, cultivating business relationships with music supervisors, corporate customers, music and music production buyers, curation services, and bookers also takes time to build, but it can generate reliable income in the near- and long-term.
Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today’s tech-driven music environment.
Subscription revenue and patronage can build your music career
Make your music easy to license for TV, ads, and film
Musician networking tips: Grow your revenue and audience
New music royalties: The Mechanical Licensing Collective and what it means for you
Work For Hire agreements from a musician’s perspective