earn money as an indie music artist

Earn money as an indie music artist by leveraging your “surfaces”

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Use the real-world and online surfaces you have access to as an indie music artist to promote, sell, and partner with other businesses to help you make more money with music.

When it comes to having success as a business, using every available opportunity — and creating new ones — to promote or upsell is key. Every business tries to get the most out of the advertising surfaces it has on its premises, whether it’s a store, restaurant, bank, etc. Musicians are no different. You have advertising surfaces, both real and online, that you can take advantage of to promote, upsell, cross-sell, and inform your audience as to what you want them to do.

Put your “surfaces” to work

Every business is looking to convert potential customers into actual customers. Grocery stores know you’re coming in for milk, which is why it’s all the way in the back. That’s by design: the store wants you browsing its shelves for other things on your way to the milk. They also charge their suppliers to place their products on the eye-level shelves or the end caps of the aisles. Same with gas station stores. Most people want to get a drink for the road, but they have to walk past signs, displays, and other shelves of products (packaging is advertising!) on the way to the refrigerator in the back.

We call these areas which house messages, photos, signs, and calls-to-action surfaces. And while musicians don’t normally have actual storefronts or real estate, we actually have a lot of surfaces we can monetize — both virtual and real. Don’t ignore these chances to get more people to your shows, increase the number of streams played, and get more products and merch sold!

Your surfaces can promote:

  • Your latest streaming single
  • URL/social platforms
  • Patronage page
  • Upcoming shows
  • CDs, vinyl, and merch
  • Your video channel
  • Streaming playlists
  • And more…

Nearly every working musician has multiple surfaces which can be used to engage your audience and boost sales, streams, and revenue.

Your real-world surfaces

  1. Your stage backdrop
  2. All other areas of the venue you control, including instruments, tables, bass drum head, amps, keyboards, DJ booth, etc.
  3. Your show tickets
  4. Your show posters and flyers
  5. Any promo materials you create and hand out
  6. The clothes you wear on stage, at filmed interviews, in promotional photos, and more.
  7. Your car/van/bus
  8. Your merch table
  9. The wall/backdrop behind your merch table.
  10. Your merchandise (stickers, t-shirts, etc.), all of which can include links, QR codes, etc.
  11. Your business cards

Your virtual surfaces

Making Money With Music

  1. Your website
  2. Your social media platforms
  3. Your MP3 images
  4. Your online photo galleries
  5. Your video intros and outros
  6. Your video descriptions
  7. Your video chyron/bugs (those little logos in the corner of the screen are usually on live streaming sites as well as videos, and can have web links, etc.)

Connect your real-world surfaces to your digital world

To help convert people from seeing your real-world messages to actually doing what you want them to do — stream your latest song, get a ticket to the next show, buy your latest merch — you’ll want to tie the virtual world to your real-world surface messages.

QR Code To help draw people from your real-life surfaces into your digital world, use QR codes. QR codes are images that smartphones can scan and automatically send people to a URL (just like the one to the left).

All your real-world surfaces can include QR codes to direct your audience to your online income sources, such as your online store, patronage page, tipping site, and more. This can turn a live music goer in your audience into a monthly Patreon funder simply by telling people about your page, pointing to the QR code you placed onstage, and offering the right rewards. (Check out the patronage article series for more on this important revenue stream and how best to promote and tap it).

Creating QR codes is free. Check out sites like QRCode Monkey, which allows you to customize your QR code and embed images like your logo directly inside it. If you’re on Spotify and want to promote your latest single, EP, or album, use your Spotify code to let people listen. Spotify codes are QR codes dedicated to its platform.

Make money from your surfaces by selling access

Your surfaces can make you money in another way: depending on your draw and web stats, businesses may want to advertise to your audience. This means you can rent and sell access to your surfaces. This is also known more commonly as advertising and sponsored content. This usually comes a little later in a musician’s career, especially when the extra income is needed to support the artist’s team. But don’t wait until you grow.

For example, you may be able to get advertising fees to show an ad or logo for your favorite local pizza place or coffee shop on the stage during your shows, since your show’s audience could be a great target market for after the show. Backdrops with ads are inexpensive to make and can even be part of your show. You can also sell advertising on your online spaces using things like Google AdSense, Chitika, and Taboola. Or start putting sponsored messages in your feeds once you have a few thousand followers using social media monetization sites like SharePop or Snips.

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You don’t have to have a huge following to take advantage of your surfaces. Every time you can catch your fan’s eye, draw them to the products, experiences, and live music entertainment they’ll enjoy that can make you more income. As you grow your fanbase, you can start pulling in some of the more advanced income streams, like stage advertising and sponsorships.

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.

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Make More Money With Music, the Complete Guide

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