Not out there playing gigs and selling merch at shows? Royalties and sync licensing are among the ways you can generate music income in today’s music industry.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
If you’ve watched any of my videos or read my blog posts, you know that I talk a lot about ways artists can drive revenue from their music. The reason I do this is obvious: I know many of you would love to do music for a living. And in order to pay the mortgage with your music, you need to be driving income from your music.
Despite the fact that most music today is consumed via streaming, most music income for artists, at all levels — from emerging bands to The Rolling Stones — comes from live performances. Selling tickets and selling CDs, vinyl, and merch at concerts.
Making music income from non-concert sources
But what if you’re an artist or songwriter who doesn’t perform live? Is it possible to make a living from your music? And if so, how do you do it? Well, it’s probably not a surprise when I tell you that it is already really hard to pay the bills from your music income — even if you are performing regularly.
And if you don’t perform? If you’re an artist just putting your recordings on Spotify and other streaming platforms, or you’re a songwriter/composer trying to get your songs recorded by other artists, or you’re working to get syncs placed in movies, TV shows, or commercials? In that case, it’s really quite a daunting task. I mean, what are the music revenue flows if you don’t perform live?
Sound recording royalties
If you record your own music and make it available for streaming, you’ll get a royalty on the sound recording. About three-tenths of a penny per stream if you’re on Spotify.
Then, there are publishing royalties. For example, if another artist records and releases one of your songs and puts it up on Spotify — or records it and releases it on their CD. Fantastic, but those are a fraction of the already tiny sound recording royalties I already mentioned.
Public performance royalties
Public performance royalties are the royalties that ASCAP and BMI collect if your song is performed in a bar, club, restaurant, or, should you be so lucky, in a stadium.
And don’t forget online CD sales from your Bandcamp page and sales in local mom and pop record stores. But realistically, if you don’t perform live it’ll be hard to move many physical units unless you’re a well-known artist. For emerging artists or songwriters, you might sell some, but not enough to drive much income. And this comes from a guy who is all about the great value that CDs offer for artists.
Beyond that, I’d say the main remaining opportunity is sync licensing, which may be the best revenue opportunity available to non-performing artists.
What is sync? It’s basically getting your music synchronized with video content, like getting a song, or a piece of a song, or maybe even a sound snippet that you created placed in a movie, TV show, video game, or advertisement.
Now, I am no domain expert on sync licensing, so I called my good friend Michael Lasko, who is the CEO of TAXI. TAXI is a songwriters’ organization that provides education to songwriters not just on how to write better songs, but also on how to create music that is more likely to get sync placements.
In addition, TAXI gets listings from record labels, movie studios, ad agencies, and game companies specifying the kinds of music or sounds they need for the video content they are creating. Then TAXI members can submit to have their music screened.
Getting sync placements
Michael has deep experience and lots of contacts in publishing and in sync, and here’s what he told me. Sync placements can not only drive a healthy upfront fee for the right opportunity, they can also generate recurring revenue from residuals as the ad or the TV show gets re-run over and over again.
But, there’s an art to this — you have to know how to create content for placement in movies or TV shows. The music has to match the scene. Sometimes it’s not even a song, but just a few chords that the music supervisor needs. Sync, ironically, is not about having the best song. It’s about having the song or the sound that fits the best with the scene that it’s being paired with.
Joining a sync company
You can try to get sync placements yourself, contacting dozens of music libraries with pitch letters and hoping that they will listen to your music. But it’s probably a better bet to join a company like TAXI, which gets listings that you then can submit your music for, and then acts as a conduit to get the right music to the movie or ad agency that needs it.
Now, does joining a company like TAXI ensure that you’ll get sync placements? Of course not. What are the odds you’ll get one or more sync placements? Realistically, probably not that great, at least initially while you’re learning the ropes of what kind of content gets placed. But sync placements are probably your best bet for driving any kind of reasonable income from your music if you’re not a performing artist.
Watch more great videos on the Disc Makers YouTube channel.
Tony van Veen is the CEO of DIY Media Group, the parent company of Disc Makers and BookBaby. As a college student, he played in indie bands, created his own LPs, cassettes, and t-shirts, and sold them at shows. Today, he collects CDs, vinyl LPs, and concert t-shirts to support the artists he loves.
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