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How to Make Money with Music

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Estimated reading time: 13 minutes

Navigating the world of music monetization can be daunting, regardless if you’re a newbie or seasoned music industry veteran.

We offer five techniques that strike the perfect chord between artistic passion and financial success throughout your music career. From intimate live performances at local venues to leveraging the power of digital platforms, there are a lot of opportunities to make money from music as an artist or music producer.

Earning through royalties and digital distribution

Getting your music distributed and available for sale and streams is one obvious way for indie musicians to make money with music online. For a deep dive into how to manage your music publishing and distribution, check out our three-part series of posts and videos.

In “Choosing a digital distributor for your music,” Disc Makers CEO Tony van Veen discusses things that aren’t as important as you might think when choosing a distributor. In “Digital music distribution: It’s not just about streaming,” van Veen addresses how your distributor can monetize your music. The title of part 3 sums it up nicely: “Digital music distribution Q&A: Pricing, payment, support, and more.”

Streaming service

The streaming platforms your music is on can generate revenue and a ton of useful metrics. This includes platforms such as Spotify, YouTube Music, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and more. You can get insight into your audience, data on who’s listening, track how many fans are followers, see how many monthly listeners you have, determine which songs are streamed the most, and more. This is valuable data you can use when choosing songs to promote on a streaming platform.

How to use your streaming metrics to make more money:

  • Find your most popular songs and use them in your marketing and promotion campaigns to maximize streaming royalty.
  • Routinely check your stats and data and see if they change when you launch a new promotion campaign. If the campaigns are boosting your streams, then you know your promotional campaign is working.
  • Use your top songs to generate merchandise ideas by highlighting key lyrics, song titles, and more. Then promote that merch while streaming or at your merch table when you play live.

Earning through merchandising

Your merch and merch table are one of the most important revenue generators you have, so it’s worth putting thought into it to ensure it attracts customers, encourages sales, and mirrors the image you want to project to the audience.

Your band’s CDs and merch are the only physical mementos of your music your fans can take home. It’s one of the only tangible ways they can capture the moment and the feeling they get from your live show. Make your merch table an experience rather than an afterthought.

1. Use EL wire lights

Besides being inexpensive, you can buy this wire in strips, which allows you to be creative about where to place it. These lights are also visible from across a dark music venue, so place your merch table in as accessible a place as you can, hang a sign above it, and frame it all with lights.

2. Don’t be shy

Make it easy to view the merchandise (don’t hide it in boxes) and mention your store a few times from the stage to call further attention to it.

3. Let customers handle the merchandise

Once a customer picks up an item, they are far more likely to buy it because it’s human nature to want something once we have it in hand. Trigger this by letting them handle the merch.

4. Accept every type of payment method

Make it easy for your customers to pay. Besides having cash on hand to make change, you can take a customer’s credit card using services like Square or Stripe and payment services like Venmo.

5. Provide low-cost items to draw buyers in

Whether it’s a $5 lighter or a $1 sticker, provide low-cost, impulse items to spark that initial interest. Once they bite, use that as a reason to upsell to get them to buy more. Throw in the truly low-cost items like stickers for free if they buy a t-shirt or poster. That way, you can trigger an upsell if they’re ready to buy the cheap item.

6. Provide expensive items for big spenders

Making Money With MusicMuch of your income will come from your “whales” — high-rollers who want something expensive from your merch table. Score these big sales by giving them something to buy. Provide higher-end items like jackets and other higher-end products. Plus, these expensive items help your less expensive items seem more affordable, triggering additional sales.

7. Use pricing strategies to trigger more sales

Pricing strategies such as limited-time offers, limited-quantity offers, and discounted add-ons have a simple formula:

  • Grab people’s attention.
  • Attract them to a product.
  • Convince them they’ll lose out if they don’t act immediately.

You can use this at your merch table by simply offering a discount or coupon and making sure it has a time limit. Also, try creating limited-quantity merch items. Put together bundles — buy the t-shirt AND poster for just $5 more. And don’t forget impulse buys as well with smaller (often higher margin) items.

8. Keep the store open at least 30 minutes after the show

Don’t just pack up your table and head off once the show is over. After the show is when a lot of your sales will happen.

9. Get someone to run your merch table

You need a team behind you if you want to sell merch during the show so you can focus on the music and not miss out on any sales when you’re on stage. Get a friend to manage it or hire someone to staff the store for you.

Earning through touring and gigs

If you don’t put any effort into creating compelling live music shows as an independent artist, people may see you once, perhaps twice, but then usually don’t come back. Pack the rooms and grow your draw using the following music industry techniques. This will not only help grow your audience, it will also help you make more money with music through performance rolyalties and give you tons of publicity opportunities.

One of the best ways to help build buzz is to pack the venue wall-to-wall and sell it out. When people are packed in a room, it naturally builds excitement — not only for the audience, but for the musicians as well. Plus, the perception that there are so many music lovers there to see you play will drive future ticket sales for your live shows. It also gives you a reason to hit the press and media to generate additional publicity.

Design a killer live performance

The surest way to pack a room is also the most fundamental: create a fantastic live show that packs an emotional punch for the audience. Even though musicians can spend months (and months) making an album, they often spend days practicing for a live performance. Yet, this part of music production is where most of your income comes from. When you design your show as a performance that creates an emotional connection between you and the audience, your fans will want to see you whenever you play.

Don’t overplay your market

Even though you’re anxious to get out and play, and people are excited to be out and about, make each performance special by limiting the number of shows you play in any given geographic area. You can spread out your live music shows by taking breaks in between or playing neighboring towns and cities.

Play venues smaller than your draw

The easiest way to sell out your show is to play venues with lower capacity than the numbers who will come to see your show. As you grow your draw, you can graduate to larger venues.

To amplify the buzz of the smaller rooms, be sure to take photos from the stage of the packed house (and the line outside). This not only helps with marketing and promotion (as well as making great shots for your website or social media), but it can also serve as proof of the size of audience a venue can expect when you play their room.

Promote and presell

Don’t skip the promotion if you want to sell out the show. This includes updating your show calendar on your website, updating your social networks, hitting your mailing list, reaching out to the press and media, using your street team, and anything else you can think of.

15 Music Promotions guideSelling tickets in advance is another way to ensure attendance ahead of your show. If you and the venue can use a pre-sale ticket system, or if you can do it on your own, then you can get fans to commit to attending your show in advance.

A paid commitment raises the chances they’ll not only show up for your performance, they’ll likely bring a friend or two. If you combine this technique with playing a venue that’s smaller than your draw, you can announce your show has sold out. This can be something to reach out to the press and media about and is also a perfect time to book a follow-up show.

Selling song samples

1. Your DAW source tracks, beats, and stems can be sold or licensed

Your source tracks and stems can have a multitude of income sources tied to them beyond the final track. Much of what you capture can be useful for licensing or sale. There are multiple income sources from your source tracks. You can:

  • Sell them for remixing.
  • License them for synchronization in ads, TV, film, video, and more. These licensing deals often require you to send them source tracks because they want to remix/remaster the work or even make a derivative work.
  • Create and sell your own remixes/remasters.
  • Create your own samples music library.

2. Your DAW files can be sold

If you use a digital audio workstation such as Ableton or Logic, your fans and other musicians may want to buy your DAW file so they can remix your song or create their own derivative versions.

3. Your synth presets and virtual instruments settings can be sold

Some musicians are famous for a particular sound they’ve created. If you’ve created new, unique sounds using your virtual instruments and synths, your fans and other musicians may want to use them in their music, videos, or other creative works.

4. Your MIDI files can be sold

If you write your song as MIDI, your fans and other musicians may want to use it to remix your song or create their own versions. MIDI files may also be used to create sheet music, which is a separate revenue stream.

5. Your sounds can be sold or licensed

If you’ve created special sounds or sound effects such as breaking glass, rain, etc., you can sell these as separate items for musicians, filmmakers, YouTubers, and other creatives to use in their works. Sounds like these are usually used for “sound design” purposes.

Behind-the-scenes content

There are many opportunities where you can capture moments your fans would love to see. They want to be behind the scenes. Everything you do as a musician — especially in the creative process — is of interest to those who don’t know how it’s done.

Capture photos during your songwriting and recording

Take pictures! Every photo you take at the time you’re recording, mixing, and mastering will become useful. Take photos of every musician, the studio, the rehearsals, the mixing board — everything. Of course, get everyone’s permission first. Tell them you may use these to market, promote, or make money for your music.

Capture videos during your songwriting, recording, and studio process

Take video of your studio sessions, rehearsals, and songwriting sessions. This is an especially good idea if you have a well-known guest artist recording on your song, producer, guest rapper, etc.

Save papers and mementos from your recording process

Disc Makers guide to Making A Great MasterAs you create and record your music, save lyric drafts, papers, items that inspired your music, and mementos that can be worth money afterward. This might include lyric sheets, recording notes, or even things like the guitar strings that broke, etc.

Save these items, but also document them by taking photos. We ran across this idea while attending a retrospective by Martin Atkins, talking about his time with Public Image Limited (PiL). He saved things like concert tickets which he attended at the time, doctor’s notes from when he had to go to the hospital after he got in a fight, and even things like take-out menus. He used these to weave a story about his adventures with them in a stage show.

Keep a diary of your songwriting and recording process

By keeping a diary or journaling your songwriting and recording process, you create content that can be used in different ways. You can keep the diary personal or tweet/post to social media as things happen. This idea again came from Martin Atkins, who kept a journal during his time with PiL. This was full of interesting tidbits covering events that happened at the studio or when he was on tour. He then repurposed this material for his own stage show.

Studio recordings

Before you release a recording, you should register your sound recording (or master recording) with your performance royalty organization (PRO) to collect the sound recording royalties it generates. Once you register your song, you will collect royalties for your entire lifetime plus 70 years. Depending on the amount of royalties your music generates, you can also auction your future royalties to raise money if you need it for recording, touring, or other expenses.

You can register for sound recording PRO royalties, both domestic and foreign. In the US, the PRO that handles this is SoundExchange. In other countries, this is usually handled with your songwriting PRO since they often both handle song and sound recording copyright royalties. And don’t forget to register with the Mechanical Licensing Collective and collect that new royalty revenue stream.

Properly tracking the sound recording ownership makes it easier for you to license your sound recording for synchronization (films, TV, advertisements, movie trailers), video games, and more since you can provide proof of who owns it. The same is true if you license beats, samples, and other original music elements.

List the musicians and recording engineers on the recording

You will want to capture the names of every musician on the sound recording — including yourself. You can then use those names to generate credits for your track, which makes you easier to find while also generating royalties for the musicians.

Capture detailed music track info (metadata)

There’s plenty of detailed track info, or “metadata,” you can include in your song file. This metadata makes it easier for licensing libraries, streaming services, and others to categorize your song and make it more discoverable. Data fields include beats per minute (BPM), instrumentation, genre, mood, copyright, description, contact info, and more. Of course, the best time to capture this info is while you’re recording your music.

How to Make More Money With Music, the Complete Guide

About Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan

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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