Photo credit: Chase Yi
Whenever you see musicians complaining about not being able to make money from music, they’re probably not making money from music. Because there are definitely ways to use your musical skills to earn a part-time or full-time income.
Is it difficult? Yes. As Russ says, you have to be delusional to make a living as a musician. In other words, you have to be ridiculously passionate about music. If you are, you can provide value to listeners and get paid for providing that value.
So, below are 12 ways to make money from music. I’ve made or currently make money from most of these income streams, so I know it’s possible.
Music streaming platforms notoriously don’t pay a ton of money. But that’s not a good enough reason to not take advantage of this passive income stream. You make a song, distribute it, and it can potentially make you money for the rest of your life.
Yeah, you need a lot of streams to make anything substantial. And we should push for better payouts from streaming platforms. For example, to make $500 from Spotify, you need to get about 210,000 streams.
But isn’t it better to make as much money from streaming as possible?
Teach Music Lessons
Whatever instrument you play, you can bring in some money by teaching others how to play it (you’ll have to be exceptional on that instrument). You can get paid $20-40 per hour, depending on how good you are and where you live.
It can be difficult to get your first students, but once you do, you’ll retain more students mainly by word of mouth. To find your first students, start with your personal network. You can also start by working with a company that finds students for you. And you can
Session Musician Work
If you’re good enough on your instrument to give music lessons, then you’re probably good enough to be a session musician.
You’ll do better as a session musician if you live in a city with a vibrant music scene, like Nashville, Austin, Los Angeles, or New York. But you can start right away by getting set up on SoundBetter and Fiverr and offering remote session work.
Play House Concerts
If you’re an artist with original music already released, don’t overlook house concerts.
They’re my favorite kind of show. As an introvert who loves people, I do better with smaller crowds. It’s not as intimidating and I get to meet everyone there. And you can be sure everyone in attendance wants to be there, as opposed to playing songs in a bar for people who don’t even know who you are.
This means house-show attendees are more likely to support you financially. Here are some resources to help you with the house concert industry:
- Team up with your friends and local fans to host house concerts in their homes
- Read No Booker, No Bouncer, No Bartender: How I Made $25K On A 2-Month House Concert Tour (And How You Can Too)
- Sign up as an artist on Side Door (they connect you with hosts)
- Apply to be part of the Listening Room Network (if you’re accepted, they connect you with hosts)
Play Live-Streamed Shows
Artists make money by live-streaming their concerts. Apparently, you don’t need many fans to make a living on Twitch. You can also make money directly on TikTok through follower “gifts” (tips).
But most importantly, it’s a fun way to connect with your fans from all over the world.
Play Corporate Gigs
Corporate gigs seem to be the secret sauce to making a living as a performing musician, as long as you’re willing to get rid of the fantasy idea that every show you play will be a sold-out theater.
I have friends who make a living from this type of thing, and I’ve played a few corporate gigs myself.
These gigs involve being background music for private parties, business get togethers, performances at senior living communities, and weddings. If you’re also a DJ, that’s a huge plus.
And, like any other type of public performance, you can earn performance royalties on top of what the client pays you.
Whenever you or someone else plays your songs in a public place, you are owed a royalty. In my experience, it ends up being about $1-2 per song per performance.
This can vary depending on what Publishing Rights Organization (PRO) you’re with. With BMI, I simply upload my setlist to their website and get paid every quarter. Oh, and this whole process is free.
A “public place” has to be anywhere open to the public, so house shows are not considered a “public place.” So don’t try to file for royalties from a house concert.
The first step is to sign up with a PRO.
Any shows you play, you should be selling merchandise, whether it’s in a house, at a bar, or for a corporate event (just check with the client first). For a lot of performing artists, merch sales are their biggest income stream.
For merch apparel, look for a local company that can make your custom T-shirts, hats, stickers, and whatever else your fans might like.
Sync licensing is when your song is synced with a moving image – in other words, a TV ad, show, or film.
You’re getting paid a lump sum of cash in exchange for allowing a filmmaker to use that song in their project.
Depending on the project, you can earn anywhere from $10 to thousands of dollars per song used. And you can license the same song multiple times if you’re under a non-exclusive agreement.
Plus, you’re owed performance royalties if your song is on TV (another reason to sign up with a PRO).
Produce and Mix Artists
This is currently my biggest income stream. I partner with indie artists to bring their songs to life through production and mixing.
To get started, you’ll first need to show people what you can do. This is why it’s important to have music of your own that you can send to potential clients.
Just record a song or two for starters. Then you can send those songs to fellow musicians to whom you pitch your services.
And, if you’re new to this, it’s best to offer to mix 1-2 songs for free. Then you’ll have more portfolio items to show other clients.
I highly recommend SoundBetter. I get most of my clients through this platform.
Start a Subscriber Community
A subscriber community allows your superfans to support you financially while getting exclusive goodies in return. By sharing exclusive stuff, early access, and just being yourself, you can run a successful subscriber community.
Launch and Grow a YouTube Channel
This one is tough. I’ve not done it, but I’m a big consumer of YouTube and I’ve seen plenty of musicians do it.
The trick is figuring out how to grow. To do so, you first need to have irresistible content. You’ll also need to post frequently, be a part of the community, and know how to add effective tags to your video.
Then, as you grow your audience, you can earn money from sponsors and YouTube’s ad revenue program.
YouTube actually put together a free course on how to succeed on YouTube. Looks like it covers everything you need to know.
Personalize Your Music Career
The way you make money from music is up to you. I’m just letting you know there are plenty of options. You have to find your own path and keep going.
I suggest focusing on 2-3 of these income streams.
But why three income streams?
Well, Thomas C. Corley, author of Change Your Habits, Change Your Life, spent five year studying millionaires.
And he found that three income streams “seemed to be the magic number.”
He found that 65% of the millionaires he studied had at least three income streams “prior to
making their first million dollars.”
He added that “the more income streams you can create in life, the more secure your financial house will be and the more wealth you will create.”
And these millionaires “built their businesses while employed full time. If they can do it, so can you.”
I know, you may not be shooting to become a millionaire musician. But if you want a full-time career in music, it’s best to listen to people who are financially successful.