I find myself having this conversation with my students all the time. Most musicians gravitate towards album sales, and fail to see any of the other avenues. I can't blame them. Album sales are the most obvious, but there are lots of other lucrative activities for musicians to build a career and prosper.
Today, I want to talk about some of the methods you can employ to monetize your music. These are in no particular order:
1. License your music.
Licensing your music is a phenomenal way to build revenue from your craft without having to sell ownership. Licensing placements are not as difficult to get as some may think. Even small companies and websites will offer compensation if you're having trouble landing big ones. This can add up pretty fast, and is an effortless, usually non-exclusive way to keep revenue coming in. You don't have to be a big name either.
Music is crucial for advertising, so campaigns are more than willing to pay for good music to send their ad the extra mile.
A simple Google search will give you a ton of non-exclusive catalogues (Indaba Music and Audiosparx are two that come to mind). Additionally, a lot of one-stop-shop distributors will put you right into catalogues too (CDBaby is one).
2. Offer services.
We spend so much time honing our skills for our own benefit; why not sell them to someone else?
Anything musical is usually a time-consuming skill to learn, so many individuals are ready to throw some cash at someone to do it for them. We can't do it all. I produce music and engineer sound. Nowadays, I actually work for other musicians more than I work on my own music. This has saved me in times of financial crisis.
I lost my side-job last year and was technically unemployed for 6 months. During this time, I worked producing for other musicians. Had I not have had this option, I would've been in big trouble. Selling my know-how saved my wallet.
On the flip side of that coin, I would often rather pay a singer or songwriter to perform on my tracks than do it myself if that's something I need. Performance is not my forte anymore, so getting someone else to do it can improve the quality of the music I'm putting out. Making sure my product is 100% top-notch can ensure more sales on my end as well, so that investment pays off.
Not only is this a great way to earn, but it also keeps the music economy fluid. A musician paying another musician is keeping the money in the industry, and supporting someone else with similar dreams and goals.
3. Sell merch.
Often times we overlook a lot of the potential avenues for building income off of a single product. This becomes a lot more effective after you already have a loyal fan base, but offering more than CD's gives you so much potential to monetize at max efficiency.
For example, there are more than a few artists that I'm a diehard fan of. If they're only offering album sales, they'll get a single sale from me per release (maybe $5-10) when I would be happy to pay more. If they were also offering T-shirts, stickers, vinyl, and photos (even better, make it a $50-100 package), they made way more per capita off of every fan like me. From a content standpoint, they didn't have to do any extra work. All of that merch was released for the same album, and they make way more money.
This becomes even easier when you perform. Get someone in the right atmosphere at the right time, and they'll unload their wallets in that moment. It's powerful to be able to give them the experience to go along with it.
This is a huge one for me, obviously. As I mentioned earlier, musical skill sets can be very time-consuming and frustrating to learn. New musicians are more than happy to pay for someone to teach them how to do it correctly, and mitigate the growing pains.
Torches Academy has become the biggest investment of time for me, even over the music I'm making.
Especially for older musicians, there comes a time when you're done chasing the dream of being a touring, active artist. In fact, even that thought is completely exhausting to me now. As much as I miss playing live at times, I love paving the road to success for the youth who still have that kind of energy! When I started teaching, I found my true passion.
I'll tell you right now - there will never be a shortage of people wanting to learn how to play and write. Every other aspect of music is constantly changing and it's our job to analyze and adapt, but I'd venture to say that this one never really does.
The beautiful thing about this too, is music is an art, so a degree isn't required to teach at most private institutions (your own included). I've been contracted by universities, continuing education departments, summer programs, you name it. And just to bring in what I know about music production and electronic composition.
5. Dress for the job you want.
This one is a little hard for me to put into words because it's not one specific method, per se - it's more of a school of thought than an avenue. You never know when opportunity will strike, and often times, it is not an opportunity you were actively looking for.
Let me outline this one through example -
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a musician. I wear it on my sleeve, and although sometimes it's tough to explain to people how I'm a career musician, I do it anyway. Recently, I was hired to work from home at a music licensing firm. A mutual acquaintance of mine knew what I did professionally, and recommended me. In the end, all I did to land the gig was take part in the industry openly.
On the other hand, I know a lot of painfully talented 'closet' musicians. These are the folks who work their 9-5 jobs and live their lives as normal folks, and only 'dress up' for the part when it's studio time or performance time. To each their own - I can't fault them for not going all in if it's not something they want - but at the same time, some of these people are the same ones wondering why their music isn't taking off. When more than half the people you know don't even know you play or write, how are you expecting to reap the rewards of the skill sets you worked so hard to build? The music industry is all about building relationships - don't shoot yourself in the foot by hiding that side of your life. Wear it loud, wear it proud.
This doesn't offer any kind of guarantee, but you never know when you could be missing out on a great opportunity because that ONE key person doesn't know what you're capable of.
This one is obvious for a lot of people, but sometimes I'm surprised at how many musicians still exclusively rely on album sales over streams.
For a lot of indie musicians, selling albums is still going to yield the best results due to smaller fan demographics. However, the music industry is changing. In my experience, there's absolutely no reason not to set yourself up to get your music on a big playlist on Spotify or trend on Youtube. The worst down side is that nothing will happen.
Not to mention, getting on all major distributors is included with most major distribution platforms like CDBaby, Tunecore, and Stem. Just do it - it's cheap and there's no reason not to that I can think of.
7. Follow the trends.
If you look hard enough, there are new trends and avenues appearing all the time. A lot of them aren't going to be super obvious, and you may have to go a little more out of your way than you're used to. But a lot of musicians find themselves in jobs they weren't exactly set out to have in the first place, but still very much enjoy.
Wedding DJ's, luthiers, roadies, event hosts, booking agents - a lot of these roles aren't sought from the beginning, but stumbled upon along the way.
It's also important to look at the trends outside of music to see what is lucrative overall. I remonetized a lot of my music on a website called Steemit, a blockchain technology website where you earn cryptocurrency for good content. A lot of people are skeptical of these new avenues, but I can tell you first hand that I've seen payouts. There is nothing wrong with cautious and strategic experimentation. Try new things and stay ahead of the curve!
Whew, that was a long one. Every musician is different, and my music career will likely look very different than yours. Yet, it's super important to keep your options open, and squeeze as much potential as you can out of every opportunity.
I enjoy writing blog posts like this because I like seeing my fellow musicians succeed, and there should be more sharing of information about these subjects and experiences. Selling music can be like selling water by the river, and we have to stick together, unify, and help each other build.
If there is anything I've missed, feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments! Much love and thanks for reading!