How to Make Money as an Indie Musician
Updated: Nov 11, 2019
In our last article, we wrote about the influence Spotify has had on the music industry as a whole. If you have not yet read that, consider going back and doing so. If you have, then you know that music streaming services took away a large portion of funds that musicians relied on... album sales. Album sales, whether it be vinyl, CD, or digital versions, were, for a long time, the bread and butter for musicians. This was how you made a living in music. This was replaced with making fractions of a penny per stream on streaming services. So now, how do you make money playing music?
The answer is different for every musician, and there is no secret recipe to making money in this ever-evolving music industry. However, below we have outlined some of the biggest money-makers for musicians today, and how you can make the most of it!
1. Live Shows/Events
Live music is the bread and butter of the music industry today. Performing a concert is a great way to engage with your fans, expand your audience, and make some money. The largest touring acts often command well over $1 million per performance. Small or developing artists obviously cannot command such fees; however, there is still money to be made. Many artists need to start by performing for free or for just $50 - $100. However, putting on an excellent performance even when you are not making money is a great way to get noticed by other venues, and to hopefully command more money in the future.
The most important thing is to know what you are worth and to price yourself accordingly (however, you also need to know when to negotiate and be willing to lower your cost). When you are being booked at a venue, nightclub, bar, etc. your worth is entirely up to negotiation. This is a hard realization for some artists, but it is worth it in the end if you can gain new fans and the attention of venue owners. Stick with live performances for the long haul; we promise there is no better way to get your name out there and make money in the future than by performing whenever and wherever you can.
2. Write Original Music
Many musicians write their own music and many others play covers. As a musician today, it is imperative that you write your own music. Royalties for album sales and streams pay to both the songwriter and the performer. Essentially, if you are only playing covers, you are only making half of the money that the song is making.
Write for yourself, write for your band, write for your friends’ band, write in the shower, write while stuck in traffic. Never stop writing new music, even if you don't foresee your group performing this in the future. You never know who may like that song and want to perform it themselves. Songwriters can make the royalties on a song even if people don't know who originally wrote it. Royalty collection agencies do know that you wrote it, and at the end of the day, you will get a check for it if it succeeds. Take your shot and write, write, write.
3. Join a Performing Rights Organization (PRO)
As a songwriter, make sure you join a PRO. PROs are in place to ensure that songwriters and publishers get all the money that they deserve from a given song. If you write a song and it is played on a playlist at the mall or performed anywhere publicly, you get a check from your PRO that you are registered for.
We recommend checking out this relevant article that can help you choose the right PRO for you to join. They said it better than we could regarding PROs.
4. Sell Merchandise
This seems obvious, but most artists don't do this enough. Sell anything and everything relevant to your audience and what they would want. Put surveys on your social media to see what they would buy, hold a contest for your fans to design your next t-shirt, sign every CD you sell, etc. Encourage all of your fans to buy your merchandise to represent your brand and offer creative and fun merchandise that would catch someone’s eye.
Don't be afraid to think outside the box. Sell personalized recordings that people can use for their ringtones, sell one-of-a-kind vinyl recordings, sell a limited number of unique shirts at each show. Come up with something that your fans love and want to spend their hard-earned money on. If you don't have a good product, then your fans won't buy anything... plain and simple.
5. Teach Lessons
There is no shame in providing lessons for students. You have a skill that someone else wants; it only makes sense to sell that skill. Many musicians feel that they are too good to give lessons, or that lessons are beneath them. We assure you that you are not. Teach students your craft, whether it be singing, playing guitar, drumming, etc... music is a wonderful skill to have. There are plenty of people envious of your developed music talent; use that to your advantage. Also, this is just a great thing to do to give back to the community. Especially if you have "made it." Do the world a favor, reach back and help the next one in line. Don't forget where you came from, because at some point you likely took lessons too.
6. Never Give Up
Yes, this is a way to make money. Yes, it deserves its own bullet point.
Never give up. That is what will set you apart from others. Every musician will play live shows. Most musicians sell merchandise, most musicians take the right steps to build their careers, and most make money doing what they love.
The thing is, as we said at the beginning: there is no secret recipe for success. You will perform a show in front of just your parents. You will buy tee shirts that no one buys. You will join a PRO and never see a penny. You will write songs that never see the light of day. You will try to get students and fail. You will fail, guaranteed.
Get back up, don't give up, and try again until it does work. If this is your dream, do it. The music industry is incredibly difficult to make a living in. You WILL fail, even if you followed every step above. In the end, the only way you can make money is not to give up doing what you love.