Artists have more control over their careers than ever before. But one of the biggest challenges facing artists is making money.
According to the MIDiA report Independent Artists: The Age of Empowerment:
Artists’ income vary widely. Streaming income, along with earnings from live performances, make up the majority of artist revenues today. For independent artists, streaming is now their primary source of income at 30%."
Streaming continues to take up a larger percentage of an artist’s revenues. Given that streaming music payouts are measured in fractions of pennies, it’s more important than ever to find other sources of income to help you build a sustainable career.
How artists make money
Some of the revenue streams outlined below might be obvious, while others might be new to you. But hopefully this list of twenty-six revenue streams for artists will spark some ideas for generating more income for your music career.
Wait, aren't CDs dead? While CD sales continue to drop, they remain a revenue generator for artists in many genres.
If you’re going to be playing live shows, having CDs at your merch table is still a good idea. They’re cheap to produce, and you can easily sign them for your fans.
Resources to sell CDs
Get CDs made: Disc2Disc Duplication
Vinyl sales continue to surge in the digital music age. Part of this is because many fans still want a physical souvenir of your music. Just be sure to factor in the cost of producing and shipping vinyl, which can be significant.
Resources to sell Vinyl
3. Digital downloads
Digital downloads are experiencing a similar fate as CDs. Sales are now decreasing with the popularity of streaming music platforms. Yet just like CDs, digital downloads remain a source of revenue for many independent artists.
When selling digital downloads, be sure to sell direct to fans through your website. Not only will you make more money, but you'll also collect valuable email addresses. This way you can let your fans know about new releases, upcoming shows, and more.
4. Streaming revenue
Streaming music can be a sensitive topic for some artists and songwriters. While payouts from streaming music tend to be small, they can add up to become a significant revenue source over time for some artists.
In addition to streaming music being an income generator, it’s also about music discovery. Streaming platforms provide actionable data that you can use to help with marketing your music, and booking gigs.
Resources for streaming services
5. Live shows
Performing live is still one of the best ways to make money as a musician, generating nearly a quarter of the overall income for independent artists.There are many venues available to perform your original music. These include traditional music venues, bars, clubs, coffeehouses, colleges & universities, and music festivals.
Performing live is also one of the best ways to sell merch. If you’re going to be playing a lot of live shows, be sure to stock your merch table.
6. Physical merch
Selling physical merch can create a nice additional income stream, especially at your live shows. If you play live often or go out on tour, always have plenty of merch in stock.
T-shirts, CDs, and smaller items like buttons and stickers are usually good sellers. Be sure to also have all of your merch items available for fans to buy directly through your website
Resources for physical merch
7. VIP fan experiences
In the age of digital music, scarcity is valuable. You should include VIP fan experiences, for any show that you perform, try offering your superfans a little something extra. A meet and greet after the show. VIP seating with drinks included. Maybe even a pre-show dinner with the artist.
8. Public performance royalties
If you’re a songwriter, it’s important that you sign up with a Performing Rights Organization (PRO). A PRO collects royalties on behalf of songwriters and publishers to ensure that they get paid for the use of their music.
PROs collect public performance royalties. When a song is played on the radio, on TV, in music venues, restaurants, sports arenas, shopping malls, or any other public place, they must pay for the use of it. The PRO collects those payments and distributes the money to the rights holders.
9. Digital royalties
When your music gets played on non-Interactive streaming music services, they must pay royalties. This includes SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Pandora, webcasters, and cable TV music channels. Make sure to collect your non-interactive digital royalties by signing up with SoundExchange.
10. Mechanical royalties
Mechanical royalties get paid to songwriters or rights holders for purchased music. This includes CDs, vinyl, downloads, and streams.
In the US, retailers include these royalties with payments to digital distributors. But outside of the US, these payments get sent to royalty collection societies. These societies then distribute the royalties to music publishers.
To collect those royalties outside of the US, you would need to register with each royalty collection society. Instead of doing that, you can sign up with a publishing administrator which will collect those royalties on your behalf.
Resources to collect mechanical royalties
11. Master Use / Sync Licensing Fees
“Getting songs placed on TV shows and in movies is a highly sought after part of the music industry. Some artists make their entire income off of it.” Ari Herstand
If you get your song placed in a film, commercial, or TV show, they need to pay a licensing fee. In fact, they need to pay two licensing fees.
One is a “Master Use” licensing fee for the use of the recording. The other is a “Synchronization” or “Sync” licensing fee for the songwriter(s) & publisher(s).
These fees can vary. It will depend on the budget for the project, and how much they want to use your song.
Resources for getting song placements
12. Facebook and Instagram video monetization
Did you know that you can earn money when your songs are used in Facebook videos or in Instagram Stories? If people upload videos that use your music, even if it’s just playing in the background, you can get paid for that.
When music is used in a YouTube video that is running ads, YouTube pays part of that ad money to the rights holder of the song. This includes videos on your own YouTube channel, as well as videos using your music that are not on your channel.
Digital distributors can collect that money from YouTube on your behalf. They’ll search YouTube for any uses of your music, and you might collect money from videos that you didn’t even know about.
If you’ve built up a fanbase, local businesses, music companies, and even major brands could sponsor you to reach those fans. You can offer visibility with your live shows, on social media, your YouTube channel, and more.
Sponsorships are sometimes paid in cash, but at first, it's likely that it would be in the form of free products, services, or gear.
15. Session Work
Another way to make some extra money as a singer or instrumentalist is by doing session work in studio for other projects. If you have a flexible schedule, you can also look to get hired to go on tour with other artists.
If you’re a songwriter you could look to write songs for other musicians, or co-write songs with other artists.
You could also compose music for film and television. This type of work can generate significant revenues in licensing fees and royalties.
17. Music Lessons
Another way to generate revenue for your career is to teach your instrument to others. It’s a great way to supplement your income, and allows you to hone your craft at the same time.
You could offer music lessons in-person, or online, and even sell video lessons through your website.
Hopefully this post has sparked some ideas on how to make money with your music. Remember, great songs and a great live show come first. Once you’ve honed your craft, you can use some of these tactics to increase your income as an artist.