Making money from music can be hard these days. We’re told that “it’s all about playing live” and the income that comes from touring, but for most upcoming musicians—and even some more established ones—pour every cent they make back into their music to be able to record and release even more.
In this day and age, it’s wise to try and have a few income streams while you’re trying to make it to support yourself. Of course, plenty of musicians hold down part- or full-time jobs that have nothing to do with their musical aspirations, but there are also a number of ways you could use your musical skills and following to make more money in addition to the royalties you receive from distributing your music, which Spinnup pays out 100%.
Corporate gigs, weddings & private hires
Both DJs and bands can find lucrative work playing at private events. These experiences can range from mildly soul-destroying through to making some of the easiest money you could ever earn. They are generally well-paid gigs and go under the radar—so you don’t need to worry too much about your credibility being exposed if you’re asked to play a bunch of cheesy covers. Even the biggest artists play corporate gigs and weddings if the price is right (think Beyoncé playing the wedding of the richest man in India’s daughter).
If you’re looking for corporate work, your best point of entry is sending some of your music to events organisers and PR companies in your area. Give them a neat summary of what kinds of music you play, what setup you need or can offer, plus some good photos. Hopefully they’ll keep you on file for relevant opportunities.
The wedding circuit can be harder to break into. You could offer up a free set for a friend or family wedding and get a recording of it or a video for touting yourself in the future. A lot of bookings in the wedding industry come from word-of-mouth and personal recommendations, but clever use of Google and Facebook / Instagram ads could generate some new leads. Just make sure that wherever you’re directing them to looks and sounds the part and shows you off in your best light.
If you’re good and you do it in the right place at the right time, busking can earn you decent money – especially in London where buskers are armed with card readersfor cashless passersby to tip them. Aside from getting money for playing, it’s also a great chance to sell some physical copies of your music.
In their early days, modern jazz ensemble Portico Quartet (now Portico), sold an incredible 10,000 copies of their self-released records across many months spent busking on London’s busy Southbank.While such amazing success stories might be few and far between, the chance to practice, make a little money, get exposure and maybe sell some music all at the same time is a no-brainer.
Make sure you know about laws about busking wherever you’re doing it as depending on which country you are in you could risk having your equipment confiscated if you do it in the wrong place!
The profits on merchandise can be incredibly healthy and revenues from tour merch can be the difference between a tour breaking even and going into profit. It’s essential to have both a merch stand at your shows for those all-important impulse buys and an online portal too. Selling a mixture of clothing and music, and consider some quirky one-offs too. Limited edition runs are also a good idea to heighten the excitement around a product and remind people that they need to get one before it’s too late. You could also create clothing + music bundles as an upsell.
If you had a designer create your logo and other artwork, ask them if they would be interested in creating some clothing designs and splitting any profits. Websites like Everpress allow you to easily print t-shirts on demand (after a minimum order of 5) and take care of taking payment and sending out the order, while Bandcamp’s merch pages do a roaring trade, helping artists upsell to people who are browsing their music.
If you are a university music graduate, high-level Grade musician or are naturally gifted, you may be able to use your skills to offer tutoring to people either informally or as part of a music school or educational institution. The UK Graduate Prospects website says:
“There are no set qualifications for private music teachers. In practice, however, most have a degree in music, and many have further teaching and/or performance and theory qualifications. The most important qualifications are musical competence and knowledge of your instrument, plus a commitment to, and understanding of, the teaching and learning process.”
There are also several music teaching qualifications you can go through which can help you get more work in certain fields.
If you are a music producer and/or DJ, you could offer your tutoring skills in those fields too. You won’t need any formal qualifications here; just the confidence that you can teach someone the basics (or whatever they have specified). Again, there are DJ schools in most major cities these days, but you can also offer these services on a private basis. In all cases, try and be flexible about whether they come to you or you go to them.
Session musicians are the usually uncredited people who play or sing alongside singers and other musicians, either in the studio or live as a backing band. You really need to be at the top of your game if you’re going to try and get work in this field. There are thousands of people who only perform as session musicians who are happy not to be in the spotlight, but there are also people who supplement their primary career by playing for others.
Getting yourself out there will really mostly depend on word of mouth, but you can also approach recording studios, record labels and artist management companies in your area to let them know about what you offer. The Musicians’ Union has more information on how to become a session musician.
Moonlighting in other bands
Effectively the same as being a session musician but working with regular clients as opposed to being an all-round ‘gun for hire’. Lots of musicians also moonlight in bands that aren’t their primary ones, and it can bring in some extra income and take the pressure off your main project having to be the be-all-and-end-all financially. Plus it can open more doors for networking and meeting other people in the industry to work with.
There is a huge market for music to be used in films, TVs, adverts and the like. The person or company using the music pays a one-time fee to license it for a certain purpose, and the musicians involved usually get a one-time fee for playing and/or composing the music in the first place (less common is that they will receive residual income each time the music is licensed).
There are hundreds of companies that specialise in getting musicians to create pieces based on specific genres, themes or moods for these purposes. Some of these instances call for live musicians to play the pieces, although more usual these days for this music to be made entirely electronically / synthetically. Either way, there are opportunities for both producers and musicians in this field. If you’re good at composition, do some research and find some companies that work in this field and consider offering them a free trial piece based on a brief so they can hear what you’re capable of.
Sample packs are similar to library music, except they consist of smaller musical phrases or individual ‘hits’ for producers and musicians to incorporate into their own compositions (or indeed base their entire compositions around). They are ‘royalty-free’, meaning once the artist buys the sample pack, they are free to use everything in it in their music without paying any further royalties for using it.
There are people who make sample packs for a living, but producers with some stature are also paid to create packs based on their signature sounds and styles with their name used to help sell them. If you’re technically proficient in the studio, inventive and capable of imitating certain genres, the companies who make these packs may be interested in you creating content regardless of your stature.
A sync (or synch) deal is one where an artist’s music is licensed for use alongside a specific piece of content, event or experience. Music that appears in films, TV shows, video games and adverts has all been licensed via a sync deal. These can be very lucrative, both in terms of the agreed fee and in terms of the exposure they can generate.
In all reality, sync deals might not fall under the ‘alternative’ income bracket but actually ‘primary’, given how important they can be for helping an artist succeed these days. But the fact is that for most artists, they are few and far in between and are something that they are able to influence less than say, putting out more new music or lining up some gigs to make money.
Regardless, you have to be in it to win it and it’s worth putting a little time and effort into getting your music listed with a service that sources music for sync deals on behalf of independent artists like Music Dealers.
Topline writing, co-writes… and ghostwriting
If you’re confident in your ability to write songs and vocal hooks, you could look to develop your services as a writer or co-writer for other performers. Most of the world’s biggest stars have tracks written for them, as do many upcoming pop artists.
For anyone to really consider enlisting your services though, you’ll need to have a bit of a proven track record writing catchy, successful songs. So maybe wait until you get to that point before trying to go down this road.
Ghostwriting is the term used when someone contributes an entire production or lyric / song to an artist without receiving any public acknowledgement of the contribution. The incentive for the writer is either a one-off fee, or a secretive percentage of the writer’s royalties—or potentially both.
How comfortable you feel doing this is really up to you. Do you really want someone else taking all the credit for your hard work and skill? Maybe you don’t mind if they operate in a genre or scene that you don’t really want to be associated with but are happy to make money from. Just make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into and that everything is clearly detailed and agreed before you do any work.
Producing and mixing
If you’re an electronic producer, you may be able to branch out into producing for bands and live artists, or offering your skills as a mix engineer to make what they’ve already recorded sound as good as it can. Again, it can be a good idea to offer up some freebies to friends when you’re getting started so that you can show potential paid clients what you can do. Showing a before and after version can be helpful if you’re offering mix engineering.
There are so many alternative ways to make money off your music in addition to your royalty statements. And if you treat music as your profession as opposed to a hobby, then why shouldn’t you be able to earn off the back of your skill in as many ways as you can.