How to Make Money in Music
Learn all the different ways to monetize your music
Last Updated: December 2023 | 4332 words (22 – 24 minute read)
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In this ultimate guide to generating an income in the music business, we’re going to go over every single way you can earn a living related to music.
We’ll go over how to make money in music from the perspectives of independent artists, musicians/writers/producers in general and then other ways to make money through your love of music.
Quick side note: be sure to check out our featured guide on how to get your music on Spotify, Apple Music and all digital platforms, if you’re an artist.
Let’s get right into it…
Article Table of Contents
- 2 Making Money as an Independent Artist
- 3 Making Money as a Musician
- 4 Other Ways of Making Money in Music (Non-Artists/Musicians)
Audio Version of Article
How Do Musicians Make Money
If you make, play or just love music there are so many ways you can generate revenue for yourself that it’s almost overwhelming.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy – or even likely.
The music business is one of the most competitive and cut-throat industries on the planet.
And that’s not even accounting for the scores of people willing to work for free, just so they can do something related to the thing they love.
It’s also a very “entrepreneurial” field.
Independent go-getters and dedicated self-starters tend to thrive more than those going a more traditional “career” route.
Below, we’ll get into all of the different ways to make money in music, regardless of what you do. But because this site has more of a focus on independent artists, that’s where we’ll start.
Note For Artists: Attention + Audience is Everything
As an artist, the only way you’re going to make money is if you have fans – people who willingly go out of there way to keep up with what you’re doing.
Therefore, especially when you’re first starting out, attention + audience is EVERYTHING. So don’t worry so much about monetizing your music or making a living.
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It’s ok to still have a day job (or make money in other ways – see below) while you’re doing this.
Your sole focus should be on building an actual audience. Because that’s the only way you’ll be able to sustain yourself. The money will happen once you do that.
So make getting attention to your brand, your music and yourself the first priority. You need interested eyeballs (and ears).
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1,000 True Fans
Have you heard of the 1000 true fans theory? It basically says that you only REALLY need 1000 people to sustain a really great career as an independent artist.
But these 1000 people have to be DIE HARD fans – the type that love everything you do, listen to all your releases, engage with all your content, etc.
These are the types of fans who will also share you with their friends and peers. And their word-of-mouth will be an important source of new fans for you.
Of course, 1000 fans isn’t going to make you any money from things like streaming royalties, but that’s the least profitable source of revenue for artists unless you have a pretty major hit song.
There are so many other ways to make money as a music artist once you’ve got your thousand true fans.
Making Money As An “Artist”
Here’s a list of the ways you can generate income from a career as an independent music artist – whether you’re a rapper, singer, DJ, producer or even an instrumentalist (piano player, guitar player, violin player, etc.).
Again, the only way to do it is to have a real audience of fans (1000 will do) who love your stuff.
So before you’ll ever make a dime using any of these methods, you’ll have to build up that audience (for free) FIRST.
Music Publishing pt.1 – Streaming + Radio
The first (and most obvious) way to make money from your music is through streaming and radio airplay.
If you upload your music to streaming sites or submit your song to radio stations and it gets played, it generates a royalty payment.
Each and every play generates a royalty.
In the case of streaming, most sites require that it gets played for at least 30 seconds before it generates any royalties.
Finally, these royalty payments are SMALL – tiny fractions of a cent.
Needless to say, it’s not a good idea to rely on royalties to sustain your music career. Unless you don’t mind being broke forever.
On the other hand, if you have a legit HIT SONG, then you can make thousands upon thousands in royalty revenue.
But that’s like winning the lottery – not a great strategy for success.
How Royalties Work
When you’ve written, recorded and produced a song, you create “intellectual property” (i.e. your song).
Once you publish that song anywhere publicly, you automatically create a “copyright” (i.e. the right to reproduce that work). But if you ever have to prove you own the copyright in court, you won’t be able to unless you register that copyright with the government.
Anyways, whenever that song gets performed live, played in public (or on streaming services) or reproduced it generates “royalty payments.”
These are micro-payments that are then collected and distributed to the owner of the copyright (i.e. you, if you wrote/produced/recorded the song yourself).
You want to be sure you’re registered with a Performing Rights Organization and a company like SoundExchange to make sure you get all royalties owed to you.
One thing to be aware of here is the YouTube ContentID system.
This is a system for detecting unauthorized uses of your copyrighted song. If someone else uses your music in their video, for example, you would be entitled to some of the revenue that video generates.
Learn more about it and make sure you register your works, if applicable.
Be careful here though, because it can actually cause some headaches and become annoying for music producers who sell beats online and their clients.
Merchandise and Physical/Digital Sales
The next most obvious way to make money in the music industry as an artist is to sell merchandise.
Traditionally, music merch has been things like t-shirts, posters, album box-sets, etc. But for our purposes I’m going to include a lot more things under the category of “merchandise.”
These are the “products” you’re going to sell to your fans that are branded with your artist name/logo/designs/etc. I’m also including products like vinyl/cds/cassettes and even digital downloads.
Here’s a quick list of merch ideas you can sell (or give away for clout/attention):
- Album Box Sets
- Individual Vinyl, CDs, Cassettes or MP3s
- Pens, Mugs, Backpacks, Stationary, Stickers, etc.
- Artwork, Lyric Sheets, etc.
The list is quite literally endless.
Sell Exclusive Video Content
Another interesting way to sell digital products is through exclusive video content.
Think of today’s comedians who film a stand-up comedy special and sell it direct-to-fans. You could do something similar as a musician.
Why not record one of your live shows (well-produced) and offer it on YouTube for a small “rental/purchase” fee?
You could also do short films related to your album/song concepts. You could produce an “uncensored” music video.
There are lots of opportunities here.
NFTs were buzzworthy for about a minute and then cratered.
But you can still utilize the technology if you’ve got the fans. You can sell exclusive songs as NFTs, video content as NFTs or even your artwork as NFTs.
Why not have 25 different exclusive album artwork versions that hardcore fans can buy/collect as NFTs?
Again, there are lots of opportunities here… if you’ve got the fanbase.
Create Product Brands
Beyond just selling your artist branded merch, if you have a big enough audience you can create your own products and sell them as well.
This all happens off the back of your brand “equity” – the value of the attention you’re able to sustain.
But it can be a HUGE source of revenue (like life changing revenue) if you’re lucky enough to do it right.
Think of the beauty/makeup brands started by artists like Rihanna and Arianna Grande,.
Of course, those two are on a major level, but even as a smaller independent artist you may find some good opportunities to create products your audience would love and share enough to make it a legit “brand.”
Another potential source of pennies for music artists is advertising revenue.
This can happen several different ways, but they all come down to the same basic tactic – content creation.
If you can get eyeballs onto content you create you can then slap some advertising on it and be paid for each view/impression/click.
That happens through ad companies like Google AdSense, MediaVine, etc. And if your audience is big enough, you can even get brands to advertise directly.
The content you create can be completely related to the music you release, but they are not the same as your actual music releases.
Here’s a short list of some content ideas you can create:
- blog posts / articles (your thoughts, reviews, updates, etc.)
- videos (including short form video, backstage/behind-the-scenes videos and your songs’ music videos)
- podcasts (interviews, stories, rants, updates, etc.)
- livestreams (studio sessions, just chatting, Q&As, etc)
There are lots of different options for content you can start creating and monetizing through ads. But it’s similar to royalties, in that you need a huge audience or lots of traffic to really start making legit money.
When you’ve got a core fanbase that loves what you do, you can also offer them memberships/subscriptions to your virtual “fan-club” (cringe… I know…).
But really – things like OnlyFans and Patreon exist for a reason. The demand is there for artists with an engaged audience.
Think of it this way, if you’ve really got 1000 true fans, you could start a membership/subscription platform at $5/month and you’re making a decent living off of just that revenue.
Making subscriptions work is a lot harder than it seems. The churn rate (subscribers dropping off) is usually pretty high.
That’s why, it’s not enough to just expect fans to “support” you because they love you.
You need to offer them exclusives for their membership fee. This could mean exclusive songs, videos, meet-ups, digital products, merch, etc.
You need to make it valuable for them to be a member and keep them engaged with new exclusive things they can’t get anywhere else, on the regular.
Live Shows + Touring
One of the biggest revenue generators for music artists is their live performances.
This is literally the bread-and-butter of a successful music career – playing live shows.
There are literally artists you’ve never heard of KILLING IT because they’ve built a wide fanbase and can draw a crowd to fill a club/theatre in several different cities.
Beyond that, there are showcases, festivals, conferences, corporate events and more that you can get paid to perform at.
It can help to get a booking agent to help with this, but when you’re first starting out, you’re going to have to handle it on your own.
Throw your own shows and promote them guerrilla marketing style. Travel around your region/country and try to play coffee shops or nightclubs. Apply for festivals and showcases. Try to get on the college circuit.
But when you’re starting out, don’t be afraid or embarrassed of performing in front of 0 people in the audience. That’s just a part of the game.
Another often overlooked (and looked down upon) way of generating money when you’re starting out is by busking.
Busking is when you perform music on the side of a busy street for tips. You may need to get a permit for this from the city you’re in, but it’s a solid strategy.
It’s especially useful if you’re also an instrumentalist, but can be done even if you’re just a vocalist.
If you’re a rapper, learn how to freestyle well and just start spitting rhymes on the street about people passing by.
If you’re a vocalist, perform massive hit song covers in between your own stuff. A capella is totally fine.
Trust me, if you’re good enough, I’m sure you’ll be able to make a bunch of tips.
Music Publishing pt.2 – Sync Licensing
Another great source of revenue for some artists is “synchronization licensing.”
This is where your music gets placed in some other form of media – usually film, television, commercials or video games.
And the results can be INCREDIBLE.
Usually companies will offer both a up-front licensing fee, as well as royalty payouts for on-going usage.
If you land the right commercial spot, for example, a $100,000 payout plus royalties on the back-end isn’t unheard of. (But… it’s not common, either)
Regardless, if you can get regular sync deals, you can make a decent living off of your music.
Brand Deals + Sponsorships
Finally, another way some artists with large followings can make money is through direct brand deals and sponsorships.
If you as an artist have a similar vibe/aesthetic to a company’s brand, or your audience is the company’s exact target audience as well, they may pay you for featuring their brand/products.
Sometimes, brands will also sponsor your shows/tour/content. Or they’ll pay you to promote their products/brands exclusively, or participate in their events, etc.
Again, this is just so they can associate their name with yours. Even in regular business, it’s all about getting eyeballs/attention.
You will have to build up a solid fanbase and gain some notoriety, but sponsorships and brand deals can be a serious source of money for an independent artist.
Making Money With or From Music as a Musician
Now let’s move on to how you can make money from music in general. This goes beyond the “artist” model we discussed above.
These are ways to make money from music even if you don’t want to be an “indie artist,” putting yourself out there and going down that route.
This is great for instrument players, producers, hobbyists and anyone that makes any type of music.
However, these can also be sources of revenue for artists who are still building up their fanbase and audience.
Write for a Music Library
A music library is an organization that contracts work from musicians, producers, artists and composers to try and get it “used” in various forms.
This could mean they offer music for video makers, businesses, independent contractors, ad agencies and much more. Anyone that needs original music for a project they’re working on can sign up to a music library to get access to the works they offer.
Many music libraries are royalty-free – meaning you won’t get paid royalties for your music if it gets used somewhere. Other libraries are not royalty-free.
Either way, you’ll usually get paid a fee anytime your music gets used.
There are libraries that are open to join for anyone, like Envato Marketplace, and there are many that require you to be selected to become part of their library.
One of the ways you can get your music in front of libraries is by joining a service like Taxi and submitting your music to various opportunities they have available.
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Learn the Secrets to Writing and Producing HIT SONGS
This is a pretty obvious (and popular) option for people who make or play music. If you’re really good at singing, producing or playing an instrument, there are a lot of opportunities for you to teach others.
In Person Lessons
You can offer in-person lessons in your local area. This is not a very “scalable” option (i.e. there are only so many hours in a day to offer lessons), but it can be a decent form of revenue for you, depending on how many students you get.
You can either offer these services/lessons on your own, or you can work with a local music store/school and teach for them.
A more scalable way of teaching music is by offering online lessons. You can create a website that offers your own music course.
This can be a lot of work up-front, but if you’re able to promote it well it can generate lots of money.
Just be aware, there are some very big brands that already dominate this space, so it might be a bit of an uphill battle. Having said that, the internet is so huge, that you’ll always be able to find opportunity.
Session Work + Band/Studio Stand-Ins
Studios and producers are always looking for great musicians and vocalists to help craft their clients productions. Whether it’s to record guitar/piano/drum parts, background vocals or harmonies, you have the opportunity to find work as a session musician.
Similar to this, there may be opportunities in your city as a “stand-in” vocalist or instrumentalist for bands and other performers who have live gigs. Sometimes the bassist, for example, will be sick and unable to play. Rather than cancel a show or play without bass, often bands will look for stand-ins.
Networking, building relationships and getting yourself out there in to your local music community are the best ways to find this type of work.
Sell Beats/Tracks or Sample and Preset Packs
Whether you’re an instrumentalist, a vocalist, a sound designer, beat maker or a full on producer – you have the skills and ability to create original sounds, loops/samples, VST presets or beats/tracks that you can sell online to other artists.
Think of it like starting an e-commerce store where you’re selling products you create. Producers, artists and even video makers are always looking for new sounds/samples/loops/beats to integrate into their current projects.
Songwriting + Music Production for Hire
Another way to make some money through your art is by offering services-for-hire.
Remember Rebecca Black of “Friday” fame? Well that’s exactly how that song came to be. Her parents hired a songwriter and music producer (and videographer) to create that single for their daughter.
So you too can become a producer/songwriter for hire – taking on client work for people interested in making music but not having the knowledge/talent that you have to do it.
Mixing and Mastering Services
Similar to being a producer/songwriter for hire, if you have engineering skills you can offer mixing and mastering services to artists who make their own music.
Mixing and mastering is a deep and intricate process to get right – and it takes a lot of dedication and experience. So if you’re really good at either mixing or mastering, you can be an engineer-for-hire.
Despite having the ability to do everything themselves, some artists just want to focus on making the song the best it can be. They’d prefer to leave the recording/engineering to someone else. That’s where your opportunity may lie.
This is a great source of work if you’re a producer and potentially a multi-instrumentalist. Scoring is where you create the background music to some sort of visual work.
Think of Hans Zimmer scoring the orchestral music for the big blockbuster movies out of Hollywood.
Thankfully, there are a lot of smaller budget and indie projects out there.
Scoring work can be required for:
- corporate presentations
- video games
Try scoring a short film for a filmmaker in your town. Network and build up a portfolio/reel that you can use to get other work.
Freelance Work on Fiverr/UpWork
These freelance marketplaces can be a decent source of revenue for people who make or play music. The demand isn’t HUGE, but it definitely exists.
Some people may require things like music transcription work, or one off performance work for whatever bigger projects they are working on.
You never know what someone may need in terms of music, so why not put your hat out there.
Contests + Competitions
Finally, there are a lot of various contests and competitions in the music world that have large cash prizes. This obviously isn’t the most stable source of revenue, but it can be a nice boost if you’re able to win.
From beat battles to remix competitions, vocal competitions and more, be on the lookout for these opportunities and enter them when possible.
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Other Ways of Making Money IN Music
Whether or not you make music or play an instrument, there are a plethora of ways to make money being involved in music in some way.
So even if you just have a love for the art, but no interest in making/playing yourself, there are career opportunities for you.
But like with other revenue streams discussed in this article, it helps a LOT to be a self-starter with an entrepreneurial, “do-it-yourself” mindset.
Jobs in the Music Business
There are lots of jobs in the music business – with labels, booking agents, management companies, rights organizations, venues, music stores, music schools and much more.
All of these various companies require skilled people to handle things like human resources, operations, finance, data, marketing and other administrative tasks.
Hell, they even need lawyers in the music business, so there’s that.
Unfortunately, these companies also love to promote from within, or require specific education/experience so actually landing an interview/job can be a difficult thing.
But you might as well try… Just take a look at various job boards out there on a regular basis.
Music Writing and Journalism
Music journalism will always be a thing. There are several publications out there that employ writers. Whether they are media large companies or smaller music sites, there are several opportunities out there.
Or you could just start your own publication. This internet thing is pretty glorious, when you think about it. Opportunity is everywhere.
Whether you want to be a YouTube music reviewer, or a music journalist for Billboard magazine (or something in between… ) the possibility is there. Why not try?
Music and Arts Organizations
Many regions around the world will have governmental and non-governmental arts and music organizations. These are orgs that help open up opportunities for artists in their communities and often require people who love music to help.
The jobs are similar to other music related jobs – human resources, administration, IT, marketing, etc.
They often don’t pay very well, but it’s a decent source of income for both part and full time work.
Artist Management, Promotion and Booking
Of course, you could try to land a job in any of these areas of the music business, but you could also do it more entrepreneurially.
There are a lot of great music acts in your city right now doing everything on their own. You could partner with them to help with management/promotion/bookings/etc.
It may not pay well (or at all) to start, but if you’re a good performer, and your act finds even a little bit of success, it could be great for you as well.
Open a Music Venue
And finally, one of the most difficult ways to make money in the music business is to open a music venue and book acts.
Obviously, this requires a lot of up-front capital but if you have a good enough business plan you may be able to get a business loan.
But then, there’s also the extremely difficult task of filling the venue up with an audience for the acts you book…
So yea, good luck if you want to try. BUT it IS a way to make money in music. Or so I’m told…
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Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, there is lots of money to be made in the music industry. The overall industry is responsible for billions of dollars in revenue every year. This money is made by artists, managers, lawyers, agents, venue owners and employees and much more.
Musicians can make a lot or a little bit of money from their music, depending on several factors. As an artist there are many ways to make money, including streaming royalties, selling music merchandise, licensing deals, contract work and much more. It depends on the individual artists’ popularity and business savvy.
The people that make the most money from a song are the copyright holders of the recording, the composition and the lyrics/melody of the song. Sometimes the copyright holder of a song is the artist that records and publishes it, however it is usually record labels that own these rights.
I think what we’ve put together above is the most comprehensive list of ways to monetize through music.
You may be thinking, well damn.. All of those sound so difficult. Well, no one said making money in the music industry was going to be easy.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.
It takes work, dedication and years to really see success in any endeavour you choose. Music is no different.
But if you really want it, there are a ton of ways to do it. You just have to start somewhere and keep putting in the work.
If you have music that’s ready to be released, I highly recommend you use TuneCore to do it – they’re an affordable way to release unlimited music to Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more!
Thanks for reading this guide on how to make money in music. I hope it shed some light on the different ways you can build a sustainable career in the art that you love.
Resources and Tools (affiliate links)
- Release Unlimited Music to Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music and More
- Uncover the Secrets of the Biggest Hit Songs in the World
- Get the Best Deals on Studio and Music Gear!
- Make Your Own Beats Easily With Beat Building Blocks
- Become a Better Singer in 30 Days!
- Learn to Play the Guitar Like a Pro
- Become a Master of the Piano
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