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How to make money as a musician in 14 ways

make money as a musician

For many musicians, turning their art into a viable source of income is not just a dream, it's a necessity. In recent years, the music industry has undergone a seismic shift, changing how artists connect with audiences and how music is consumed. However, despite the challenges brought about by the rise of music streaming, there are numerous opportunities for savvy musicians to make money. Whether you're a seasoned performer or a new budding artist, understanding the need to make money and grasping the fundamentals of the music business is crucial for longevity and success in the industry.

14 ways to make money as a musician

Musicians today have a multitude of options to turn their craft into a lucrative business and a number of businesses to start with little money. Here are 14 popular ways to make money as a musician.

01. Perform live gigs

Live performances are a classic way to earn money as a musician. Whether it's playing at local bars, weddings or corporate events, gigs can provide a steady income and increase your exposure to a wider audience.

make money as a musician - live gis

Some musicians choose to specialize in particular events or gigs, like weddings, for example. But it all depends on your style of music and preferences. Focusing on a gig niche can help you earn a name for yourself and put you in high demand for anyone looking to book a musician for the same or similar event. This can then put you in a position where you can charge more competitive prices and earn a higher income. It can also help create some degree of financial stability, the holy grail of making music as a musician.

02. Teach music lessons

Sharing your music knowledge and skills through lessons can be both fulfilling and a profitable way to make money as a musician. You can offer private lessons, group classes, or even create online courses for aspiring musicians to buy.

how to make money as a musician - tutoring

Teaching music is not dissimilar to starting a tutoring business. To market your lessons and plan your bookings, consider making a website and plan your bookings with scheduling software. Music can, for the most part, be taught in-person or online depending on the genre and if it involves an instrument or not. Offering music lessons online can be a great way to make money as it means you can market to a global market and potentially build up a considerable number of students.

03. Sell merchandise

Band t-shirts, hats and other branded merchandise can be a significant way to make money for musicians, especially if you have a dedicated fan base. In order to sell your merchandise you’ll need an eCommerce website or online store.

how to make money as a musician - sell merchandise

If you’re not sure where to start with making money as a musician by selling merchandise, it’s worth starting a print-on-demand business. This is a low-effort, low-investment business opportunity that involves printing and producing merchandise when someone orders it. You can make the designs yourself or hire a designer to do it for you. It's an easier way to start an eCommerce business. You'll also need to consider how to make an eCommerce website in order to start selling.

04. Stream your music

Platforms like Spotify and Apple Music pay royalties for streams of your music. The more your music is played, the more you can earn. This can be a great way to make money as a musician without too much effort beyond making your music and uploading it to a streaming platform. The more you want your music played, the more you’ll have to market it but this should be an integral part of what you do as a musician anyway.

05. Digital sales

Selling digital downloads of your songs or albums directly to fans is a straightforward way to make money as a musician. Sell your music on digital stores like iTunes, Google Play and Bandcamp. These platforms allow you to set your prices and retain a higher percentage of the revenue compared to streaming services. You can also sell your music directly through your own music website to avoid paying fees to another service or platform.

06. Monetize your YouTube

If you create music videos or related content, YouTube's Partner Program allows you to earn money from ads displayed on your videos. You'll need to build up a considerably large and engaged YouTube audience in order to ensure you have enough users to click through to the ads, in order to generate your income. Make sure also, for the sake of your branding as a musician, that the ads are relevant to your audience and not too intrusive. You want to gain more fans and make money, not scare them off.

make money as a student - monetize youtube

Let’s not forget that many musicians got their big break after being discovered on YouTube, the most well-known among them being Justin Bieber who's now manager Scooter Braun discovered his cover video on the channel. There are other examples too - from One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson discovering 5 Seconds of Summer to YouTube video browsing and so on. So using the social media platform to make money and increase your exposure as a musician is a win-win.

For more inspiration:

07. Crowdfunding campaigns

Sites like Kickstarter and Patreon can be used to fund projects or create a subscription-based support system for your fans. They can be encouraged to donate as a one-time payment or subscribe monthly to receive your music and related content. This is a popular way to make money as a musician for those just starting out in the industry. This funding can then also help you scale your music career, either through the purchase of new instruments or equipment or by providing funding for marketing your art.

Amanda Palmer, a Cabaret Indie Rocker, raised over US$1.2 million in her 2012 Kickstarter campaign, from over 25,000 fans contributing.

08. License your music

Licensing music for use in TV, film and commercials can be highly lucrative and also serves to increase your music's exposure to a wide audience. Partnering with big brands and having them use your music, or you creating new music for an ad or similar, can be a very effective way to make money as a musician. You may have to sacrifice some creative control as many brands are particular about the music and art that represents them but if you can make it work, it can prove to be profitable and significant for exposure.

Here are some examples of musicians that combined making money and, in some instances, their big break, with ad placements:

  • Dirty Vegas and their song ‘Days Go By,’ in a 2003 Mitsubishi car ad. The ad and song proved to be hugely successful even if the band was to later go on to break up.

  • The band Fun and their song ‘We Are Young’ which appeared in a Super Bowl Ad, also for a car brand.

  • Babylon Zoo and their song, ‘Spaceman’ which appeared in a Levi’s Jean ad, sold over 400,000 copies in the first six days of its release and was the fastest-selling single by a UK artist ever.

09. Session work

As a session musician, you can get paid for recording tracks for other artists or producers. You might be hired to provide backing vocals or to contribute to specific parts of the song. This can be an easy way to make money as a musician, as you generally just have to turn up, deliver your part, get paid and leave. There’s no added responsibility of having to promote the music or sell it. However for some musicians working ‘ for hire’ doesn’t always mix well with their need for creative direction and control.

10. Music production services

You can offer your skills in mixing, mastering or producing tracks for other artists. It’s also a great way to make money as a musician without having to take responsibility for the financial and viral success of a song. You get paid to help others create music which they then promote and sell. It can be not only a way to make money as a musician but also to build a network of more famous musicians, or new musicians also starting out that you can work with or collaborate with.

11. Write music reviews or blogs

If you have a knack for writing as well as music, you can get paid for reviewing music or blogging about the industry. You can even consider starting your own music blog (you’ll need a blog maker to start your blog) and then monetizing it through sponsored content, display ads and subscription content.

make money as a musician - start a blog

You could use your blog to review other musicians, or write blogs on popular music trends or provide useful tips and knowledge for other aspiring musicians. Blogs can be an effective way to promote your music website and get more users to your site and then your music too.

12. Compose for commercials or online games

Composing original music for commercials, video games or other media can open up new revenue streams and help you make money as a musician. You’ll need to work closely with the company or agency requesting the music and you may have to work to strict or stringent guidelines for the type of music and the finished product. But generally making money this way can be lucrative, especially if it leads to more opportunities to compose or sell your music to brands and for products.

13. Music therapy

If you're qualified, music therapy is a unique way to use your musical skills to help others and get compensated for it.

Music therapy is a healthcare profession that uses music to address the physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals. It involves a trained music therapist using various musical activities, such as listening to music, singing, playing instruments and songwriting, to help individuals achieve therapeutic goals and improve their overall well-being.

Even if you’re not a qualified or certified music therapist you can collaborate with therapists by creating music for them to use with their clients or in their sessions. You can also advise them on the best type of music to use for different needs.

14. Music festivals and workshops

Participating in or organizing music festivals and workshops can attract larger crowds and create networking opportunities that may lead to future gigs or collaborations. You can make money as a musician by being paid to play at festivals, both small and large or make money by hosting a festival and selling tickets and organizing sponsorship.

There are many music festivals and events happening around the US at any given time and many musicians make money by playing at them. You don’t necessarily need to be a big headliner at the top festivals to make money. From the COAST is clear Music and Arts Festival in Key West, Florida to Tomorrow Never Knows in Chicago, to the Ann Arbor Folk Music Festival in Michigan, there’s something for every musician.

Read more: check out these music business ideas to get you started.

How to get started with making money as a musician

Embarking on the journey of starting your own business can be exciting yet daunting. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you navigate the process.

  • Start by outlining how you intend to make money. Will you focus on live performances, teaching, or perhaps a combination of different revenue streams? Clearly define your value proposition and target audience.

  • Draft a business plan that details your objectives, strategies and financial projections. This document will serve as a roadmap for your business and is essential if you're seeking funding beyond your own savings or family.

  • Develop a brand that reflects your music and personality. This includes choosing a business name, designing a logo (use a logo maker for this) and creating a cohesive image across all your marketing materials and online presence.

  • Create a professional website and establish a presence on social media platforms. Make sure to choose an easy to use website builder, like Wix. Ensure your website is optimized for search engines to improve visibility.

  • Whether it's recording your first album or setting up a teaching studio, invest time and resources into creating a high-quality product or service.

  • Decide on a business structure (sole proprietorship, LLC, etc.) and take care of any legal requirements, such as registering your business and getting the necessary licenses or permits.

  • Open a business bank account, set up accounting software and create a budget. Keep meticulous financial records from the start. You’ll also need to make sure you know what your business tax obligations are.

  • Use various marketing strategies to promote your business. This could include social media marketing, email campaigns and networking within the industry.

  • Ensure that your intellectual property is protected by copyrighting your music and considering trademarking your brand. If you’re now sure how this works, talk to a lawyer.

How to set yourself up for success to make money as a musician

To build a profitable music business, there are four key aspects to consider.

01. Define your value proposition

The first aspect is the value proposition. It's essential to identify what sets your music or service apart from others. This could be your unique sound, your ability to engage with the audience, or perhaps an innovative approach to teaching music. For instance, a musician who specializes in a rare instrument, like the Ðàn Tre from Vietnam, or a genre may find a niche market eager for their performances or instructional content.

02. Identify revenue streams

The second key aspect is identifying and diversifying revenue streams. A profitable music business does not rely on a single income source. Instead, it taps into multiple channels, such as live performances, merchandise sales, streaming royalties and teaching music lessons. For example, independent artists combine gig earnings with online tutorials and custom merchandise to create steady and consistent ways to make money as musicians.

03. Build branding and marketing strategies

Branding and marketing make up the third aspect of being successful when it comes to making money as a musician. Building a strong brand and effectively marketing it can set you apart in a crowded market. Successful musicians often have a recognizable image or story that resonates with their audience. Take for example a band that has cultivated a distinctive aesthetic and engages fans through social media campaigns, creating a loyal following that translates into sales and bookings.

04. Sound financial management

Finally, sound financial management. Understanding the business side of music, including budgeting, accounting and investing in your career, is vital for long-term profitability as a musician. An example is a musician who diligently tracks expenses and revenue, invests in quality equipment and saves for future projects, ensuring their business remains sustainable even in lean times.

Frequently asked questions about making money as a musician

How can I start making money from my music if I'm just starting out?

Begin by building a strong foundation and record quality music, create an engaging online presence and start performing locally. Use social media to connect with fans and consider offering music lessons to establish an initial income stream.

Is it possible to make a living solely from streaming revenue?

How do I price my performances or music lessons?

What's the best way to promote my music business?

Can I make money from my music without being a performer?

How do I protect my music from copyright infringement?

Should I sign with a record label to make money from my music?

How do I find opportunities for licensing my music?

What kind of merchandise sells best at concerts?

Is crowdfuding a reliable tway to fund my music projects?

What are some common financial mistakes to avoid as a musician?

How do I handle taxes for my music income?

Can I make money from music without a large following?

Other ways to make money you might want to consider

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