Many musicians wonder if they can act on their passion and pay bills, which often seems like a tall order. But in fact, the innovation of technology spurred by the high demand for quality and extensive variety in music is awe-inspiring—and the results are convenient and abundant. There are traditional methods to earn money as a musician of course, but the new methods of distributing and streaming are options worth taking a look at as well.
In general, this sums up the process: Assuming you already have your instruments, music, startup money, and equipment—recording, editing, converting file, etc.—the first thing to do is find a distributor for your music. Music distributors include Believe Digital (Tunecore), CDBaby, and Music Gateway, but there are many others to choose from, if you do a quick Google search. Once you pay, they will distribute your music to one or multiple social media platforms who will upload and disperse your music, collect the funds, pay the distributor, and in turn, the distributor will pay you the royalties, minus a small commission.
You can also self-publish; there are pros and cons, but the general consensus of the internet is that you are more likely to get paid and paid better if you go through a distributor and a platform.
Let’s get the basics out of the way first. Providing private lessons as a source of income is always a bargain; you advertise and set your price, students come knocking, you negotiate a schedule, and you have it set. The income may not be consistent unless your schedule is constantly full and you have a waiting list, but it’s a pretty solid way to make money and live your passion. Further than that, attending to the education system, whether in grade school or college, could be a good plan. At least it would be consistent pay. And then, of course, you’re always welcome to apply to participate in orchestras, choirs, bands, etc. around the country or other gigs that may be suitable. Less common, perhaps, is a commission to perform, arrange, compose, or record. Those are some ideas for a more basic start for the moneymaking musician.
Social Media Platforms
Let’s break down that dense introductory paragraph of information about how to make money on social media platforms and get more specific.
Several popular musicians on YouTube exemplify different methods of earning money as said YouTubers.
Lindsey Stirling, for example, uses YouTube Adsense and brand deals. “The main method of earning money on YouTube is through advertisements. Whether that means opting in for ads on music videos or for other original content posted” (www.amuse.io). Then, of course, she creates video content to publish. YouTubers earn, on average, three to five dollars per view (www.shopify.com), so that’s a way to go if you can go big. Before she began accumulating views, she made it to the quarter finals on America’s Got Talent, began collabing, and launched her career on YouTube after being classically trained at a university in Arizona. She’s done many collaborations to get her music out, and she now sells out concerts around the world. Her path may very well be a great model for the aspiring musician.
Or you may not need all that. The Piano Guys started merely at video content on YouTube and have accumulated enough popularity to do traveling concerts and earn money from both.
Peter Hollens sang on NBC’s The Sing Off and started from Patreon before heading to YouTube to produce most of his music content.
A couple YouTuber musicians uploaded advice about how to launch your career on YouTube. Burstimo, a music marketing agency, mentioned getting 4000 hours of watch time on YouTube was crucial, and to do that, blow up the internet with your music. Do collaborations. That sort of thing. David Bennett, who is a pianist, composer, and educator, adds to that: build a portfolio, especially with production music (i.e. elevator music, background music, “stock” music–whatever you want to call it). In short, he says, write music, play it, sell it to music publisher who in turn will sell it to a database, and get paid a royalty every time somebody streams it.
This an example of what Bennett’s process might look like, in case it wasn’t clear:
Write and record music. -> Sell to a publisher like Kobalt Music Group. -> Kobalt sells the music to a database like AllMusic. -> AllMusic pays Kobalt every time your song is streamed. -> Kobalt pays you the royalties.
The Independent Artist Academy advised much of the same as Burstimo and David Bennett from YouTube: get a distributor, like Tunecore, because you won’t get paid royalties if you upload directly to Tiktok. Tunecore distributes to Tiktok and maybe other sites. TikTok collects the money from a month or a quarter, gives it to Tunecore, and they give it to you. You get paid monthly or quarterly.
The most direct method advertised to put music up on Amazon Music is to get a Tunecore account, verify music through Tunecore, add music contributors (lyricist, composer, arranger), sell your music, and get paid (Tunecore). Sounds relatively simple, right?
The same advice can likely apply to every platform, but specifically, “[o]n average, many artists earn $6.00–$7.00 per album sold on iTunes and 60–70 cents per song. Meaning through music promotion and your fans, your music will start earning you royalties immediately” (songcastmusic.com). The process is pretty straightforward. Apply to sign up with Apple. Depending, you may need an “aggregator,” kind of like an agent who will appropriate your music for Apple and more channels. Make content, and get it out there.
The procedure is actually simple and straightforward, like the rest. “Create a Pandora listener account. Submit your musical content for consideration. Once approved, your music will be available on Pandora’s ad-supported radio service, Pandora Plus, and Pandora Premium. Create a personal website to brand yourself or your album. Through your website, you can send emails to reach people, grow your fan mailing list, build your brand, or your name as a musician so that people can find you in search engines like Google. This will probably turn out to be better than focusing on social media or other streaming services” (timesinternational.net).
Some seeming prerequisites for getting music out on Spotify include getting a publisher, a label or distributor, applying to sell music on Spotify, and then producing like crazy. Even advertising your music on Spotify is an option.
To recap, the traditional methods for musicians to make money are good, but the new, convenient methods can also be beneficial. The abundant resources and options musicians have now have made such a difference in the world of music. These days, even musicians can pay bills and do what they love most.
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