21 ways to make money as a musician in 2021
Musicians have more control over their careers than ever before. You can record, distribute, sell, stream, and promote your music using many affordable tools and platforms. But one of the biggest challenges remains making money as a musician.
Whether it’s through gigging, selling merch, or making money from your music online, it’s more important than ever to diversify your revenue streams to build a sustainable career. So here are twenty-one ways to make money from music.
How to make money as a musician
Some of the revenue streams listed below might seem obvious, while others you might not have tried yet for your career. But hopefully this list of twenty-one revenue streams for musicians will spark some ideas for generating more income for your music career.
1. Sell CDs
Do music fans still buy CDs? While the number is less than it used to be, millions of CDs are still sold each year. With the return of live shows, selling CDs is a great, low-cost way to make extra money at gigs. And if you sign them at the merch table, you’ll give your fans a nice souvenir from the show.
2. Sell vinyl
Vinyl sales continued to increase last year, surpassing revenues generated by CD sales for the first time in 34 years. In a recent Spotify survey, vinyl was found to be the top merch choice across almost every genre.
3. Sell cassettes
Cassette sales doubled during the pandemic in 2020. While cassettes are still a niche format, they can be a unique item to offer your fans at shows, and to sell online.
4. Sell digital downloads
Just like CDs, digital downloads remain a source of revenue for many independent artists that sell music online. In 2020, Bandzoogle members sold over $500,000 worth of digital albums direct-to-fan through their websites, as well as over 20,000 singles.
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5. Revenue from streaming music
You should give your fans every opportunity to support your career. This includes having your music available to stream, which can also help other fans discover your music. And while streaming music payouts are measured in fractions of pennies per stream, they can add up to become a significant revenue source over time.
6. Play live shows
Performing live is traditionally one of the best ways to make money as a musician, and also one of the best ways to sell merch. With restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic lifting in many parts of the world, musicians are going back to playing live shows and touring.
There are many avenues available to play live shows. These include traditional music venues, bars, restaurants, clubs, coffeehouses, house concerts, colleges and universities, music festivals, or private events like weddings, corporate events, and other private parties.
7. Make money with live streams
During the lockdown from the pandemic, musicians turned to live streaming to perform for their fans. While traditional live shows and touring are coming back, online shows let you reach fans from around the world in areas that you might not be able to get to while touring.
They’re also a great way to generate extra income by selling tickets to live streams and through online tip jars. Bandzoogle members generated nearly $400,000 from live stream ticket sales and tips just in the first 6 months of the pandemic.
8. Sell merch
Selling merch can generate significant revenue for musicians, both by selling merch online and at live shows. Merch has been the top revenue generator for Bandzoogle members for years, with $9.4M worth of merch sold through our member’s websites in 2020 alone.
T-shirts, CDs, and smaller items like mugs, buttons, and stickers are usually good sellers. But you can also sell digital merch items like sheet music and video lessons. If you’re not sure what to sell, or would rather not have inventory to store, you can also sell merch through your website using print on demand service Printful.
9. Run a crowdfunding campaign
Crowdfunding can be a great way to generate the revenue you need to cover the costs of producing and marketing your album. But crowdfunding shouldn’t be treated simply as a way to make money.
With crowdfunding, it’s all about making a connection with your biggest fans. Bring them along the creative journey with you, from songwriting, recording, to the release of your album. Communication and creativity are key, and with proper planning, the money will follow.
10. Offer fan subscriptions
With subscriptions, fans subscribe to your website or through a specific platform and pay a monthly fee for access to rewards and content, like your entire discography, plus any new releases. You can also offer early access to new music or videos, merch discounts, exclusive subscriber-only live stream shows, and more.
Subscriptions can be incredibly rewarding for you and your biggest fans, and can help you create a recurring income stream from your music.
11. Collect public performance royalties
If you’re a songwriter, it’s essential 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.
One of the royalties that PROs collect is 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 proper rights holders.
12. Join SoundExchange to get digital royalties
When your music gets played on non-interactive streaming music services, they have to pay royalties. This includes SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Pandora, webcasters, and cable TV music channels. Make sure you’re collecting your non-interactive digital royalties by signing up with SoundExchange.
13. Collect live performance royalties
You can also earn royalties from your live performances. When performing original music at licensed venues, PROs will pay royalties to the songwriters for those performances. This includes at bars, clubs, theatres, and any other licensed venues that host live shows.
14. Collect all of your mechanical royalties
Mechanical royalties get paid to songwriters or rights holders for purchased music. This includes CDs, vinyl, downloads, and music streams. In the US, retailers include these royalties with payments to digital distributors. However, outside of the US, these payments get sent to royalty collection societies, who then distribute the royalties to music publishers.
To collect these royalties outside of the US, you would need to register with each royalty collection society. Or, you can sign up with a publishing administrator which will collect those mechanical royalties on your behalf.
15. License your music
If you get a song placed in a film, TV show, or a commercial, those productions 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 greatly. It depends on the budget for the project, and how much they want to use your song. But composing music for film and television, or licensing songs you’ve already recorded, can be a significant source of revenue for musicians.
16. Social video monetization: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Triller
You can earn money when your music is used in video content on social media platforms. This includes platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Triller. The fees vary depending on the platform, but be sure that you’ve opted into social video monetization with your digital distributor to start earning that revenue.
17. Make money from your YouTube channel
If 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 for you.
If you’ve built up a fanbase, local businesses, music companies, and even major brands might want to sponsor you to reach those fans. You can offer those brands visibility at your live shows, on social media, your YouTube channel, and more.
Sponsorships are sometimes paid in cash, but at first, it’s possible that it would be in the form of free products, services, or gear.
19. Apply for music grants
If they’re available to you, grants are an excellent form of financial assistance for musicians. Grants available to musicians are usually given out to help with writing new music, recording, or going out on tour. Canada, the USA, the UK, and Australia all have excellent grant programs for musicians.
20. Do session work for other musicians
Another way to make some extra money as a singer or instrumentalist is by doing session work for other musical projects. If you have a flexible schedule, you can also look to get hired to go on tour with other bands.
21. Teach music
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.
One way to get started is by creating a mini-course, then offer one-on-one music lessons in person, or online. You can even use fan subscriptions to sell access to your teaching materials like video lessons, sheet music, and more.
Remember, great songs and a great live show have to come first. But once you’ve built up your fanbase, these ideas can help you create recurring revenue streams, and make money as a musician.