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How to Make Money as a Music Artist

These days, there’s a lot of talk about how difficult it is to make money as a music artist. While there’s no disputing that it can be a challenge (which is why you need other reasons to do music than just making money), the fact remains that if you are the kind of person who is dedicated and resourceful, it is possible to earn income from your talent. The important thing is not to listen to the naysayers who are telling you the odds—you have a lot better shot at making money from your music if you focus on what you CAN do, rather than what you CAN’T do.


Given the current state of the music business, one of the most important things you can do to make money as a music artist is to diversify. In other words—don’t just do one thing. Your musical talents can be put to good use in a variety of ways, and the songs you write can result in some good residual income if you get them into the right places. If you hone in on doing only one thing musically, it’s a lot less likely to support you financially—that’s just the way things are in the business right now, especially for those who don’t have Platinum record sales yet. On the other hand, if you work on multiple angles where your music is concerned, you may find several streams of income that will do a better job of supporting you—plus, if one stream runs dry, you won’t go completely broke because you’ll have other streams to draw from. Most independent musicians today get money for their music by doing a combination of things.


There are many ways in which your music can make you money, including some you might think of which are not on this list. But here are a few ideas to get you started—and remember, the key is not to do just one, but pick a few that you think you can do, and start there.

Play live gigs. If you like to perform live, work on scheduling gigs for yourself at local venues. House shows are also increasing in popularity, and you’d be surprised at how well you can do there. Weddings can also be a great source of income. If you have an album recorded (and you should), bring records to sell at every gig.

Be a musical “gun for hire.” If you’re a good instrumentalist or if you enjoy doing background vocals (BGVs), there’s no shame in hiring yourself out for music gigs, live shows, even studio session work. Say yes to anything you might qualify for. There are musicians who stay busy make a good living just because they are willing to take whatever gigs come their way.

Exploit your songs. This might seem like a bad way to put it, but all “exploit” means is that you can use your intellectual property to gain an income in any way you can. If you create original music, there are many ways to get it “out there,” not just recording and selling it on iTunes. For example, music supervisors are constantly looking for songs to license and sync to TV, film and commercials; the pay is instant, usually good, and sometimes residual. You can also submit your songs to publishers to try and get recording artists to cut them. (A lot of successful artists today got their start by writing songs for others.) The point is, find as many ways as possible to use your original music to gain income. Artists who are particularly good at this can sometimes even live on the residual income and royalties after awhile.

Exploit the Internet. Social media doesn’t always directly lead to income (although it can), but what it does is make your name and brand known, and if that results in more fans, it can result in more record sales. Many of today’s music stars got their start, not from getting discovered by a label, but by getting discovered on YouTube. In fact, going “viral” on YouTube can also mean more income because when videos reach a certain number of views, YouTube starts sharing advertising dollars with those users. So make the most of this. Learn how to use social networking to your advantage.

Teach. It’s not the most glamorous thing to do, but for almost as long as music has been around, musicians have been supplementing their income by teaching others to play. It’s a common practice for musicians to give lessons during the day, followed by gigging, writing and recording at night, and many can live on music full-time by doing this.

Bottom line—don’t use the “state of the music business” to determine whether you’re going to make a living with your music. Yes, there are obstacles today, but there were different obstacles before now, and different obstacles before that. There will always be reasons why people say you can’t do it, but the ones who succeed are the ones who look for (and exploit) the ways they CAN do it.

It’s not up to the “state of the music business” to decide for you whether you can make money as a music artist. It never has been. It’s always been up to you. And it still is.

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