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How Do Musicians Make Money…Really?

One of the biggest questions you probably have is…how do musicians make money?

In other words, how can you make money?

Like, for real. Not theoretically.

You don’t just want “ideas.” You want some concrete evidence and a clear path forward.

That’s what I’ll cover in this blog post…

How Musicians Make Money Today

I’ll go into more detail below, but the three main ways actual musicians are making money right now are…

  1. Recorded music
  2. Performing
  3. Teaching and session musician work

Alright, now let’s break down each category and talk about how you can start making money these ways…

Recorded music

Recorded music is by far the most common way musicians make money.

But “recorded music” includes many different niches.

Let’s look at stats from The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

RIAA members “create, manufacture, or distribute sound recordings representing approximately 85% of all legitimate recorded music consumption in the United States.”

In the last 10 years (2010-2020), according to RIAA, there are four trends I noticed.

  1. Physical sales and digital downloads declined
  2. Streaming has drastically increased
  3. The sync licensing and the production music niches have stayed constant
  4. Producers are more important now than ever

So the takeaways are:

  1. Don’t rely on downloads for income (but still offer them)
  2. Your music should be on at least the top streaming platforms, like Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, SoundCloud, and Bandcamp
  3. Find a sync licensing company or library that pays well and wants your genre of music
  4. Always be improving your music production skills and knowledge (so do it a lot!)


According to a 2013 study by Northwestern University School of Law, most musicians make money from performing.

And this is still the case in 2021.

How do you make money performing?

Ticket sales, the venue fee, and performance royalties.

This doesn’t even include the merch sales that happen at shows.

And nowadays, you can incorporate live streaming into your performance repertoire.

Just use your choice of live streaming platform (Twitch, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, etc.), share a link to donate, and you’ll get paid to perform.

Twitch actually incorporates a payment system. And you can save your YouTube live stream, post it as a video, then monetize the video.

The main takeaway is that performing will always be a key element of being a musician.

Teaching and session musician work

In that Northwestern study, teaching music was the second most common category for making money.

And if you can teach music, you can be a session musician. If you’re good enough to do one, you can do the other.

If you’re looking to get into one or both of these, here are a couple of videos to get you started…

How To Become a Session Musician

How To Get Students To Pay for Private Music Lessons

Choose Your Own Adventure

The beautiful thing about all of these stats is, you can choose the path you want.

Because there are many ways to make a living as a musician, you can pick the income streams that fit your personality.

For example, I make money from sync licensing, patronage, producing others’ music, and writing music advice content.

But you can mix and match whichever proven money-making avenues appeal to you. And in this way, you’re designing the music career you want.

So it’s up to you. How do you want to make money as a musician?

– – –

Caleb J. Murphy is a songwriter and producer based in Austin, Tx. He also helps part-time musicians find their path to a sustainable music career through his blog, Musician With A Day Job.

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About Audio Issues and Björgvin Benediktsson

At Audio Issues you’ll learn simple and practical audio production tips you can use right away to improve your music from your home recording studio.  Björgvin is the best-selling author of Step By Step Mixing and the founder of Audio Issues. He helps musicians and producers turn amateur demos into professionally produced records they can be proud to release.

We help home studio musicians and project studio producers make a greater musical impact in their lives by teaching them the skills needed to grow their hobbies and careers. We do this by offering simple and practical music production and success skills they can use right away to level themselves up – while rejecting negativity and gear-shaming from the industry. A rising tide floats all boats and the ocean is big enough for all of us to surf the sound waves.

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