The Real Reason You Should Try To Make Money as a Musician
If you’re pursuing music just to make lots of money, quit now.
I’m not saying you can’t make a good living as a musician. You can.
But money cannot be the driver of your music career.
You will burn out because building a career in music is work. You’re building something.
Ever see a building get put up in a day? Nah. It takes planning, budgeting, creativity, a solid foundation, and then hard and smart work.
Is it okay to make money from your art? Absolutely. But not for the reason you think.
The only reason to try and make money as a musician is so you can spend more time making music.
The more money you make from music, the more time you can invest in making more music.
Create music. Earn money. Use that money to create more music. Earn more money. Repeat.
It’s really all about the joy of making music. Or at least it should be.
If you have ulterior motives, you won’t last long in the music industry.
Now that we’re clear on why you should make money from music, below are some ways on how to do so.
How To Make Money as a Musician
According to three independent studies, RIAA stats, and info from the United States government, the most common ways musicians make money today are…
Streaming, producing, sync licensing, performing live, teaching music, and being a session musician.
Let’s go through each income stream.
According to RIAA, which is responsible for about 85% of the recorded music in the U.S., physical music sales have been declining over the past decade while streaming has skyrocketed.
We kind of already knew this.
Many musicians make a regular income from streaming, sometimes the equivalent of a full-time income.
So, despite the poor payouts from Spotify and the other streaming platforms, it is possible to make money from song streams.
Producers are behind all the recorded music, whether the artist produces it or if they hire a producer.
Either way, if you know how to produce a song that sounds like your favorite artist, you have a valuable skill.
And many artists would rather work with someone like that instead of working by themselves. They want an objective pair of ears, a brain with different ideas, and a person with the skills to make the production happen.
Sync licensing is when you get paid to let companies, TV shows, or filmmakers use your song in their visual media.
The payouts range from a few bucks per license (with small licensing libraries) up to tens of thousands of dollars (for movie trailers and big-brand commercials).
Many artists, like Sleeping At Last, Celeste, and Ruelle, make their living primarily from sync licensing placements.
It requires emotionally driven songwriting, pro-level productions, and a lot of patience.
Most musicians make their living from performing live, which can include both in-person and live streaming.
Basically, if you love performing for others, this is your ideal income stream.
It’s one of the oldest methods for making money as a musician.
Teaching and session work
I put teaching and session work together because if you can do one, you can do the other.
With both of these money-making methods, you can earn $40 an hour or even a lot more.
It depends on your skill level and your passion for playing your instrument.
How To Transition from Hobbyist to Money-Making Musician
In order to earn money, and therefore have more time for making music, you need a plan on how you’re going to do that.
Pick your main focus
The first step is to figure out what you love doing. What are you doing when you lose track of time? What gets you into your flow state?
That’s what you should be pursuing.
Pick 1-3 main focuses that you’ll focus on in your music career. These will inform your income streams.
Decide on your income streams
Based on the main focuses of your music career, decide on your income streams.
Revisit the list of income streams above and see which of them fall under your main focuses.
Choose just a few income streams. Too many and you’ll be spread too thin.
Get to work
Once you’ve got your income streams, you now have to find small tasks to move you toward making money.
Break down each income stream into things you can do on any given day that will move you forward.
And as you make progress toward making money, you’ll gradually move toward your big focuses.
Soon enough, you’ll find you can make more time to make music. You’ll be building a career in music.
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Caleb J. Murphy is a songwriter and producer based in Austin, Tx. He also runs Musician With A Day Job, a site that helps part-time musicians build a career on the side.