Who says you can’t make money in music?
Since the very beginning stages of my working life, about three-quarters of my income has come from work I’ve done in the music industry, and these days I make a very decent living too (to be fair, it wasn’t always that way).
I don’t share this to brag – rather, I share this in hopes that it will open your mind to the possibilities (let’s get pumped up!). There are a lot of different ways to make money in music, and they aren’t all as obvious as you might think. You just never know when the skills you’ve learned in other disciplines could come in handy (and that’s a key lesson here).
Here are 24 ways I’ve made money in the music industry.
1. Sound Engineering (in the Studio)
I started getting into recording shortly after I started playing guitar. I purchased a used digital eight-track recorder as well as a rack-mount digital effects unit second-hand, and though I never got terribly good at using either, it was my first exposure to recorded sound. This was an important stepping stone to learning software-based recording.
I still get asked to do some recording work from time to time, and I’m generally more than happy to oblige. These days, my skills are kept sharp thanks to the composition and podcasting work that I do. Composition work has yet to pay out for me – it did get me an IMDb credit though. My specialty is Nintendo and Super Nintendo era video game style composition.
2. Sound Engineering (Live)
Not everyone that deals with recorded sound is a competent live sound engineer. I like to think that I am reasonably good at both, but you’d have to ask my clients.
I started honing my skills when I first started performing as a solo artist. Those were very humble beginnings, since I was typically in charge of running my own sound whenever I performed in a café or lounge.
I often shared the bill with another singer/songwriter, which meant that I wasn’t always on my own, but the production was entirely up to us.
Today, I am the go-to sound guy for at least one band I know. It pays to be attentive.
3. CD Sales
In 2006, I released my first solo album entitled Shipwrecked… My Sentiments. Even before that, I started selling CDs with one of my first bands, Lightly Toasted Touché.
Some of my other works have appeared on compilation albums, and I’ve also done some production and session work with other artists. Up until 2016, Shipwrecked… was my only solo release, but I’ve since come out with numerous singles.
And, what do you know? I still sell CDs over 10 years later. It’s not a cash cow or anything, but it’s cool to see that it still earns a bit of money passively.
4. Merchandise Sales
I used to play in a band called Angels Breaking Silence, and we sold buttons and posters at our shows. People wanted CDs, but unfortunately the band didn’t stick together long enough to put out an album. We had a few demos up on MySpace (that should give you an idea of the general time frame), and we also contributed a track to a compilation, but that was it.
These days, merchandise is a largely unexplored area for me, but one in which I’m seeing some potential. Would anyone want a Music Entrepreneur HQ branded 365 day desk calendar with awesome quotes (from my podcast guests and blog posts) and a to-do list section on it? If so, let me know in the comments below.
5. Digital Sales & Streaming
In this day in age, if you’re getting CD sales, you’re probably getting digital sales too. I continue to see a trickle of royalties from digital sales and streaming.
For most independent artists, this is not a major source of income. If you sell a lot of music on sites like iTunes or Bandcamp, you will get some decent returns, but you can’t count on streaming sites to bring the bread home.
As for the future of digital sales and streaming, I see a lot of potential. I think streaming has the potential to turn into something great for artists, tech companies and labels alike.
6. Music Instruction
Music instruction has been a steady source of income for me since day one of my working life. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 17, and I started teaching a mere two and a half years later, straight out of college (I graduated with a Certification in Discipleship). I quickly found out that teaching wasn’t easy, but I am glad that I got into it.
I’ve taken extended breaks from music instruction (you’d be surprised at how much energy it requires of you), and as of 2016, I left teaching for good. Up until that point, it was a significant part of my income.
7. Session Playing
I think I’m great on the guitar. I may not be the fastest or most technical (I can get going when I need to), but I am one of the most versatile players on a local level (at least according to Jonathan Ferguson). I now have 17 years of experience behind me, and I’m still getting better as a player.
Session playing opportunities usually come from people I already know, as well as from referrals. My calendar certainly isn’t booked solid with session playing – live or in the studio – but I’m always honored to be a part of other people’s projects. I’ve done a lot of live work, and I’ve played on a couple of albums too.
8. Live Performance
When you first start playing out, it’s a cool feeling just to get handed a little bit of money for your work. I did my fair share of free shows early on, but these days I don’t generally perform unless I know I’m getting paid.
It’s gotten to the point now where playing out a couple of times per month can net me several hundred dollars. You would think that performing more often would make you more money, but overplaying on a local level can diminish your earning potential. It’s better to play when the right terms are in place.
In 2011, my band (the David Andrew Wiebe Band) was a part of the Calgary Fringe Festival. We weren’t merely performing every night – there was also a spoken component to the show. And, if that wasn’t enough, we were often busking and working the lines by day.
The show was called Back on Solid Ground, and in it I retold my life story from about 2008 up to that point. It was interesting enough that someone in the audience asked if it was a true story (yes!).
So, while I could lump this in with live performance, I think it’s a different beast altogether. With something like the Fringe Festival, most performers are putting on theatrical performances.
So, I quickly discovered that if you want to connect with a Fringe audience, your marketing and branding has to be adjusted accordingly. We did okay, but we certainly could have done a lot better if we had our marketing figured out.
10. Busking, Tips & Honorariums
Some people do well at street performing. I’ve never made a killing with it, but it can be a lot of fun, and it’s also a good way to brush up on your set list if you need to. After all, people aren’t always listening that closely when you’re busking, so you can make a few mistakes and no one will care that much.
If you don’t have a looper pedal yet, that might be a good thing to have for busking. It gives you way more options when you’re accompanying yourself and performing alone.
Tips and honorariums have come from a variety of places for me. During the 2011 Calgary Fringe Festival, Anna and I performed in a café for tips (when we weren’t putting on the Back on Solid Ground production at night). I’ve had honorariums come from networking events at libraries and other miscellaneous performances too.
11. Rehearsal Space Rental
In 2003, I bought a home, and I lived in it until 2012. My roommate and I carefully picked out a home where we could not only live, but also set up an office and a home studio. Our home studio evolved over time, as we went from a hardware setup to a software-driven recording environment.
We tried a few different things to make money. The most obvious one is sound engineering. But we also decided to rent out the studio as a rehearsal space for other bands. I think we basically broke even on advertising costs, so we only did it for a short time, but it was worth a try.
12. Freelance Blogging
I’ve been blogging and making websites for a long time, but it was in 2012 that I started doing it professionally. I’ll be talking more about the contract I landed later (see 14. Online Marketing), but suffice it to say blogging was one of my ongoing duties in that working arrangement.
I’ve been blogging relatively steadily ever since, and over time more opportunities have come across my desk. My writing work has been recognized by different blog and site owners, and I’ll sometimes get asked to write for them, either as a ghostwriter or contributor. This is fulfilling and fun for me.
Since 2015, I’ve also been a staff writer at Music Industry How To.
13. Freelance Video Editing
I don’t have a long track record of producing video for bands and artists, but more and more I’m finding that the demand is out there.
I recently put together a promotional video for a band (kind of like a commercial), that will likely be used and reused in their marketing in the coming months and years.
14. Online Marketing
For about a year and a half, I was a contractor with a company called TuneCity. I called myself an online marketer because I was handling a lot of different things. Social media, blogging, analytics, email campaigns, copywriting, podcasting and more.
I used that opportunity to learn as much as I possibly could about marketing online. It was a very valuable learning experience, and it gave me the foundation I needed to work on other similar ventures.
15. Website Development
I’ve helped several artists and bands develop their website. Today, there are many great solutions available, but sometimes artists like you want something specific, and I’m always willing to help.
16. Landing Page Development
These days, I can get a site up and running in a manner of minutes. It doesn’t necessarily take me a lot of time to put together a decent-looking site, either. Friends will sometimes ask me about web design and though I certainly don’t advertise the fact that I do it, it’s something I’ve gotten good at over the years (I used to have a web and graphic design company).
In case you don’t know what a landing page is, you could take a look at the page I’ve set up for my eBook. These pages are frequently used to collect email addresses or to sell products, and are very much in-demand on the web right now.
17. Email Campaign Management
When you’ve got a landing page, you also need to set up an email series. That’s essentially how this gig came about – a client with a landing page needed email campaigns done up. Once you have a bit of a reputation with online marketing, you just never know when these opportunities might come your way.
Let’s face it – whether it’s using WordPress or an email campaign tool like MailChimp, the technical aspects of software tools and applications just aren’t some people’s cup of tea. Those with enough desire and determination will figure it all out anyway, but it is a pain in the butt when you’re first getting started. I’m the go-to guy in situations like that.
18. Crowdfunding Campaign Management
I haven’t run any crowdfunding campaigns myself. But I had the opportunity to help a local jazz artist raise funds for her album. This was a unique situation where an investor was involved. He fronted the costs of hiring my partner and I to run the campaign in collaboration with the artist, essentially to double his investment.
I now know how to run a successful crowdfunding campaign and could certainly help other artists do the same. But I don’t think hiring me to run an entire campaign would make sense. I think what would make more sense is if I made a course that explains my process.
Anyway, this was a cool opportunity and I’m glad I had the chance to help a fellow artist.
19. Independent Radio Campaign Management
This was a similar situation to the crowdfunding campaign I was involved in. An investor fronted the costs of hiring my partner and I to help an artist boost her Facebook page likes and send out 200 copies of her new CD across various independent, community and college radio stations.
Success is a little harder to measure with a campaign like this, but my partner and I were successful in helping the artist reach her goals on Facebook, and we did get a few favorable responses from radio stations.
The response rate from radio stations isn’t terribly high, and I wasn’t expecting it to be. But it is always validating for an artist to be played on the radio.
20. Digital Product Sales
I’ve created a variety of resources for musicians and those in the music business (especially eBooks), and they continue to perform well. You can learn more about my products here.
21. Physical Product Sales
The New Music Industry: Adapting, Growing, and Thriving in The Information Age was first made available as an eBook. Then, I used CreateSpace to launch physical copies (especially since so many of you were asking about them at the book launch party).
I now have The Essential Guide to Music Entrepreneurship and am planning to launch several more books this year.
I can’t reveal my working relationship with clients I coach or consult with, but this has been a valuable income source for me. From social media strategy to affiliate marketing, I’ve helped out in a variety of capacities.
People often come to me wanting to advertise on this website. No surprise – it has turned into quite the popular destination online. Advertising income isn’t necessarily consistent but it’s generally good.
24. Affiliate Marketing
Did you know that you can sell other people’s products and earn a commission on every unit sold? The world is an amazing place because some people make incredible money with affiliate marketing alone.
Over the years, affiliate marketing has turned into a valuable income source for me.
Final Thoughts on Making Money in the Music Industry
Have your eyes opened to the possibilities yet? I know we would all love to make a ton of money from our recorded music alone (or at least enough to support our lifestyles), but I think it’s good to remain flexible. The more skills you have, the more valuable you can bring to the world, right?
If you have skills in areas other than music, realize that they could translate into income within the music industry too. They certainly have for me, and I’m no one special.
Subscribe to the The New Music Industry Podcast on iTunes for more great content
Check out the #1 Amazon best-seller The Essential Guide to Creative Entrepreneurship