Lots of people want to be musicians, but making money in the music industry is tough. It’s entirely within your reach to become a skilled musician, learning the intricacies of one or more instruments and perfecting your vocal performance, but if you want a chance at generating a stream of reliable income from your talents, you’ll need to treat your musicianship as a business.
Fortunately, there are some strategies that can get you started in the right direction.
Why Income Is Scarce for Musicians
First, let’s look at some of the key reasons why musicians find it hard to make money, so we can overcome them with targeted strategies:
- Competition. Everyone, at some point, has dreamt of becoming a rock star. There are tons of musicians out there, and only so much revenue to grab.
- Profitability. The most fun activities as a musician aren’t necessarily the most profitable, nor are the most popular activities. Selling music often seems like the primary source of a musician’s income, but musicians more often lose money on this process, making it up with touring and merchandising.
- Fame seeking. Many musicians, instead of focusing on revenue, focus on the possibility of getting big, or acquiring fame. This isn’t a bad thing, but it can take away from efforts that might generate more income for you.
Key Tips for Aspiring Musicians
If you’re interested in making more money and getting more opportunities as a musician, these strategies are a must:
- Get a professionally produced demo. Most music performance opportunities will require you to provide proof of your abilities before you’re approved. If your demo sounds patchy or amateurish, most talent seekers won’t give you a second thought. It’s vital that your demo is professionally produced, even if you’re very talented and you have an amazing song to show off. You need to be able to make an absolutely stunning first impression, and a professionally produced demo can help you do it.
- Find a niche. It’s tempting to pursue a musical career in the genre you’re most passionate about, but it’s much easier to find revenue by pursuing a specific niche. Generic “rock bands” are a dime a dozen, and if you go this route, you’ll face hundreds of other bands in your local area all competing for the same venues and the same target audience. But if you try something more focused, like avant-garde experimental funk or aboriginal folk music, you’ll shrink your potential audience—but also your competition. Gaining notoriety in a niche is also a good way to slowly transition to success in a mainstream genre, via the halo effect.
- Sell your songs in multiple outlets. These days, there are dozens of easy ways to sell your music online. You can sell downloads of your album on a website you host yourself. You can stream on major music streaming platforms. You can even sell licenses for your music for use in commercial videos. It’s a good idea to pursue as many outlets as possible, maximizing your potential audience, at least in the beginning so you can learn which avenues will be the most profitable for you.
- Look for live gigs—and don’t be picky. Live gigs are a reliable way to make money, even though some performances may not give you as much money as you think you deserve for the effort you put in. Remember, live gigs aren’t just a direct source of income; they’re also a way to earn more exposure, and get references for better gigs in the future. Be open to many types of opportunities, including playing at weddings and festivals.
- Sell merchandise. Merchandise is one of your most profitable options as a musician. Items like T-shirts, buttons, and even stickers are cheap, but can return a significant profit if you sell enough of them.
- Offer session work. If you’re talented and flexible, consider offering session work for other bands and musicians. Here, you’ll make money by offering your performance services temporarily for someone else. Not only will it generate income, it will also help you network with others in the music industry and build more exposure for your personal brand.
- Crowdfund. Crowdfunding is also an option; though in theory, crowdfunding is more about handling expenses than it is generating revenue for you. If you’re thinking of releasing a new album, consider creating and marketing a ground-level campaign.
These tips don’t cover the basics, like staying active on social media and constantly honing your craft to improve your skills. You’ll need those, too, if you want a chance at becoming successful. There’s significant income to be made if you’re passionate about music—you just have to dedicate the time and attention necessary to earn it.