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Those just setting out on an artistic career tend to view their financial prospects through one of two opposing clichés: the unknown artist who doesn’t earn a dime, or the regular chart topper who makes a fortune. The good news is there are actually all sorts of intermediate situations between these two extremes, in which artists are able to make a living from their music. We’ll start by explaining what it means to make a living and then list the different ways to do this, both online and in the physical world.
It all depends on the needs and expectations of the individual. To each his own comfort level, but the assumption here is that ‘making a living’ means that you don’t need a secondary job, in addition to creating music, to pay your bills. If you already have a job that has nothing to do with your musical activity, be careful not to walk away from it too quickly; it’s better to go gradually and build up some savings before you drop everything.
One thing is for sure: you will never be able to make a living out of your music without being aware of the resources at your disposal. So our goal here is to inform you of the various ways you can exploit your music financially. This list is by no means exhaustive, but we hope it will serve as a guide to help you manage your career according to your personal ambitions.
Another thing to keep in mind as you read is that each of these ways to generate income must form part of an overall strategy that you have thought through and mulled over. It is important to avoid putting yourself at risk financially and only to work when you (greatly) need to.
By ‘making a living’ from your music, we mean when your artistic endeavors earn you enough to pay your bills, so you don’t need to do any other work. The only thing we know for sure is that you won’t be able to do this unless you’re aware of the ways you can make money from your music, which we’ve listed below. Each of these ways of generating income must be part of an overall financial strategy that you have thought through and mulled over.
When you go through your record label or digital distributor to put your music on streaming platforms like Spotify or Deezer, your streamed tracks generate copyright royalties – which you as a songwriter can receive through an Independent Management Entity like Bridger, a PRO like BMI, or a CMO like Sacem – and master rights royalties, which you as a performer and producer can collect from your record label according to your contract, or from your distributor according to its subscription terms.
The amount represented by these rights – or royalties – varies enormously from one person to another. In any case, the business model of the streaming platforms resembles that used by Spotify, in which the store keeps 30% of the revenues generated on the platform, gives 12-15% to the Collective Management Organization, the Independent Management Entity or the Performing Rights Organization, which redistributes them to its members, then the rest to the distributors and labels according to the percentage of listening that the artists they represent accumulate on a specific territory. The latter then distribute the revenues to their artists according to the contracts signed with them.
You can also ask for financial support from the people who listen to your tracks. This might be scary for those who don’t like asking for money, but it can be very effective, while also allowing you to build a solid fan base, with whom you feel closely connected and can develop a free exchange of ideas to stimulate your creativity. Above all, there is nothing ‘crazy’ about it: what could be more normal than asking the consumers of your work to pay you? If they like what you do, chances are they will even be happy to give you a ticket.
There are diverse ways and tools for doing this:
In the same vein, but with more interaction between artists and their fans, there is the D2C, where the artist sells a product to their audience without any intermediary. Whichever tool you choose, creating and surrounding yourself with a loyal community that supports you financially takes time, subtlety and perseverance.
The principle is the same for all: you must show your potential (micro) backers that you want to deliver content they like, that you are close to them, that you are grateful for their presence. Even if it’s not enough to make a living, it is a foundation on which you can build to promote all your music projects and to show industry professionals that you have a strong development potential.
You can create a Bandcamp profile, upload your tracks, sell them as files or records, as well as offering merchandising such as t-shirts, mugs, or anything else you like. The advantage is that it’s a platform dedicated to music and where you can create a long-term relationship with your subscribers by updating your offer whenever you want. Same principle on Music Glue and its platform dedicated to D2C, where you can open a store to present your project and sell your products.
To earn money, you can put your work at the disposal of other musicians, especially via paid sampling platforms like Splice. The principle of sharing sounds on online libraries: you put your tracks on the site, other artists use them, then you get money back according to the contract you signed.
The feedback is unanimous: sync licensing – putting your music on audiovisual products, either through your publishing company or through a site like TuneCore Sync or Jamendo Licensing – is one of the most effective ways to make money. The idea is to negotiate licensing deals to put your music on audiovisual media such as series (streaming or TV), movies (features and shorts), commercials, video games, etc.
The returns depend on the cost of the license that you sell or that your publishing house sells, the sound and creative quality of your track, the type of production that buys it, for which territories, communication channels and for how long.
Five main ways to earn money online with your music: streaming and the royalties it generates (to be collected from your digital distributor + Bridger or your CMO/PRO) + donations from your fans in exchange for performances or goodies with Patreon or crowdfunding + D2C with Bandcamp, Music Glue or dedicated websites + selling licenses to allow other artists to sample your music + sync licensing to broadcast your music on audiovisual media.
Offline, concerts are the most profitable way to make a living as an artist. Beyond the financial contribution, they are also important – vital, even – for building up audience loyalty. In a way, the stage is the culmination of your artistic work, where you create a tangible link with your audience and where you share a new facet of your personality. In short, live performance is stimulating.
To secure venue bookings, it is better to go through a booker. This role is the last link in the chain of promotion of your music, and it will be easier to convince them if you already have a publisher or a label in your professional circle.
Important: any stage performance must be remunerated. This fee increases according to your publishing or label contract.
In exchange, the producer of the show is paid 1) from the ticket sales, if they finance the show; 2) via the contract signed with the festival if necessary. Often, they take 10-15% of the sales revenue when they play a developing artist (who keeps the rest) and much more for the biggest artists.
There are many musical springboards for new artists. All of them provide professional support to help you structure yourself both legally and in terms of promotion, allow you to practice playing on stage, help you to mature your musical identity and sometimes to win a grant for an artistic residency and/or to finance your next release.
There are many grants for music, but some of them are reserved for labels, so we advise you to create your own structure before looking for grants, to save time on paperwork. The process may seem intimidating, but in the end, it is simply a matter of formalizing the fact that you are already financing the creation of your music by yourself!
As grants must be used specifically to finance your artistic projects rather than taken simply as remuneration, they serve only to take the pressure off your wallet.
Ranging from corporate events, weddings and birthdays to showcases, requests for live performances at private events are numerous. To get access to them, try talking to your friends and get closer to event agencies.
There are 4 main ways to earn money through your offline music: concerts; musical springboards dedicated to young artists that offer a package; grants offered by specialized institutions; private events such as showcases and company events.
Making a living as an artist means that you do not have to work beyond your music business to pay your bills. There are many ways to do this: broadcasting your tracks on streaming platforms, interacting with your online audience to get donations, offering exclusive merch and live deals, synchronization licensing or even playing at private events (showcases)... What matters most when it comes to building your financial serenity is to surround yourself with professionals, to take care of your online image, to stay creatively active and to integrate a global strategy organized by month, quarter and year.
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