For most of us, being a working full-time musician is more of a dream than a reality. It can be hard to make enough money to support yourself without having to give away precious hours to a “real job”.
I’m not here to tell you that you can make music into a full-time gig right now. It doesn’t usually happen that fast. It took me about a year and a half, and I got lucky. It can take years, and that’s okay.
Where you live, your cost of living, your family situation, and even your genre of music can affect the amount of money you can earn, and how much you’ll need to make a living. It will vary from person to person, so don’t feel bad if it takes you longer than expected.
All that said, there’s no reason why your music career shouldn’t at least generate a side income that makes your life a little more comfortable. Many artists choose to reinvest all of their music related income into their careers, and others use it to free up more of their time for music.
How you use your music related income is the fun part – figuring out how to make money is less fun. We’re going to look at a few small, out of the box ways to monetize your music career. These little things add up!
1. Monetize Your YouTube Videos
It’s not necessarily a lot of money, but monetizing your YouTube videos is a great way to generate money on content you’ve already created. I am all about finding income streams that work without having to tend to them every day.
Monetizing your YouTube videos is easy and anyone can do it. Follow the steps provided by Google here.
My only recommendation is to remove ads on videos you are using for booking. If I’m sorting through live videos of bands wanting to play my venue, I don’t really want to sit through a 30 second ad to watch a band I may not even want to book.
Put ads on cover videos and older videos. If you’re trying to get people to watch a video, don’t monetize until later.
2. Sell Your CDs/Merch At Local Physical Retailers
Many local music stores will have a local section and will agree to carry your CDs and sometimes even your merch. Again, this is a great way to potentially generate income without having to do something every day. Just stop by every once and a while and pick up your cash.
Many bands have even started doing this on tour. Particularly if you’re selling vinyl, many stores are happy to carry a few copies.
3. Make Your Music Available For Synch Licensing
Most digital distribution websites will give you the option to add your music to a music library. This makes your music available to be used in movies, TV shows, commercials, and so on.
Most of the time, this won’t happen without someone actively pitching your songs to music directors. However, having your music in the music library can present you with opportunities.
At some point in your music career, you’ll probably have a manager or someone who wants to actively pitch your music to TV shows. This can be a great way for you to make money with very little effort on your part.
4. Enter Contests – No, Seriously!
I know it seems silly, but every once in a while, take the time to scour the internet and enter any contest you find. If it requires excessive fan voting, I usually ignore it, because there will always be someone else who is more willing to hound their fans for votes.
But some contests are judged based on music alone. It can’t hurt! You might as well join up.
If a contest feels particularly winnable but still requires votes, it may not be bad. It’s possible to get your fans excited about voting, and it could end up being great for your engagement.
5. Make Charts/Transcriptions
If you’ve been through formal musical training, you can probably make charts and transcribe songs better than the average working musician! This is the kind of work that many musicians absolutely hate (I’m one of them), but if you’re willing to do it, some will be happy to pay you for it.
I have some friends that make a little bit of side income transcribing songs for pit bands that need their music transposed. It’s annoying, tedious work, but some people find it fun!
6. Play Schools Shows/Presentations
Maybe you’ve been in the industry a while and have some experience to share – some enlightenment for the musicians of tomorrow. Consider crafting a school show or presentation to generate a little extra cash.
If you’re able to teach workshops on an instrument, there is a huge amount of potential income in spending an afternoon with some high school jazz students. There is a great deal of wisdom a real live working musician can impart to young students!
Alternatively, you could share about the business side of the music industry. Nobody really talks to students about the very real possibility of becoming a career musician. If you can let kids know that it’s possible, you should!
The best part about doing things like this is that you can do them on tour. You could present at a school in the morning or afternoon, and play a show at night. There is also zero pressure. If you don’t secure a presentation, no big deal, you still have a real show to play!
7. Create An Online Store For Merch
I will admit that I often don’t buy merch at shows. There’s always a line, I don’t always want to meet the musicians, it’s very busy. It’s just not my thing. Instead, I’ll go buy it online.
It takes very little effort to create an online store and it’s yet another income stream that doesn’t require a huge amount of attention. You’ll only have to send merch out every couple of weeks, and if you’re sending it out more often than that, good for you! You’re probably making good money!
8. Aim For Spotify Playlists
Now, we all know artists don’t make very much money from Spotify. However, over time you can end up earning a respectable little sum, especially if you get placed in a few key playlists.
Consistent placements over time can add up to $50+ being deposited into your account every month. It can add up to more if one of your songs really takes off.
9. Do Admin Work For Other Bands
We all know a few artists that could really use some help on the admin side. If you’re the type that likes to sit down and work on a laptop for a few hours, you can easily earn a little side income from this!
In fact, there are sometimes grants that allow music businesses to hire admin assistants. Try offering your services to some artists that you like – you may be surprised by the response.
10. Promote Local Events/Shows
Cities and neighborhoods often have concert series in the summer. If your neighborhood doesn’t have one, approach your neighborhood community board and propose organizing one!
Booking shows like this is a super fun way to earn money. It’s a great opportunity to connect with other artists and learn about life on the other side of the equation.
My band mate runs a local festival and concert series put on by our city. It actually generates enough income that combined with his music career efforts, he doesn’t need to work a “real job”.
11. Special Skills Extras On Film Sets
The most lucrative week of my life was working as a special skills extra on a big budget movie. all I had to do was pretend to play keyboard for $35/hr plus overtime. Actor’s wages are unionized.
Make some inroads in your local film community and you may have this opportunity as well. Alternatively, being an extra is pretty easy work that sometimes pays fairly well. Either way, it’s a pretty fun way to earn a little extra cash.
12. Play House Concerts
If you become popular within your local scene, the opportunities for house concerts will be endless. House concerts are easy to play, don’t require much promotion, and are a great way to earn more money than you normally would from a show.
They are also usually finished by 10 PM, which is amazing.
Consider setting up a tour of house concerts – just to make money! House concerts are not going to make you famous, but 30 people in a house is a lot more fun than 30 people in a bar, and you’ll definitely earn more.
13. Make Sure You’re Signed Up For Live Performance Royalties
If you play live and are not signed up for BMI Live, ASCAP Onstage, or your Music PRO’s equivalent, you are literally letting money just pass you by.
All you have to do is provide your PRO with a set list of your original songs performed at a venue that pays Performing Rights fees (most reputable venues do), and provide evidence that the show happened.
You can make as much as $150 per show. That’s huge! Often, you can claim backdated performances for over a year. If you’ve gone on tour and haven’t claimed these, you’re losing out on literally thousands of dollars.
14. Make Sure You’re Signed Up For ALL Royalties
On that note, if you’re not registered with ASCAP or another Performing Rights Organization, you are letting dollars pass you by. These organizations collect money that you are owed from radio spins, TV performances, live shows, Spotify spins, etc.
These organizations also put on networking events, give you access to insurance, and are absolutely essential to our current music industry. Don’t get left behind, and do not leave money on the table.
15. Make Demos For Other Musicians
Why not put your home studio to work? You don’t need to charge much, and probably shouldn’t if you’re just making demos, but making an extra $200 – $400 a month for a few afternoons in your home studio is nothing to sneeze at.
For great advice on how your home studio can make money, check out Recording Revolution. They have an Audio Income series that showed me how I could start making money by taking on little projects.
16. Find Sponsors For Local Shows And Tours
I’ve always thought that bands who get sponsored by their local drug store looked a little weird. But hey, I’m not here to judge. If you can get a bunch of expenses paid for with someone else’s money, I’m not going to tell you not to.
Some artists like Allen Stone wear their endorsements on their sleeve. He is sponsored by Transitions Lenses, and part of his image is big glasses. So, even though he makes very obvious sponsored posts, and they just end up being endearing.
17. Sign Up For MicroSync With YouTube
Micro-Sync tracks your music when it’s used by other creators as background music in YouTube videos and the like. You are owed royalties when this happens.
Most digital distributors like CD Baby, DistroKid, and others will do this for you if you request it. Again, this is just another way to generate income without having to really work.
18. Apply For Government/Non-Profit Grants
Grants are included last because they are not available in every country. In Canada, grants are widely available on nation-wide, provincial, and sometimes a municipal level. Grants enable artists to go on tour, market their releases, and make music videos or other content.
Some grants will even just support living expenses while the artists creates new music or art.
Look into grants offered by your government, municipality, or a not-for-profit group. Applying can take quite a bit of work, but I wrote a guide that will at least help you get started (you can find it in the archives).
Grants can be tough, because you sometimes have to repay a portion of the grant. You also may not get the grant, so you shouldn’t rely on the money.
If they’re available, you should apply. If you’re successful in getting one, you will not regret it.
Do you have some original ideas on generating income? I would love to hear your out of the box income ideas.