How tough is it to make a living in music, exactly?
The correct answer is “it depends.”
It depends on your strategy, your execution/work ethic and your mindset.
These are the three variables you have control over – everything else is a moving target.
Interestingly, getting a handle on what you can control – and not waiting for someone else to come along to save you – will get you to where you want to go faster.
So, let’s look at how many fans you need to fund a full-time music career.
Please note that all of the below is hypothetical, and your numbers could and probably will vary.
But first, if it's your aim to do music professionally, you'll want to check out our free ebook while it's still available:
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How Much Money Do You Need To Make A Full-Time Living?
First, let’s consider how much money you would need to make to earn a “full-time” living.
TheStreet had the median annual income for U.S. residents at $46,644 in 2019.
Note that median and average aren’t the same thing.
Median refers to the middle.
So, someone at the absolute middle of the broad range of income earners would be earning $46,644.
The average is the total amount of money divided by the number of people in the study.
Based on past stats, I would anticipate the U.S. average to be closer to the $20,000 to $30,000 range.
I’ll be generous and say that you need to earn $36,000 to make a full-time living as a musician.
So, for this guide, we’ll set our goal at $36,000.
Note that if you’re playing in a three-piece, you would need to earn $108,000 for everyone to make $36,000.
If you’re in a four-piece, that number rises to $144,000.
And so on.
So, how do we make $36,000 apiece?
How Many Fans Do You Need To Make A Full-Time Living?
For a bit of context, it’s worth noting that the most valuable type of follower you can have as a musician is an email subscriber.
It’s much easier to measure the value of an email subscriber over any other type of follower (social media, print or otherwise).
Plus, most marketers affirm that email subscribers are the most engaged type of subscriber there is.
Per Content Wonk, one figure expert marketers like to toss around is that every email subscriber is worth $1 per month, which works out to $12 annually.
Not surprisingly, this number changes drastically from one email list to another, depending on engagement and how willing your audience is to purchase something from you.
But this number seems realistic – it’s not too conservative, nor is it too liberal.
The reason I say that is that not everyone on your email list will open your emails.
An even smaller number will click on the links within your emails.
Then, an even smaller number will follow through on a purchase.
Some will even unsubscribe.
These numbers can be discouraging at times, but sending regular emails nevertheless keeps you in the consciousness of your audience, which has marketing value written all over it, especially when you consider that it does a better job of engaging your audience than constantly posting to social media.
So, we can do some simple math to work out the rest.
To earn $36,000 per year, we need to make $3,000 per month.
To earn $3,000 per month, we need 3,000 subscribers spending $1 each.
And, unless you're selling $1 products, you shouldn’t need all 3,000 subscribers to engage in your emails.
Just for reference, a 20% open rate is about average.
Anything above 30% should be considered excellent.
Anything below 10% is not great, and you might want to cleanse your list to get those numbers back up (use your email service provider's built-in tools to remove people from your list who haven't opened any of your emails in the last three months).
So, with 3,000 subscribers and a 20% open rate, we should be able to make $36,000 happen.
Other Key Factors To Consider When You’re Driving Towards Your Goal
Using basic reasoning and simple math, I just showed you how many fans you would need to earn a full-time living in music.
There are other key factors affecting your outcomes, however, so just because you have 3,000 subscribers doesn’t automatically mean you'll be making a full-time living.
Here are the most important considerations to be mindful of:
Whether You Make An Offer
If you never make an offer (i.e. sell a product or service), it doesn’t matter how many email subscribers you have.
You can’t expect to make any money if you don’t sell things to your audience.
Some musicians are too scared to sell let alone send emails to their audience – please don't let that be you.
The most obvious things to sell to your fans are your music, merchandise, concert tickets and the like.
If you don’t have anything to sell yet, focus on product development first and foremost.
You can turn a single album into a ton of products, and if you don’t believe me, just have a look at this list:
- Branded merch (T-shirts, hoodies, hats, buttons, stickers and more).
- Handwritten lyric sheets.
- Sheet music and guitar tabs.
- Music videos.
- Making-of or behind-the-scenes video.
- Audio commentary.
- Video commentary.
- EDM remixes, acoustic versions, instrumentals, etc.
- And more.
The Price Of Your Offers
Let’s say you have a 3% conversion rate overall.
What this means is that 3% of your audience converts into customers, regardless of whether they are email subscribers, website visitors, social media followers, or otherwise.
If you had 3,000 people in your audience, a 3% conversion rate would equate to 90 people buying.
If you're confused, refer to what I said earlier – even if 20% of your subscribers open your email, it doesn't mean all of them will click through, and an even smaller number will follow through on a purchase.
So, if 90 people bought a 90-cent single from you every month, you would earn $81 per month (whoa, so much for earning $3,000 monthly).
But if 90 people bought a $297 mega merch pack from you, you would have earned $26,730 in a single month!
How in the world…?
There’s a $26,649 difference between the two examples!
This is an important lesson for musicians.
Don’t just sell $0.99 songs.
Don’t just sell $10 albums.
Don’t just sell $20 T-shirts.
Consider making higher priced offers for your superfans.
You can also bundle up everything you have into a higher priced package.
Then, you could sell your special bundles at a special discounted price and run regular promotions.
If you’re making $3,000 per month without selling higher priced offers, you’re obviously a marketing wizard.
But you’re probably leaving a huge amount of money on the table too.
Other Revenue Sources
Let’s say everything goes according to plan and the right number of people from your database of 3,000 subscribers buys something from you.
We’ll define the “right number of people” as 20% of 3,000, which is 600.
To earn $3,000 in a month, you would only need to sell 600 units of a $5 product (again, you would be leaving a huge amount of money on the table if you didn't sell higher priced offers though).
Either way, you’ve met your monthly quota.
But suddenly you find your random website visitors, social media followers and concert attendees are also buying.
If this happened, you would make significantly more than $3,000 in a month.
Realistically, we know that email marketing isn’t going to be your only source of income.
Bare minimum, most musicians are earning something from streaming, digital downloads, live performance and merch sales these days.
So, if your email list alone is making $3,000 per month, everything over and above that would be gravy.
Now, there are a myriad of revenue sources for musicians – it’s just a matter of figuring out which are going to work for you.
The 80/20 Rule tells us that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts, so inevitably some things are going to work better for you than others.
This is an opportunity, however, as it means you can double down on the 20% and expand your earnings from doing the right things.
Anyway, what we can say with certainty is that other revenue sources are going to affect your outcome, generally in a positive way.
How Do I Grow My Email List To 3,000 Subscribers And Beyond?
The process of growing your email list can be put on virtual autopilot once you’ve figured out the right steps to take.
The part that a lot of people get hung up on is “the right steps to take.”
They try one thing and it doesn’t work.
They try another thing and it doesn’t work.
Then, they give up.
That’s the wrong time to give up!
If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure – it just means your tactics aren’t working.
When one structure doesn’t work, put another structure in place.
Don’t even stop for a moment to cry about your failure – it’s a waste of time!
Keep iterating until you get it right.
I’ve gotten my website to the point where my email list grows on autopilot, but I tried a lot of things that didn’t work before I got to that point.
So, let me cover the basics here.
I’m not guaranteeing that any of the following tactics will work amazingly.
But all things being equal, you’ll have more success growing your email list doing these things than not.
Put Signup Forms On Your Website
If you don’t have signup forms on your website already, you’re leaving opportunity on the table.
Because you’re a musician, people don’t find your website by accident.
Your visitors are likely to be made up of your family members, friends, acquaintances and concert attendees.
And, some people you haven't talked to in a while might be surprised to find you even have a music career, which is cool.
The key thing is that you probably have supporters and fans who aren’t even on your email list yet.
It would be wise to assume they’re not, unless you’ve personally inspected every email on your list.
So, you should put signup forms on your website.
The best places to try are:
- At the top of blog posts.
- In the middle of blog posts.
- At the end of blog posts.
If you want to take this a step further, offer your prospective subscribers an “opt-in bribe”.
A free song is best, since you can just direct your new subscribers to a link.
But it’s a little played out, so if you can, give away a free video in exchange for an email address.
Ask Your Social Media Followers To Join Your Email List
Although some of your social media followers probably are on your list, the majority likely aren’t.
This is because people like to hang out wherever they like to hang out online.
It might be Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or otherwise.
If you’re publishing content on these platforms, your goal should be to send them to your website and get them on your email list.
Otherwise, these followers aren’t going to amount to much.
Social media sites come and go, and you never know when you might lose your following.
So, remember to encourage your social media followers to get on your email list before it’s too late.
Collect Email Addresses At Your Shows
If you aren’t already collecting email addresses at your shows, you need to get into the habit immediately.
If people come to your shows and stick around to the end, it’s a clear sign they’re interested in what you’ve got to offer.
You’ve done all the selling you need – now you just need to make the ask.
If you have trouble asking people to buy your merch, then ask for their email address.
It’s so much easier.
You can let them know about your website and online store later.
But don’t let them get away without asking them for their email address.
Once you’ve got their email address, you can send them relevant content, ask them to follow you on social media, invite them to your gigs, and of course, ask them to buy something.
Take Gary Vaynerchuk’s approach – Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.
In marketing, that translates to – give, give, give, ask.
Do more giving than asking.
How Many Music Fans Are Needed, Final Thoughts
It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out how many fans you would need to make a full-time living.
The tough part is growing your fan base and then monetizing it.
This process can be streamlined, but it all starts with good music, and you can’t skimp on that.
Once you have good music, you can launch music videos, play shows, network with other musicians, leverage influencers, write guest posts and a great deal more.
But you can’t polish a turd, as they say – marketing doesn’t make a product.
So, start with a good product and then get it out there.