For musicians to make a living from the sale of their work the landscape has shifted seismically over the past couple of decades. It was once the case that a record deal was the only effective way an artist could market their music to the public and A&R folk had almost god-like status amongst unsigned musicians and their management. Things are very different now. Anyone can record professional sounding tracks at their desktop using free software and release it on a variety of platforms such as YouTube, Bandcamp and Soundcloud. This comes with pros and cons. The ability to release music and grow a following online is fantastic, however the sheer number of people now uploading their creations makes the market place so crowded it can be difficult for talent to emerge from the noise. On top of this, it takes a lot of streams to make even a very modest income from the digital stores so this post looks at some alternative ways that committed, talented musicians can generate online income from their work and provides direct links to the relevant pages for each service.
One important point: I am not an accountant or a lawyer so please seek professional advice regarding any taxes you may need to pay related to the sales of your music and read agreements carefully.
Cover versions are a fantastic way to grow your audience by reinterpreting something potential listeners are already familiar with and are therefore more likely to listen to. The problem use to be that getting licenses to record other peoples' songs was complex and sometimes expensive but this is no longer the case. A company called Distrokid will handle all of the licensing to make your unique cover version for only $12 per year. They also distribute your music to a growing number of digital stores such as Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play and Amazon to name just a few. Here's a cover version I released of Gershwin's classic 'Summertime'.
Producers are constantly looking out for high quality loops and samples for their own music. This has long been a lucrative sales stream for dedicated sound design labels and now individual musicians can access this market directly. One of the best marketplaces to sell your own original loops is sonoiz.com. Their free tier lets you sell both loop packs an individual loops and samples and they give you all the information and tools you need to get started. Just remember: the licences for the soft synths and samplers people use to create their own music may forbid you to use them to create sampling products. This is particularly the case when the underlying sounds themselves use samples (which is very common) so do be careful. Your own audio recordings of musically original loops played on hardware instruments should always be fine but seek advice if you are not sure!
Rap artists are prolific creators and are always seeking instrumentals (beats) as backing tracks. This is a huge growth area and composers/producers can sell to a massive audience at airbit.com. They have a free tier that gives you the basic tools to start selling your work and start earning as well as paid tiers that offer more tools and resources for marketing your beats to prospective customers.
Another huge growth area is the independent game market. These developers are constantly looking for assets to use in their games including music and sound effects. Two of the biggest marketplaces for these resources are linked to the game engines that are used by the developers. These are Unity and Unreal Engine. It's probably a good idea to have a look at these marketplaces and see what type of audio is in demand. High quality, well produced resources are always sought after!
An excellent way to make additional income from your music is to sell stock production music. There are a number of approaches to doing this. If you can get your work onto an established production music library then you have the advantage of exposure to music editors from some major media outlets. I have some work published by SyncTracks and I regularly receive a royalty check from the PRS having had music used on TV stations in the USA, Europe as well as the the UK through this library (and there are many others.) Alternately there are the stock music sites where you can simply sign up and upload your work. In my own experience I have found it harder to get much traction with these but two of the biggest names worth looking at are Pond5 and AudioJungle (part of the Envato Market network.)
In the baroque and early classical era, composers made much of their living from being the beneficiaries of a patron. Back then this would usually have been a wealthy aristocrat but now anyone can support the artists that they admire through digital patronage. Probably the biggest name in this field is Patreon. They offer a number of different tiers to appeal to potential patrons and it is possible to build an online business by providing benefits for these supporters. These might be VIP packages at gigs, exclusive behind the scenes content, stubs for remixes or whatever you feel might induce your fans to dig a little deeper into their pockets to support you financially. An alternative to Patreon is Ko-Fi; their business model is geared towards users making direct donations to support creators but they also provide and excellent online shop option for your digital goods.
Until recently obtaining the rights to arrange popular music for publishing was time consuming and sometimes prohibitively expensive. Not anymore however; the 'ArrangeMe' program from sheet music legends Hal Leonard allows you to legally arrange around 3,000,000 copyrighted titles for voice, solo instruments and a huge variety of ensembles including choirs and concert bands. Sheet music is hugely sought after and this really is an excellent way of generating income if you have the ability to produce quality, original arrangements.
A less well-known but potentially lucrative source of income for musicians is the sale of original teaching resources. These might be classroom materials such as PowerPoints for theory lessons, worksheets or listening tests based on your own tunes. They can also be more creative in outlook: composer toolkits (loops, samples etc.) or pieces for school ensembles or solo performance. The TES website has a fantastic online marketplace for creators to sell their resources to teachers and another big international player is TeachersPayTeachers where one teacher has reportedly earned over a million dollars!
Hopefully this collection of income sources and links will inspire and enable you to make some additional money from your passion for making music. Do let me know on my Facebook page if you have success with these methods or if you can point out any other income streams that I might have missed off.
Finally, they say there are only two certainties in life and tax is one of them! Make sure you seek advice from an accountant regarding the sale and any potential earnings from your music. Be certain to read the agreements with any marketplace you sign up with and seek legal advice if you are not sure how to proceed.