7 Income Streams for Independent Artists
As you’ll know all too well, streaming royalties aren’t exactly going to be paying the rent anytime soon, but this doesn’t mean you can’t generate some decent extra income from your music. If you’re willing to get creative and put in a bit of time, there are a lot of ways you can start making your artistry profitable. Here are a few...
So streaming isn’t profitable, but if you’re turning your audience into fans, hard copies could be. CDs, Vinyl and Cassettes are all options you could explore. Personally, I think vinyl is the best route - it’s in fashion, lots of people have turntables and the format lends itself to lots of creative opportunity with sleeve notes and artwork. CDs are cheap, but a little bit bland and cassettes could be a bit too niche depending on your genre. The key with hard copies is to go above and beyond in every aspect of the product. Remember, the people buying these will be your most dedicated fans. They’re not just buying it to listen to it, they want something they can hold, read and treasure. They want to feel like they’re part of an exclusive club or community, so think about what else you can include with the hard copy to make it special. Exclusive songs, handwritten notes, booklets of artwork, lyric sheets and zines exploring the making of the record are all great ways to make the product stand out. Depending on your production process, selling as little as 25 vinyl copies could cover the cost of making a single.
Another way to monetise your music is through selling merchandise, specifically clothing and accessories. Slapping your logo on a T-Shirt is better than nothing, but if you really want to make it profitable you need to focus on your branding. Take a close look at what your audience wear and what products they’re into. What sort of styles and designs will appeal to them? Would they prefer hats or hoodies? Maybe clothing isn’t the answer. Something like a candle might be more appealing to them? Really explore what they’re into and how they express their identity.
If you’re out gigging, a great way to sell more merch is to create a few exclusive pieces just for that event. One of the biggest reasons people will buy a t-shirt or hat is to hold on to a certain memory. If they’re having a great time at your gig, they might love to buy an exclusive piece of merch to remind them of it afterwards. Another great way to make it more appealing is to sell bundles, for example a vinyl, t-shirt and mug that are all themed and sold together. These make good gifts!
The one thing I’d say with this is don’t cheap out. Make sure your merchandise is high quality and make sure the price reflects that. People want to buy premium products, so it needs to be marketed as such.
As an artist, your set of skills is totally unique and there are plenty of people out there who would love to learn from you. You could teach an instrument, teach your production software, songwriting or even teach other independent artists how to do what you’re doing. This could either be local, over a video call or even by selling an online course or membership site, which opens up the possibility of passive income. If the online course route sounds interesting to you, I’d definitely recommend listening to The Graham Cochrane Show on Spotify.
Gigging - lots.
This probably seems obvious to most of you, but there are a ton of artists out there who rely entirely on recorded music and don’t actually gig. If that’s you, you’re not only missing out on the income, but also the opportunities and relationships that will come your way through playing live. The gigging scene is probably going to boom over the next few years, so as soon as it’s possible, get yourself out there playing at every venue, festival, cafe and bar you can. Also, don’t neglect the possibility of playing cover shows at pubs, weddings and other functions. You could separate this from your personal brand as an independent artist and if you just love playing music, it’s a great way to make some extra money that you could put into your original work.
Streaming on Twitch
Live streaming, specifically on Twitch, is an incredible way to grow your audience, network and make some extra income through your music. Two or three streams a week is plenty to get the ball rolling with this. Obviously you can perform a live gig of original music or take requests for covers, but on top of that, you could live stream a writing or production session, host a Q&A, or even just go live for a chat and a jam session. If you’re being yourself, entertaining your audience well and providing value, you’ll be surprised at how much you can earn through tips, especially if you let your audience know what you’re putting them towards (new gear, recording expenses etc). Be sure to leave links to your Spotify, merch store and socials too! I really want to explore this further in a future blog post, so keep an eye out for that.
Sync is the use of music in visual media like TV, film, ads and video games. Licensing well known songs can be pricey business for a production company, so they’ll often search for fitting music from less expensive, up and coming artists. This can be a very lucrative way to get paid for the use of your recorded music. To get started, you’ll either want to place your catalogue into a music library, or even better, strike a deal with a publishing company, who will work to get your songs into the hands of music supervisors who might want to use them in their content.
The final income stream I want to mention is session work. Session musicians are paid hourly (usually) to play their instrument or sing for recordings and gigs. If you can sing or play an instrument, you can do session work. You can do this locally by getting yourself out there and networking with studios, producers and other artists in the area and letting them know that you’re available to play on their records, or you can do it remotely on sites like SoundBetter. Just make sure you have a portfolio ready! Like I said earlier, your set of skills as an artist is totally individual; your voice or playing style is your unique selling point and could be exactly what somebody is looking for. I’m often asked for recommendations for session musicians and collaborators, so if you’re searching for this sort of work let me know and I’ll make note of it!
I hope this has sparked some ideas for how you can make your music more profitable. Making money in the music industry is difficult, but if you're willing to persevere, think outside of the box and use your time well, it's possible for anyone!