Show me the money: Artist revenue streams

Artists and money. There is some romantic ideal that most artists are and should be close to broke, because only in this desperate state can true masterworks be produced. Nothing is further from the truth. Just take a look at some of the most successful musicians and songwriters nowadays and you’ll see financial circumstances have no influence on creativity.

Of course almost everyone likes money. But what ways are there for musicians and artists to make money? Knowing about all revenue streams will enable you to exploit said revenue streams. You can’t make money off of something you hadn’t thought of, of course. Now let’s take a look, make a list and most importantly, make you some money.

Live

Before COVID-19 hit, this was by far the biggest moneymaker for almost all artists that I know and have heard of. Records were often released just so an artist had an excuse to tour and the summer/festival season would be like Christmas. Of course, for now this revenue doesn’t really exist, or in much much smaller amounts, but it’s good to have a strategy set once live shows are allowed again.

Shows

This is the easiest. Become an artist, build a lot of profile, make sure your live performance is unforgettable and you will get to perform as much as you want. Budgets go all over the place and depending on your touring history, the buzz around you, the quality of your music and your set up, you might get a fair offer. Festivals tend to pay more than club shows.

Sessions

Of course, if you don’t want to be the main artist you can also be a session player in someone else’s band, just make sure you get paid. It’s also a great way to vastly grow your network and to gain valuable road experience. The only danger is getting stuck in this ‘hired gun’ role. There’s nothing wrong with being a hired gun but if you want to be an artist it can be hard to break out of that world once you’re in.

Livestreams

With the advent of COVID-19 and the lockdowns, social isolations, closures of venues etc. there was also a meteoric rise in livestreams. At first from artists’ bedrooms and later on from actual venues. So there’s a couple of ways to monetize this.

  1. The venue or brand hosting the livestream will pay you as an artist. Very similar to a normal show but the budgets tend to be a bit lower (depending on who the promoter or brand is, of course).
  2. You sell tickets for the livestream. This can be a little tricky and technical to set up, but if you have a dedicated fanbase you can make some serious coin off of this.
  3. People can donate. This is fairly easy to set up, and depending on how big your fanbase is, you can still pick up serious amounts of money.

Of course you can also do livestreams for free, but why would you give away such value for nothing? What’s also good to think about here is the interactive element. Go outside of the box, you have so much more technical capabilities that you wouldn’t have on a traditional stage. Have fans video chat with you live, have them request songs, tell stories, improvise, you name it.

Studio

Ah yes, the room where the magic happens. The studio is a wonderful place often oozing with creative energy. But how do you make money here? As an artist you are often the one paying others and recording your own songs. So it might be interesting to look at other options if you thrive in a studio environment.

Session work

Again, you can be a hired gun. Depending on the level of the artist you are recording for, it’s always smart to get some royalty or copyright points, just in case that little bass line you added turns it into a world hit. You wouldn’t want to miss out on all that money, would you? Regardless, unless agreed otherwise beforehand, you should always have your neighboring rights to serve you a nice cheque.

Producing

If you are capable, have enough knowledge and possibly gear, you could also start producing other artists or acts. Think with them about sound, song structures, energy and vibes, etc. I should really emphasize here that not just anyone can be a producer, but if you got the skills, why not?

Recorded music

Ah yes, recorded music. During the ’90s this was most definitely the cash cow of the industry. Reprinting old albums on CDs and selling them for tier 1 prices. Life couldn’t be any better for record label executives. Things have changed now, though.

Royalties

So you can still make some money off of streaming and physical sales, contrary to what a lot of artists say. How much money you can exactly make depends on the deal you have with your record label, but there are tons of artists right now out there living off of just streaming. Of course, a good playlist here and there can help, but if you have the fans and they want to listen to your stuff, good for you!

Physical is a bit harder to sell to the fans but if they do buy, the payoff is much bigger. Receiving $25 for your album on vinyl feels like a lot more than 12 streams x $0,0004. But you need some cash upfront to manufacture the physical products. Make sure you make an informed decision on how many units you should print what kind of physical product to choose.

Advances

Technically this isn’t really a way to make money. As we have said already on this website, an advance is simply a loan consisting of your own money. But if you want funds to focus on music full time for say, 2 or 3 years, this can be an excellent way to pay the rent in the meantime.

Syncs

Brief reminder: a sync is when your music is placed under a movie, TV show or video game. It’s synchronized to it.

Every time a sync deal is made, money goes to the master owner and the copyright owners. Hence why sync is on this page twice, but it can be a great way to make some extra scratch and depending on how and where it’s used, it can lead to a lot of new exposure as well as to new fans.

Copyrights

Cutting songs

Having a well known artist ‘cut’ your song is an excellent way to make money. Every time the song is pressed onto a vinyl record, it’s streamed, played live, played on radio, or played on TV, you get paid. Needless to say, if one of your cut songs becomes a hit you are in for a good time. Of course, remember that if you have a publisher you’ll have to share, and if you still owe them an advance you’ll have to recoup that first. Besides, the publisher is often responsible for getting the song cut so it’s only fair.

Syncs

On this side it really depends on how many people have written the particular composition. If you are the sole writer and there’s no publishing company you’ll receive 100% of the sync money, but if you have written with 6 others and you have a 50/50 deal with your publisher, well, not a lot of money will be left for you.

It’s good to note that often the division between a sync fee on the master side and publishing side is 50/50.

Advances

Same story as for the record labels: it’s your own money, but it can give you a way to skip that bartending job and instead focus on writing killer songs.

Sponsorships

Connecting your name to a brand is always a good way to make money. Just beware that you connect yourself to products or brands that you truly endorse. Nothing comes across more as a faker than a bald guy endorsing shampoos, for example.

Influencers

This can also be done online, at which point you have become a regular influencer. This means companies and brands will approach you for a story shout out, a feed post or to use your likeness in their marketing. Make sure to watch the fine print on these deals.

Endorsements

Kind of along the lines of sponsorship, but most instrument manufacturers will also have a stable of musicians they endorse. This means the musician must only use their equipment on tour and in the studio and the company can use their likeness for marketing means. In return, musicians will often receive free instruments, or heavy discounts at the very least.

Grants

Not a revenue stream per se but it’s of course also possible to apply for grants from different for- and non-profit companies and governmental institutions. The application process can be long and intimidating but the pay off can be huge and it can truly boost your career. And of course, that’s what these grants are for at the end of the day.

Merchandise

Ah, merchandise. Who hasn’t owned a band shirt in their time? Just take a look at the KISS collection. Did you know you could buy a KISS themed coffin at some point? Anyway, the point is that merchandise requires a small investment upfront but the margins are much better than on physical music carriers for example. So a t-shirt will cost $4 dollars to make but you can sell it for $15 or even $20. No wonder all bands have merch. It can also provide an extra income stream on the road at live shows, but if you set up a nice web shop it can be a passive income stream all year round.

Crowdfunding

Another way to attract financing is by having your fans pay you to create. This can either be project-based (like a kickstarter for an album for example) or subscription-based (Patreon) where you basically contribute to an artist’s salary so they can produce content each month. It’s up to artists themselves to find out if this option fits them or not, but there have been great success stories for both categories (take a look at Amanda Palmer for example).

Acting

This revenue stream isn’t for everyone, but as your public persona grows it will also become possible to try your hand at acting. Some actors have found critical success (David Bowie, Jared Leto) but for others it’s a stain on their career. So make sure this is something you really want to do and make sure you have some talent, or get a lot of lessons.

Conclusion

Alright, after reading this list I hope you have become inspired to go out there and make some extra money. It might not always be as easy as it sounds, but if you focus your energy on a specific set of income streams it should be possible to generate substantial revenue. If you have any questions or remarks, reach out to me at info@bohemianmgmt.com and we can have a chat.

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