Want to make a living in the music industry and step up your music career? Here are the best ways to make money as a musician.
A lot of people think that to make a living as a musician, you’ve got to get lucky and score a major record deal. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Despite the naysayers, the truth is that you don’t have to be the next Kanye West to get your bread. There are plenty of ways to make a full-time income as an amateur musician without getting signed by a label—you’ve just got to think outside of the box.
That’s why in this post, we’re going to be looking at the most creative ways to make money from music. We’ll be covering a mix of different methods, including ‘easy earners’ that lots of musicians have already had success with, plus a few creative ideas you might not have considered.
We’ll get the most obvious methods out of the way first, then we’ll jump into the more creative ideas.
Let’s jump into it!
1. Sell your music as digital downloads
One of the most straightforward ways to make money from your own music is to sell your songs, albums, and EPs as digital downloads directly to your fans. While many consumers prefer to stream music these days, there’s still a huge market out there of hardcore fans who are willing to pay to download songs and albums.
2. Sell vinyl and CDs
Thought nobody bought CDs and vinyl anymore? Think again. Physical media—and vinyl, in particular—is making a comeback and seeing a resurgence in sales. In fact, sales of vinyl and CDs grew by 5% and 13% respectively in 2019.
Combined, sales of these types of physical music products raked in over $700 million in revenue for the music industry in the first half of the year alone.
And no, you don’t necessarily need to be a big-name artist with a huge following to sell CDs. Even as an amateur musician playing small gigs, you can set up a merch stall and sell your CDs at live music events to your audience to make some extra money on the side.
3. Earn money by streaming music
Most listeners these days get their music through streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. And as a result, streaming now makes up a whopping 80% of the music industry’s revenue.
It goes without saying, then, that every musician that’s hoping to make it a career should be distributing their music to streaming platforms.
But be warned: you won’t get rich from streaming revenues alone unless you’re one of the lucky few to release a best-selling hit. Apple Music pays artists just one penny per stream in royalties, so you’d need to get hundreds of thousands of listeners per month to make a decent income.
That said, 13,000 artist catalogs on Spotify still manage to earn at least $50,000, so it’s definitely possible. Plus, at the very least, distributing your music to streaming platforms will help more people to discover your music. And the more people that discover your music, the more money you can make selling music downloads and other products to your fans.
4. License your music
Another way to make money from your music is through licensing. Licensing your music ensures that as the copyright owner, you’ll get paid when your song is used in movies, TV shows, commercials, etc.
Licensing fees can vary massively, and the amount you’ll earn usually depends on the scale of the project your music is used in.
For example, music licensing company Musicbed charges $49 to use songs in wedding videos, but $499 to use songs in films with a budget of $250k-$500k.
5. Play live shows & cover gigs
Gigging is the bread and butter of musicians. It’s a staple way to make money that many artists rely on heavily when they’re just starting out.
There are many places to play live shows, including clubs, restaurants, festivals, weddings, corporate events, etc.
And the great thing about performing at these kinds of live events is that not only do you usually get paid by the venue, but you also get to reach a new audience, which can help you to grow your following. Plus, you can increase your earnings by selling CDs and other merch at the live event.
Don’t want to break into performing live music with a physical audience yet? Why not try doing a living room concert and streaming it to your audience.
6. Become a session or studio musician
This is another simple way to make money as a musician. Session and studio musicians are hired to perform as backing instrumentalists for other artists and bands on a short-term basis. It’s not great for building your own name as an artist as you’ll be working ‘in the background’ for someone else, but it’s an easy way to earn cash while doing what you love.
7. Sell beats
Music producers can make a ton of money selling beats to rappers, lyricists, and corporations. The best way to sell beats is through your own website as you can keep all of your profits, but you can also sell them on marketplaces like Airbit and Beatstars.
8. Offer music or instrument lessons
As the saying goes, those who can, do; those who can’t, teach music lessons.
Just kidding. But in all seriousness, teaching is a great way to earn money as a musician. You can give one-to-one instrument lessons to supplement your income while getting a chance to hone your craft at the same time.
Or, if you want to get more serious about it, become a certified music teacher and work full-time in public or private schools. The cool thing about going down this route is that it’s a viable career path that gives you a stable job that you can work in right up until retirement—and you still get to immerse yourself in music every day.
9. Sell your knowledge
You don’t necessarily have to teach lessons to share your musical knowledge, either. You can sell your knowledge in other ways, such as creating online music lessons, from teaching music theory to composing music. Using a course platform like Podia or Thinkific will help you launch your online courses.
The cool thing about selling courses is that it can be a passive income source. You only have to create a course once and you can sell it again and again forever, with little to no work.
To get started, record a video course, sign up for a course platform, and upload it. Both Podia and Thinkific have free plans that you can use to get started. You might also want to consider publishing your course on marketplaces like Udemy or Skillshare.
10. Sell sound effects
YouTubers, movie producers, and other artists are always in need of sound effects. Use your instrument and musical knowledge to create your own, then sell them online on marketplaces like AudioJungle, or through your own site.
Sound effects don’t tend to sell well individually, so it’s best to create a bunch and bundle them up together in one themed sound effects pack.
11. Sell merchandise
Selling merch can be a great additional source of revenue for musicians. You can sell it alongside your music through your own site, or at merch stalls at live events.
And don’t worry, you won’t need to spend a lot of money buying stock to get started. You can just use print-on-demand sites instead. Sellfy is a great option for this—it’s an ecommerce platform that you can use to build your own site, with built-in print-on-demand fulfillment.
It works like this: You sign up for Sellfy and upload your designs digitally to product mockups to create your custom merch (think t-shirts, stickers, mugs, etc.). Then, you sell that merch through your website without having to invest in any stock upfront.
When you make a sale, the order is sent through to Sellfy’s fulfillment centers, who make it, print it, and ship it straight to the customer for you. They then bill you for the base product and fulfillment cost, and you keep the difference as profit.
12. Sell behind-the-scenes content
Another great way to boost your revenues is by upselling behind-the-scenes content like documentaries, sheet music, stem files, etc. to your biggest fans.
You can do this using platforms like Patreon, which let you create your own members-only area complete with exclusive content, and sell access to it to fans who want to support your work via monthly subscriptions.
And Patreon isn’t the only option for this. Check out this roundup of Patreon alternatives to explore your options.
13. Sell lyrics
14. Sell NFTs
NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are all the rage these days. It’s been hailed as the future of fine art collecting, but while most people associate NFTs with digital artwork, it also offers unique opportunities for musicians.
In case you don’t already know, NFTs are unique cryptographic tokens that utilize blockchain technology and can’t be replicated. They can represent real assets like artwork or, in our case, music.
You can mint an NFT to create a token that represents ownership of a new album drop, song, or another audio recording, and then sell it to fans and collectors.
There are lots of websites out there dedicated to selling music NFTs that can facilitate this, like OpenSea.io. To get started, you can set up an OpenSea account and Metamask Ethereum wallet, then create a collection of the music you intend to mint as NFTs, create it, and list it for sale on the OpenSea marketplace.
15. Collect donations
Many music fans like to support the artists they listen to. If you’d rather not sell your music directly to fans, you can still make money by offering it for free and collecting donations from people who want to give something back.
16. Try busking
Another way to tap into the charitable mindset of music fans is by busking. Busking involves playing your music in the street or any other public space for voluntary donations.
Set yourself up on a busy high street with plenty of foot traffic and place a tip jar or guitar case on the floor in front of you, and passers-by that appreciate the music can drop in their change.
Believe it or not, you can make a good hourly rate busking ($50/hour+ on good days)—and it has the added advantage of enabling you to reach new audiences and grow your following.
Just make sure you check the local laws and regulations before you start busking. Some local authorities ban busking in certain locations; others don’t regulate it so you can busk freely.
17. Start a YouTube channel
YouTube is a fantastic discovery platform for musicians. If you’re trying to make a name for yourself, starting your own YouTube channel is a must. But aside from the promotional benefits, you can also earn money directly through YouTube too.
The most straightforward way to make money on YouTube is through Adsense. Once you reach a certain number of subscribers and views, you can run ads on your music videos to monetize them and earn revenues based on the number of people that view those ads.
Another way to monetize your YouTube channel is by using it as a platform to promote your online store, or by promoting affiliate offers such as Amazon affiliate links for the instruments you play.
18. Use Content ID to earn revenue from other YouTube videos
Aside from earning ad revenue through your own YouTube videos, you can also monetize other people’s YouTube videos if they use your music without permission.
Thanks to YouTube’s content ID system, copyright holders can automatically identify videos on the platform that use their copyright-protected content (this includes the beats, music, and audio that you create). And once you find them, you can ‘claim’ the video. When you do so, YouTube will place ads on it and collect the ad revenue on your behalf.
However, YouTube only grants content ID to copyright owners that meet certain criteria. So the easiest way to go about it is to sign up for and submit your beats to a content ID company that can take care of it for you. We’d recommend Airbit.
19. Collect digital royalties
If your music gets played on non-interactive streaming services like Pandora, cable TV music channels, webcasters, etc., they have to pay you royalties. You can collect these digital royalties easily by signing up for a company like SoundExchange.
20. Collect public performance royalties
In addition to digital royalties, you can also earn royalties when your music is ‘publicly performed’. That includes when people broadcast your music on radio or television, or play it in bars, restaurants, nightclubs, stores, and other venues. Again, there are music companies out there that can help facilitate this.
21. Sponsorship deals
If you have a large audience, you could earn money through lucrative sponsorship deals. Brands frequently sponsor musicians and other influencers in order to maximize their reach and draw attention to their products.
And don’t worry, you don’t have to be a world-renowned musician to get sponsorship deals. There are plenty of brands out there who work with smaller influencers and musicians with a limited following.
22. Ghost production
Ghost production is when you produce a track for another artist, who releases it under their name. You won’t be credited for music that you ghost produce, which is a bummer, but the good news is that there’s plenty of work out there for ghost producers—and the pay is pretty good.
If you’re just starting out, you might only earn a few hundred bucks per track. But if you become well-known in the industry and ghost-produce for top artists, you can make a really good income.
23. Score films
The movie industry is huge—and film companies often have a big budget to work with. As a result, scoring films can earn you really good money. You can either work alongside a composer or act as both the composer and engineer and handle it all yourself.
23. Become a mixdown engineer
Got a talent for editing audio? Know your way around a DAW? If so, you could make a living working as a mixdown engineer. Mixing engineers are responsible for ‘mixing’ pre-recorded tracks together to create a song. It’s a craft that takes a long time to master, but if you know what you’re doing, there’s plenty of work out there for you.
Typically, the mixing process involves things like level balancing, panning, processing, bouncing, etc.
24. Become a mastering engineer
Once a track is mixed, it’s typically mastered to a set standard—and this is where the mastering engineer comes in. The mastering engineer is responsible for finalizing an audio mix by polishing it up, adjusting levels, and formatting it to a specified standard.
Often, one sound engineer will be responsible for both the mixing and mastering process.
25. Offer equipment repair services
If you’ve been a musician for a long time, you may have picked up a lot of knowledge about how audio equipment works. If you can use that knowledge to repair damaged audio gear, it can be a very profitable business.
You might want to offer equipment repair services or alternatively, buy damaged gear from musicians for a cheap price, fix it, and sell it on for a profit.
26. Start a record label
Tired of waiting for a record label to sign you? Why not just start your own instead? Record labels record, distribute, and promote music from affiliated artists and take a cut of their earnings. The most successful record labels in the world earn billions in revenue every year, so the sky’s the limit.
27. Rent out a recording studio
If you love being around music and you have some cash to invest, you could create your own recording studio and rent out the space to other musicians. The startup costs can be pretty high, but once you’ve set it up, you can charge hundreds of dollars an hour and make a ton of money.
28. DJ events
Every day, there are hundreds of events that need DJs, like club nights, weddings, parties, etc. You can cash in on this demand by selling DJ services. And you can play your own tracks at the events to grow your audience.
29. Sell sample packs
Sample packs are collections of sounds including loops and one-shots that producers can use to make music. You can record samples using instruments you already know how to play, experiment with household objects to create sounds or use your favorite virtual instrument in your DAW.
30. Sell unique music-related services on Fiverr
Fiverr is an online marketplace where anyone can sell freelance services. There are already hundreds of musicians on there offering the kind of services we’ve looked at so far, like music production, songwriting, mixing and mastering, beat making, etc. But competition for these kinds of services is fierce.
However, you can get around the competition by offering unique or novelty music services that nobody else is offering instead. There are plenty of musicians doing just that already and making a killing.
For example, there’s a seller that takes voicemails and turns them into a song, and a seller that creates an 8-bit chiptune music cover of any song. There’s even a seller offering dedicated virtual mariachi band serenades!
All of the above have made a ton of sales. So if you can find an untapped niche, there’s plenty of money to be made.
31. Sell presets for virtual instruments and effects
We’ve already discussed selling sample packs and sound effects. Selling presets works much in the same way but they’re generally easier to create.
You could choose any virtual instrument or effect providing there’s enough of a user base.
Synth presets are the most popular option. The key is to choose a synth that’s popular and you know how to use. Right now, presets for Massive X and Serum seem to be the most popular.
The next step is finding somewhere to sell them. You could opt for a marketplace like Pluginboutique that sells products as a one-off payment. Or you could opt for a subscription-based platform like Splice. Alternatively, you could sell them direct using Sellfy.
Or you could do both – sell them via your site and an online marketplace. But, you’ll need to make sure the marketplace doesn’t require the presets to be exclusive.
But that’s not all you can sell. For example, if you’re a guitarist, you could sell presets for guitar modellers (e.g. Line6 Helix, Headrush, or the Kemper Profiler) or speaker cabinet IR’s. Entire businesses have been created around these types of presets.
Ways to make money as a musician FAQ
Before we wrap up, here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about making money as a musician.
How do I sell music online?
The best way to sell music online is through your own website using a platform like Podia or Sellfy. These platforms enable you to create a digital storefront in minutes, from which you can sell digital downloads including music files.
Podia is the best choice for those who want to sell digital downloads, as well as courses, and/or create paid communities. And Sellfy is ideal for those who may want to sell physical products, digital products, subscriptions, and/or print-on-demand merchandise.
We’ve written a more comprehensive guide on how to sell music online here, so be sure to check that out.
How can I make more money from each album I sell?
You can increase revenues by upselling other products to your fans.
For example, the gaming industry is great at maximizing the value of each sale. They do this by offering exclusive content. You can do this too by offering different ‘editions’ of your albums.
Ola Englund is a great example of this in action. He doesn’t just offer one version of each album. He also offers vinyls and bundles. For example, his ‘ultimate edition’ of ‘Master of The Universe” includes a CD, Vinyl, a signed flyer, a guitar tab book, and a tin of guitar picks.
How do I market my music?
If you want to make money as a musician, it helps to put in the work to market your music and build a name for yourself as a musician. There are lots of ways to go about this, but here are 5 tips to try:
- Network with other musicians. Word-of-mouth marketing is powerful. Building relationships with others in the music industry helps to open up doors to new opportunities.
- Perform live gigs. Performing at live events gives you an opportunity to build your fan base and promote your music.
- Use YouTube. One of the best places to market your music is YouTube. You can create your own channel and upload original songs and covers to it, then link back to your store in the description.
- Run social media marketing campaigns. Aside from YouTube, you can also promote your music on social networks like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, etc.
For a complete rundown on how to promote your music, check out our post on marketing strategies for musicians.
That concludes our roundup of the best ways to make money as a musician. Hopefully, it’s given you some ideas for new avenues to explore.
The last piece of advice I want to leave you with is to make sure you diversify your revenue streams. All of the money-making methods are worth exploring, but each one might only bring in a few hundred bucks a month. However, if you’re juggling five different money-making methods at once, it’ll add up to a full-time income.
For example, you can sell digital downloads through your own store, publish song covers on YouTube, distribute your music to streaming services, play live gigs, and pick up extra work on the side tutoring others or working as a mixdown engineer—all at the same time.
And who knows, while you’re busy hustling, your next big break could be just around the corner.