Opportunity knocks for the savvy musician
It’s surely the dream for all musicians; to be in a position where you can sustain a decent lifestyle through your hard earned musical talents alone. Imagine spending your days writing, composing and producing music, and getting paid for it. Beats flipping burgers or mopping toilets, that’s for sure.
Making money from your music. Sounds great, but how on earth do you do that?
The most obvious route to this is you or your band joining the major label gravy train. Then, you can simply sit back and decide what you’re going to blow the advance on, right? Wrong. Everybody knows there’s no money in selling albums these days, with bands instead relying on licensing, tours and merchandise sales to sustain them. Even Metallica, one of the biggest names in music, have complained about not being able to live off album royalties alone.
The days of major labels offering long-term, lucrative deals to unsigned, unknown bands with little or no following, based on a demo recording, are long gone – that much is clear. Musicians are now having to be creative with how they market themselves.
Thankfully, making and sharing music has become a much more accessible exercise as a result of the internet and the ready availability of recording equipment. Nowadays anyone can load up Garageband and document their creative excretions. But if you’ve got the talent, why limit yourself to just writing for your band?
These kind of arrangements – musicians finding extra income streams to fund their real passion – have been around a while. Think about Mike Patton’s time in Faith No More; would Fantomas, Mr Bungle etc have had the opportunities presented to them without the profile and finance accrued through Patton’s time spent in FNM?
It’s the same here; by exploring other avenues, it may be possible to grow your ‘real’ musical passion organically without worrying where your rent money is coming from. We’ve all got bills to pay, after all. It’s that or get a ‘proper’ job (shudder.) Just remember there are tax implications if you’re going self-employed. HMRC cares not for your ‘tortured artist’ schtick.
There are plenty of ways to make cash-money doing what you love. Here’s a few ideas to get you started.
One such option exists in securing potentially lucrative ‘sync’ deals, where your music is licensed to appear on TV, in film or in video games. It’s not quite headlining the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in front of 120,000 people, but the potential audience is far larger and it can provide a valid income to keep you afloat while you hone your stage chops.
Sentric Music, based in Liverpool, specialise in arranging sync deals for artists. It works with large brands across a range of platforms, and this approach has seen its artists appear on primetime spots like Sky Sports, Made in Chelsea and Grey’s Anatomy.
Simon Pursehouse, from Sentric, said: “There are definitely potential income streams for your music above and beyond sales and gigging.
“Synchronisation is a big thing for us. Working with our artists, we’ve made certain songwriters tens of thousands of pounds from getting their music used on TV and adverts across the world.
“In the past few months we’ve had a few artists leave the service in order to sign major publishing deals (Lauren Aquilina and Prides, who are both on Island Records, for example), but those guys were with us for years before that opportunity came along for them. During that time we were making them good money from their publishing rights and getting their music synced on TV.”
Stock audio has been around for years. Every radio or TV advert you hear (which doesn’t have one of those nauseating acoustic ballads) will feature something called a music ‘bed’. Music beds are inoffensive, short pieces of music over which a voiceover can talk. They usually last for between 30 seconds and five minutes, and commercial production houses keep thousands upon thousands of them ready to use at a moment’s notice.
It used to be that these obscure audio snippets would all be kept in libraries on CD, but now companies will typically subscribe to services like Audio Jungle or Productiontrax before previewing and downloading the ones they require.
The good news for musicians is that anyone can sign up to have their music added to these online collections. The process is simple too – upload your completed tracks and, once approved, they can be downloaded and used on anything from adverts to computer games.
There’s real money to be made too. The top-selling artist on Audio Jungle, Tim McMorris, has had nearly 35,000 downloads of his music, with each download typically bringing in between £10 – £20. It’s not just limited to music either; sound effects are in high demand too. It isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that the noise you stumbled upon when feeding a backwards recording of your gerbil’s mating call through a flanger and 14 delay pedals (we’ve all done it) could earn you thousands of pounds.
You do have to cut your cloth accordingly. Realistically, your 300 BPM glitch reworking of Sultans of Swing probably isn’t going to get picked up by Coca Cola any time soon. If you can write with a specific audience in mind though, the opportunities are there. This kind of writing also widens your horizons in terms of the style of music you write, play and compose, making you a better musician as a result. Win.
Another more obvious income stream is playing live. For bands which gig regularly, there is money to be made beyond the beer tokens extracted from the stingy promoter when you’ve finished your set.
All venues which put on live music are required to hold a valid license with the Performing Rights Society (PRS). This means that anywhere you play original material (i.e. something you’ve composed yourself) you are entitled to make a claim afterwards for performance royalties. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this typically involves lots of paperwork and bureaucracy.
Step forward once again Sentric Music.
“Pretty much every single live performance you do you are owed money for it via the PRS,” said Simon. “Collecting this cash can be quite admin heavy though. Our system has sped up the process for artists making it as efficient as we possibly can for them to claim for their gigs.
“In order to claim performance rights income you need to join a society (which has an inherent cost), register your copyrights (correctly – this is easier said than done) and submit gig claims in the format the society requests (which includes key information on the venue and songs which were performed).
“This process can be quite timely, so we’ve developed software and a user interface which means within half an hour of signing up to our service an artist can be claiming money for their gigs and pitching their tracks for sync deals world wide.”
Hopefully this guide has highlighted a few of the ways in which you can start making your musical ability into a genuine, money-making asset.
If you’re in a band, or you perform solo, research what opportunities there are to monetise your existing activity. Dedicate some time to looking at organisations like Sentric and Ditto Music. Their entire business models are formed around you doing well, so it’s in their interests to promote you and put your music in front of the right listeners.
If you’re considering the stock audio route, listen to some of the top selling downloads in a genre. Sure, it’s not going to get the hairs on your neck standing up, but it can fund the activity which does.
Who knows. If you can stick to the basic premise of writing with your audience in mind, it may be that your music could be the driving force behind the next Apple or Samsung campaign, or feature on the next Grand Theft Auto soundtrack. It could even be used as the on-hold music at the local doctors surgery.
The best thing about it – the more you put your music out there, the more chance it has of being used and earning you some money. After all, the best reward for hard work is more work.
Let us know your experiences of making money from music in the comments below.
Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.