Make more money with music – Steps 1-6

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A key discovery from our ongoing music business research is that musicians who are successful making a living off music approach their art and business differently than those who aren't.

Rather than focusing solely on playing live or selling music, they broaden their thinking to create additional income streams.

As creators of CreativeLive's "Making Money With Music" course and the authors of The Indie Band Survival Guide, we've studied successful musicians' approaches and have catalogued hundreds of different ways musicians can make money from their music. The list can be boiled down to a handful of concepts you can use to increase the amount of money you make in your career.

Here are six things successful musicians understand about music income that you can implement to make more money and build a sustainable career.

1. Unleash your inner business person

A hurdle you probably need to overcome is changing your thinking about being the artist who creates music and wants to share it with the world versus the business person who needs to constantly ask, "How can I make money off of this music?"

Experiments show the human brain has difficulty switching between these two modes, and one perspective often stifles the other. You could, conceivably, use the same creativity you harness to create art to develop new business and promotional ideas. The trick is to recognize the distinction between these two roles and adjust your line of thinking accordingly – or work with a manager who can handle the business aspect of your career so you can focus on the art.

2. Develop multiple sources of income

There isn't a single successful musician we've interviewed who relies on one single source of income. The most successful rely on a combination of music-related revenue streams to build a stable business. Until they hit the point where music can sustain them, it is sometimes necessary to supplement music income with a day job.

Considering most music gigs occur at night, and you can record music during evenings and weekends, it is possible to transition the base of your business from non-music to music-related revenue as your audience and business grows. This concept isn't unique to music: this is how many start-up businesses begin. Musicians often fail or give up because they don't develop enough income sources. When they lose one or more of them, their music activities cannot sustain them and forces a change.

3. Develop parallel sources of income

Just as you can draw on multiple income sources, there are many that can be done parallel to one another. Parallel income streams enhance one another. For instance, when playing a show, you can leverage these income-generating activities:

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Every one of these sources are parallel and can enhance one another. And this doesn't just apply to playing live – you should always be on the lookout for new revenue streams to add to your mix to maximize your earnings from your audience.

4. Understand passive and active income

Active income is made when you directly trade your time for money. This includes jobs where you earn an hourly rate or are doing something that requires your presence, including playing a live show. Passive income (AKA "mailbox money") comes to you while you're doing something else, like receiving royalty checks for songs you've written that get played on TV or radio or when you receive checks from digital and physical music sales.

Active income is easier to generate at first, but it will close off if you're not actively generating it. Passive income, like registering your music or generating licensing opportunities, takes time up front, but once done, it provides income without additional work. Successful musicians generate active and passive income streams.

5. Understand stable and "irregular" sources of income

Unlike a 9-5, stable, source of income, album sales may not be the same week to week, downloads will fluctuate, and your YouTube views may dip next month. A sustainable business is built upon sources of income that are stable and in your own control (relatively speaking) and passive sources that may fluctuate. Develop a good mix that can create a livable income.

6. Register your music and earn royalties

Your music is out there getting played and listened to, and each play will generate income, but only if it's registered. This is imperative for you if a song of yours gets popular or goes viral. The best part is you only need to register a song once and it's covered for life – so get to it!

You should register each of your compositions with a PRO (ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC) as a songwriter and publisher, and also register each sound recording with SoundExchange. And don't forget to register each sound recording with ContentID to make income from YouTube views. Skipping these few hours of work is simply leaving money on the table.


Billboard magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Together, they’re musicians who are working on their 21st album, authors of The Indie Band Survival Guide: The Complete Manual For The Do-It-Yourself Musician, 2nd Edition (Macmillan), creators of the 15-hour online course, Making Money With Music (CreativeLive), and regular contributors to Electronic Musician magazine, including the free weekly web column, "The DIY Advisor."