How Do I Make a Living in Music?

Axenzo Recording Connection grad extern DJ career
Recording Connection graduate Axenzo in Vegas

When you are passionate about something and figure out a way to make a living from it, life can be a beautiful thing. Years ago, up and comers dreamed of being the next big band. If they were good enough, they could find gigs to perform in local bars and nightclubs for pocket change and free beer, in the hopes that would take them somewhere. The trouble with this approach was that unless you were playing in an established club in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle or New York, you could be great but the record labels would never hear you. The other choice you had back then was to record one of your band’s songs and then hit up all the local radio stations and see if you could get a DJ to play your song and hope the public would take notice and create a buzz that would lead somewhere.

Today’s audiophiles still dream of being the next big thing in music. With the advent of DAWS and other electronic music devices there are more ways than ever to create and make a living with their music. The performing in local venues route still exists. In fact there are actually more outlets for this than ever before. Unfortunately, simply performing gigs is not usually a lucrative enough route to support yourself 100% with music. How Recording Connection graduate Azenzo built his DJ career.

Register with a publisher

But there is hope, a lot of it! The digital age and the worldwide connectivity of the Internet has opened up many other avenues for making money from your music. The first thing you’re going to want to do is register with BMI or ASCAP as a publisher. You need to have your music registered with BMI or ASCAP in order to have it played on the radio or sold elsewhere.

Find a Digital Distributer

There are numerous digital distribution companies in existence like, Symphonic Distribution, who will place your music all over the world. This is important as there are countless U.S. based artist who’s primary source of revenue comes from Russia, China or Europe solely based on the distribution they received from their digital distribution company. You should look into Merlin Network as well. They handle digital rights for over 20,000 independent record labels and offer plenty of free advice. And here’s a list of a number of digital distribution companies for you to check out. Want your music on Spotify? Look into digital distribution.

Get Sync Placements

Sync placements are the big revenue stream for music these days. (Sync placement is having one’s music placed in a film, TV show, electronic game or other media.) One sync placement can generate more revenue than a year’s worth of digital distribution. Most sync placement deals are done by the film or TV show’s music supervisor. Getting your music in front of a music supervisor can be challenging, but if you can accomplish this you are on your way. Alternatively, take a look at the credits of a TV show that you think your music is perfect for. The credits will list the track titles and artists’ names which you can then look up in BMI or ASCAP and find out who the publisher is for these songs. Reach out to them and explain how you think your music fits the show. Read how to start a record label in the digital age.

Another outlet for your music is compilations or “licensers.” Ministry of Sound is a great one for electronic dance music. The more compilations you can become a part of, the more revenue you will get.

Love samples? Read this!

The above pertains to music that is 100% original. If your music relies on samples, you’ve just increased the complexity of things a hundred-fold as you will need to secure rights to every song you’ve sampled. Not only will this cut into the revenue you can make from your song, but it will involve time and most likely legal expenses (which you will have to pay up front).

Promotion is always vital

Don’t forget that promotion is a great way to set yourself apart from the crowd. You should have a press kit that includes your fully edited and mastered mix, photos, one-sheet, press flier, logos and contact information. You want to make it easy for whomever you have on your list to send your music to, to instantly get a feel for who you are and where you and your music are coming from.

It’s a whole new world (which keeps on changing)

The Internet has changed music and the ways you can monetize music forever. The industry is constantly changing—what was once lucrative may now be more of a side-gig with other avenues taking their place. For instance, a few years ago streaming was a good source of revenue. Today, for the most part, this revenue stream has turned into a trickle with sync licensing being today’s big revenue king.

The biggest change is that more and more of the distribution and promotional efforts rely on the musician than ever before. If you are diligent, passionate and relentless this is a good thing because it means you control your destiny. We’ve given you some basic starting points on how you can make a living with your music. It’s up to you to not only follow them, but to build on them while always keeping an eye open for new approaches and avenues to monetizing your music.

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