Monday, April 13, 2015

How Do DIY Musicians Really Make Money?

If you are a DIY musician just starting out or working on the next “break,” you have more than likely asked yourself (and your favorite search engine), “How do musicians make money?” If you have not, you should do it now.

More than likely, you will come across this Rolling Stone article from 2012 in the top few results. It is an exceptionally interesting article, and it has a few great tips. However, only some of the article actually applies to you, the independent, start-up, DIY musician:

1. T-Shirts and Merch:

Oh yes! You will generate far more income from merchandise than from the sale of music, especially if you are on the road. My mentor once said, “no one is willing to pay to download [expletive meaning your music] anyway.” Many start-up musicians are giving away their music just to get ahold of your email address so that THEY CAN SELL YOU MERCHANDISE. If you cannot afford to front the money for t-shirts and other gear, consider websites such as

2. Movie and TV Licensing:

Less likely, but with the help of websites like, it is possible. With your subscription to the website, you will receive daily emails with opportunities to license your music for movies, commercials, and games. Most will be irrelevant, because the licensor’s criteria are very specific, in a different genre, require two versions of the song (with and without vocals, for example), but remember: it only takes one.

3. Fashion Lines:

If you are reading this, you most likely do not have the reputation needed to start a successful fashion line. However, if you have an aptitude for fashion, do it! Tie it to your music, and create these products simultaneously. Create a circular link between your music site and your clothing site, and let them morph into one. A professional brand manager will be essential.

4. Perfume:


5/6. Start-up Investing / KickStarter:

Crucial! Do your research on the recent developments involving crowd sourcing, crowd funding, and crowd investing.  They are rapidly changing arenas. Are you looking for donations to fund an artistic endeavor? If that is the case, I highly recommend Are you looking to fund a cause? You might want to check out The success stories on gofundme are amazing and inspirational.

If you have a fantastically original idea, sound, new instrument, or software program that needs manufacturing or duplication, you might consider researching angel investors. Be warned: they expect 30-50% return in two to three years, and you will lose some ownership in your idea / company. Structure an equity repurchase deal upfront if possible.

There are hundreds of ways to raise money online. However, make sure you read the fine print. If you do not want your project to be name-stamped on the Internet forever, beware. Do you want all-or-nothing funding for your project, or do you want partial funding at a higher commission rate? All of these things are in the terms of service for each site. Please, read the terms of service.

7. YouTube.

The funny thing about YouTube (Google) is that they are the innovators of all things digitally video, and yet (as of this writing), they have not figured out how to stop hack coders from ripping off the audio portion of videos posted on the site.

However, the truth is, if you want to create a strong presence for yourself or your band, you must be on YouTube. People are going to steal your art, so get used to it. Look at it this way, if you receive five hundred thousand hits on your YouTube video and five hundred people rip off your song, you are making strong headway. Those hits are five hundred thousand that you can take to a minor record label to prove that you are worthy of a deal.

8. Instant Concert Recordings:

This was a cool idea, but break-even analysis says “no,” unless you are just doing it to gain swag. The idea is relatively useless in monetary terms.

9. Talk-Show Band:

Well, this is an avenue, I suppose, but probably the least likely of all. Some fans will likely scream “sellout!” That is not necessarily fair, however. As much as we all might cling to our musical ideals, at the end of the day, we still need to provide for ourselves.

10. Not mentioned in the Rolling Stone article is one of the most obvious revenue streams in my opinion: ticket sales! Very few artists make a living in music without live performances. Touring is essential, and it is one of the most satisfying (and profitable) parts of the whole business.

Remember to try as many avenues as you can. You will be amazed at how your marketing efforts will begin to morph as you see which avenues work best for you.