5634 6

I’m tired of seeing my favorite bands break up because they can’t figure out how to make money with their music. It breaks my heart every time an incredibly talented musician quits music because they just can’t figure out how to make a living with it. Music is not something we do. It is who we are.

Yes, I’m a professional musician, but I’ve now become a professional spreader-of-everything-I-knower because I don’t believe in competition among musicians. If you’re hardworking, passionate, driven and talented enough you will be able to sustain a healthy, long-term career — if you have the knowledge and the understanding of how it works.

The #1 reason musicians quit music and bands break up is because they can’t figure out how to make enough money to sustain their career.

Here are ideas to grow your music income this year:

1. Take Venmo

This is something that is super new and is really ahead of the curve at this point. You may not have heard of Venmo yet, but you will. It is a verb in LA at this point “Venmo me.” Basically, Venmo is the easiest way to pay someone. It’s as easy as sending a text. Much easier than PayPal. So much easier that PayPal saw this and bought Venmo. Right now, download the app if you don’t have it so you understand what it is and how to use it.

Create your username to be @mybandname and announce from the stage that you accept tips in the form of Venmo. And you can even sell Merch with Venmo. There are 0 transaction fees (as long as the customer is paying via their Venmo balance, bank account, debit card, or prepaid card). Let me repeat. Zero transaction fees. Whereas any credit card swiper takes about 3% +  like 30 cents a transaction (as does PayPal), Venmo takes nothing. How do they make money? Not sure yet. But again, PayPal owns them.

[Note: Venmo DOES charge a 3% fee if you use credit card.]

Put a tip jar at your Merch table with a big sign, “If you liked the show, show us how much! Cash (arrow) or Venmo: @mybandname” You can even have a projector on stage and have like a real time auction with Venmo tips for a screen print or a backstage hang or a date with the drummer. Whatever. There are endless possibilities. Either way, think about how you can utilize Venmo to make more money at the show.

2. Double Your Live Income With…

Don’t skip over this. I intentionally did not title #2 as “Up your merch game” even though that is what this is BECAUSE you’re probably so over hearing how important merch is that you would just skip right past it. Listen to me. When on tour, merch is your #1 income generator. If you do it right. Artists fret over guarantees and door splits while totally ignoring the potential of merch.

The merch inventory and point of sale tracking platform, AtVenu has calculated that for venues 500-1,000 capacity, the average dollar per head (DPH) is $3.65. That means, if you have 100 people at your show, you should make AT LEAST $365 on merch. If you don’t, you are falling below average.

Bands tell me all the time “But our fans don’t buy merch!” Bull! If you sell it right they will buy. If you throw a few CDs in the back of a dark venue with no light, no display, no seller, OF COURSE you will sell nothing. Want to increase your merch sales? Make sure you have a BIG, BRIGHT, attractive display with lights. Make sure it looks super pro.

A good merch display: Wild Adriatic

Make sure you have someone selling your merch from when the doors open to when they close. Oftentimes people will leave your show early because they have work the next morning, but want to buy something. If there is no one standing by the merch table at that moment they will leave. They will not grab a handful of stuff, run up to the stage holding their credit card and ask you to stop the show and swipe their card.

Seems absurd, right? Well, what are you expecting not having a seller back there at all times? Obviously you must take credit. A Square or PayPal swiper is totally free. Get it. Take cards. Who carries cash anymore? I sure don’t. Yes, take Venmo. Make merch your fans want to buy – not what you think you should make. If your audience is 50+ Vinyl is a waste of money. They ain’t buying it. If your crowd is 18-35 year olds, Vinyl may be the way to go – millennials LOVE vinyl. Announce that you have merch from the stage. Put your merch display in a prominent place in the venue – best is near the door. Get creative in your merch offerings. Do it right. And you will double your live show income. Guaranteed.

3. Live Stream

Clare Means doubled her live income by Periscoping her performances. Brent Morgan, in 2016, was making over $10,000 a month live streaming acoustic performances from his bedroom on YouNow. Live streaming is a thing. And if this is something that inspires you, look into it.

4. Synch Licensing

Many completely independent musicians are making six figures a year getting songs placed on TV shows, commercials and films – without a label or manager. It’s possible to do. But there is a way to go about it and you have to know exactly HOW to pitch licensing companies, ad agencies, music supervisors and movie producers and exactly WHICH of your songs to pitch. Most times songs that work for TV dramas do not work for commercials.


If you’d like to get the other 5 tips and dig into much deeper how to approach each concept, join Ari and CD Baby’s Kevin Breuner for their free masterclass 9 Ways To Make More Money With Your Music This Year.

Signup HERE.

In this article

Join the Conversation

  • Tyrone Birkett

    Venmo does take a fee when you use a credit card. A correction should be made in the article.

  • I’m not sure I understand the question. What do you mean by “go live” and “a single picture”?

  • CD Baby distributes music by many artists who don’t perform live. All we need is the sound recording, and we can make it available worldwide on all the popular digital platforms (Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon, etc.). There are lots of ways to make money from music, and live performance is only one of them. If you don’t play live, you could generate income through sync licensing, YouTube monetization, sales and streams, publishing royalties, etc.

  • Icky Elbonia

    for better or worse, the HOW has value, and most DIY gurus aren’t giving away the HOW–just high level descriptions and general outline. If you want the HOW you need to pay for their training/consulting or buy their books, or video courses. If treat your musical endeavors as a business, it’s something you do. Or you pay a manager to do it for you. If its a hobby, then you just figure it out as you go.

  • That’s an easy one to answer: distribute your music via CD Baby! We’ll deliver it to Shazam so it can be recognized by their app.

  • It’s tough to comment without knowing more specifics about your situation: for instance, did you put out the same number of releases in 2016 as the previous year, how are you generating radio income as a label (are you outside the USA, because in the US, terrestrial radio royalties pretty much exclusively go to the publisher/songwriter), etc? I would say that it’s often confusing to compare radio compensation with streaming royalties. You say that 63 streams generated 6 cents (which sounds really low to me, though of course it does depend on the platform, the territory, whether it was a subscriber or ad-supported stream, etc.) and one radio play generated 8.5 cents. But that single radio play could’ve reach hundreds of thousands of listeners if it was in a major market. If you average that out by listener, you’re getting paid way more “per ear” from streaming. All that being said, CD Baby is definitely behind rights holders in their attempt to earn more for their music. We completely agree music has real value and should be compensated fairly. Even Spotify has acknowledged that artists deserve more, though any improvement is never going to be seen in multiple pennies per play. That being said, streaming IS a lucrative medium and has shown — in the recent case of Ed Sheeran’s latest album, for instance —  to deliver comparable compensation as a #1 hit would’ve 5, 10, or 15 years ago (when you factor in how royalties are split between publisher, artist, and label). Plenty of CD Baby artists who own 100% of their publishing and master rights are earning big money from Spotify, and then when you factor in how that’s just a single platform, it’s pretty good career these artists have in total. Our latest podcast goes into some of these issues: http://cdbabypodcast.com/2017/07/191-music-streaming-myths-debunked/