Making money from your music: the 6 revenue sources

Balancing sanity and satisfaction (and your checkbook) in your music career.

There are a bajillion articles, courses, and books on making money in the music industry. Heck, even my mastermind course covers this broad topic simply because we have to talk about it.

All of the different ways to make money — from house concerts to monetization to Spotify playlists to merch — can be overwhelming. I sometimes feel like I’m not doing enough, not tackling enough areas, not following the current trends. It’s information-overload in the scariest form: fear of missing out on an opportunity that can change the course of your music career.

The truth is, there may be a different perspective to take. The most successful independent musicians I know are ones that are wearing multiple hats with different sources of income. Each hat is something that inspires and motivates them, gets them excited to get out of bed in the morning, and something that fulfills them. When what you are doing is fulfilling, the money becomes a secondary conversation.

It just often feels so hard to get there.

It’s taken me over a decade to be able to say I feel that I have a fulfilling and diverse music career. I took a look at what the income source balance is for me, and I’ve discovered three different pairs of income characteristics that require a delicate balance for that sweet spot of fulfillment and ability to pay the bills!

Passive vs. Active Income

This is about time.

Passive income is money you make while sleeping:

  • Royalties from radio plays or TV placements
  • digital sales and streams
  • selling of online products like a teaching video or merch

Active income is what you make when you put your time into something:

  • playing a live gig
  • composing a film score
  • teaching guitar lesson

A lot of passive income comes after putting in significant time upfront creating a product (a CD, course, merchandise product) but gives you longer term freedom than an upfront sale for you time.

Predictable vs. Inconsistent Income

This is about consistency.

Early on, I had the realization that my FAVORITE sources of income were ALL inconsistent:

  • writing music for commercials (super competitive with low chances of airing/being paid)
  • playing a sold-out show (not something I could do every day)
  • scoring a film (which takes months to do for one-time fee)

This lead to some really great months, followed by barely-paying-rent months. Saving was hard and I was always stressed. Teaching piano lessons, on the other hand, is fairly predictable. I only sell packages of 5 or 10 lessons upfront, and have a strict cancellation policy, so even if someone doesn’t show, I still make money.

Balancing predictable and inconsistent income sources has been the source of finding peace of mind, and peace of bank account (not a thing, but you know what I mean).

High vs. Low Paying Opportunities

This is about volume.

When I’m selling CD’s for $10 at a show, I make sure I announce that I have them for sale, where they are, and how you can buy them. I do this because I know that when I’m selling something for only $10, the impact will be in the volume. The more I sell, the more it makes sense to sell them.

When I’m writing demos for commercials, ONE sold track can make the difference. So it’s a great way to plan how I will spend my time.

When you are crowdfunding, you can focus on getting 1000 people to contribute $10 or 10 people to contribute $1000 for the same outcome. But the strategy for each will be VERY different. If you know what you’re going for, you can really optimize your time.

To have six different kinds of income sources may seem like a lot, but if you are a master of your schedule and really good at making powerful requests, you will be able to turn the work you do into results.