Six ways to make money for independent musicians in 2021
We know how important being able to make a living is to independent musicians. Streaming revenues are famously low, so unless you’re in that elite group of musicians getting millions of plays, you’re going to need to supplement that income to make some money. Here’s six ways you can do that.
The obvious one, but it’s not always that simple, as 2020 showed us… Even in ideal circumstances, gigging isn’t always the money maker you’d hope. For a new band, playing a support slot at a 200 capacity venue, the fee might not even cover your fuel or van hire. If you can, we recommend getting an agent here to help you get on to the best line ups and negotiate a better fee. BUT an agent costs money, so you really need to be able to at a stage to take advantage of this. Even so, we’d still recommend taking any gig you can if you’re starting out. even if the fee is quite low. You only get good by playing.
2. Physical Music
OK, everyone is listening online now, but your biggest fans will still want to own a copy of your music. Vinyl is especially popular, looks great, and you can charge a decent amount. Prices can be upwards of £15/$15 for a single vinyl LP. Once you figure in pressing costs of around £3/$3 per album that seems pretty sweet. Pitfalls? If you decide to ship yourself this can be a full time job, and you’ll need to buy record mailers, deal with missing and damaged orders, so make sure you factor that in. If you have a label and distributor to get into physical stores, they will also take a cut, but will also do a lot of the admin work. Don’t forget that international postage can be a bit of a minefield too. But you can make a decent amount of money here.
Ignore this at your peril. If your fans don’t have a way of playing your physical music, this is what they’ll want. T-shirts are the obvious item, but have a think – what would your fans actually like? Ask them! Does one of your songs reference a piece of clothing or merch? Make that! Like in life, with merch you get out what you put in. So put some attention and thought into it, the same as you would with your music. Once you’ve decided what you want to do, here are some options of how to get it into the hands of your fans. Here at Dizzyjam, we let you upload artwork to merch templates. We call this Print on Demand. When these sell to your fans, we print the item and ship direct to them. Of course it’s not the only way of doing things, so we’ve broken down the options here.
Buy in advance, sell at gigs
Pros: will be cheaper, profit will be high, willing audience
Cons: Sizes can sell out, cash needed upfront, storage space and transport space needed
Buy in advance, sell online via a webstore, posting them out yourselves
Pros: will be cheaper, profit will be high (minus store fees)
Cons: Sizes can sell out, cash needed upfront, storage space needed, items can go missing
Buy in advance, send some to a fulfilment warehouse who will send for you
Pros: will be cheaper, profit will be high (minus warehouse fees)
Cons: Sizes can sell out, cash needed upfront, items can still go missing
Print on Demand
Pros: Sizes never sell out, customer service is handled by someone else, missing items reprinted. No costs at all, just uploading artwork. No cash needed. Web store provided.
Cons: Profit can be lower than the merch table.
In reality, we recommend doing a combination of all these methods, or at least trying them. Some may work for you, some may not. In our experience, some genres of music really work at the merch table (rock), others work online (dance music).
4. Online Content
Livestreaming is only going to get bigger, and it’s getting easier and easier to put together a live show and stream it to your fans. You can hack this together by offering tickets the traditional way by using someone like Eventbrite, then sending a link to a YouTube link. Or a dedicated livestreaming service like Twitch will let you collect tips as you play. It’s not just about the live stuff too. You can offer artwork, new tracks with subscription services too. If you’re a producer you can sell your beats at someone like Airbit.
It’s not for everyone, but for some musicians, this is a really important revenue stream. It doesn’t have to be the traditional one on one music class either. You could gather a group together to create a song with their favourite band, ticketed. You could teach people how to recreate that killer loop you based your song off or sell masterclasses on Youtube. You don’t need a dedicated platform to do this either – Zoom/Skype will do.
Ok, so given what we said earlier, this might seem strange to include. But it is still worth having your music on the streaming services as an independent musician. You won’t get rich off it, but you probably will get fans from it and they’re quite important if you want to be a musician.
So there you go – we recommend trying ALL of these options, but usually you’ll find one or two really start to work for you over the others. When that happens, double down and throw your time into them.