THE FIRST 4 THINGS IF YOU WANT TO MAKE MONEY IN MUSIC – Musicians have more ways to monetize themselves than ever before, but it feels that money is out of reach all too often. It’s not as hard to put out music yourself as it used to be, but it takes a little more work and know-how to make money from that music. Most artists have still not been able to navigate it’s a minefield.
The average musician is still making less than $ 25,000 a year, with most of their money from live gigs. There’s no perfect guidebook on how to make cash oodles from your music, but there are some good practices to make sure you get a return on the job you’re doing.
The Verge recently hosted a panel with music lawyer Kurosh Nasseri, Amuse CEO Diego Farias, SoundCloud artist relations manager Nick Tsirimokos, and Dubset VP of artist relations Clark Warner at the Winter Music Conference to lay out some things that DIY artists should do to make more money in music. Here are four of the discussion takeaways.
THINK AHEAD WITH THE BORING MATERIAL
Many artists get swept up in the creative process, but they don’t think forward on how titles and percentages will work once a song is finished. That’s less of a problem if you’re working alone. But if you work with others, Nasseri says that having a conversation about who did what is essential.
He recommends drawing up in the studio a publishing split sheet, a document stating who wrote what song percentage. “Have one piece of paper,” Nasseri says, “where you say who has done what each person gets and what percentage.
I’ve seen countless times misunderstandings of conversations that occur in the shift to affect actual payments that somebody receives. Just get this one piece of paper, get everyone to sign it and take a photo. “Songtrust provides a simple PDF split sheet template, and Sonicbids has instructions to write a more robust deal.
While at it, make sure that you read about how to collect royalties once your music is released. A report from the Berklee College of Music in 2015 said that 20 to 50% of music payments are not made to their rightful owners.
Much of that is because musicians don’t know how money flows when their song is played, or which agencies are collected on their behalf to sign up with such money. To begin with, the Royalty Exchange has an easy-to-understand overview of how the royalties for music work. Ari Herstand, the singer and songwriter, has also compiled a very detailed list of where to register to track all your royalties.
TAKING YOUR PLATFORMS
Distribution is not commercialization. It’s not enough to make sure that your music appears everywhere. You need to know how each channel works and decide where additional effort is worth investing in.
Success on one platform doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful on another as each favors different strategies. For example, SoundCloud’s algorithm favors commenting and other forms of social engagement, while adding to curated playlists may be key to Spotify exposure.
The chance to succeed the Rapper’s trajectory was so tied to SoundCloud that after receiving a Grammy in 2017 he gave it a shoutout. Meanwhile, numbers are skewing heavily towards Spotify by other artists like DJ and producer NGHTMRE. His music is now featured on 32 curated playlists of Spotify.
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“The SoundCloud success strategy isn’t the same as the Apple Music or Spotify success strategy,” says Tsirimokos. “We had this one artist signed with SoundCloud Premier but did not perform well. I saw she wasn’t interacting with anyone when I went to check out her account.
SoundCloud is a great part of social interaction. Commenting on our algorithm is the most informed. Then, the more you can give the algorithm by tagging tracks or following individuals, the better it will be to suggest your SoundCloud to others who are interested in what you are doing. You won’t get the same result if you just sit back and relax.
She started making these changes, and her next payout was much higher. “There are also scores of more niche places outside of the big platforms that everyone knows where genre fans are hyper-concentrated. Maybe the platform with the most users isn’t the best place to start marketing yourself— elsewhere you could get more exposure.
“Artists today have so many opportunities without a barrier or cost to reach more people,” Warner says. “And there might be places like Beatport or Mixcloud where you have an impact. Which platforms do your identity reflect? Smaller, more specific communities are great places to share what you are about and to speak directly to people who are interested in what you are doing.
Also, make sure your accounts are requested wherever possible. Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora AMP (through Next Big Sound) all have artist interfaces that can help maximize your effort through data insight, profile customization, and marketing tools access.
THINK ALTERNATIVE REVENUE STREAMS
Most DIY artists have multiple streams of income. Musicians ‘ most common way of making money outside royalties is through live performance fees, but that’s just one avenue to pursue.
The Future of Music Coalition has identified 42 different revenue streams available to US-based musicians, covering things such as merchandising, producing music for other acts, and direct payments from fans through subscription platforms such as Patreon. Also, the rise of micro-influencers means you don’t need a million followers to get opportunities like brand partnerships.
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It takes more time for each addition, so Tsirimokos suggests looking at how you can repurpose or get extra mileage from the work you’ve already done. “Sample packs are an intelligent way of generating extra revenue,” he says as an example. “You’ve already made the sounds if you release an album.
Why not release a sample pack of sounds from the album separately? “Splice and Sounds.com are two popular online selling and marketing sample packs.
PLEASE CAREFULLY READ YOUR CONTRACTS
Not all DIY artists can afford to have an attorney look over every piece of paperwork that is placed before them. If you can, that’s great. If you can’t, our panelists recommend that you at least show contracts that you trust to other people, look for terms you don’t understand, and ask as many questions as possible before signing anything.
This feels like obvious advice, but as Farias rightly points out: “So many bad contracts have ruined careers.” This happened on a scale last year when many artists signed the new self – monetization agreement with SoundCloud and accepted the terms without reading the deal.
Many did not realize the contract forbade them to sue the platform and gave SoundCloud the right to change payout rates whenever it sought. SoundCloud revised the contract shortly after The Verge brought it to light, making it fairer for those who signed up.
“We have more tools, but when you’re a DIY artist, there’s an information disadvantage on the flip side,” Farias says. “It’s the creative side that artists naturally excel at, and the back side that’s all business.
You need to take the business side seriously because otherwise, you’re going to run into the left, right, front, center problems. I see people accepting deals that are worse than what we offer them because they basically do not understand the business side of the industry they operate in.
Several sites, like Sound On Sound and Music Industry Inside Out, have explainers to contract terms that you might encounter. There are also resources such as Creative Arts Lawyers that provide artists with legal assistance pro bono. Once you apply and pay the $50 fee, LCA can advise on anything from drafting and negotiating contracts to clearing rights and using them fairly.