Every music producer loves making music. So much so that it is the easy part. The challenging part is taking that passion and turning it into money so you can pay your bills and continue making more music.
The music industry offers some of the most diverse income streams imaginable for those who are savvy enough to take advantage. In this post – I aim to provide some insight on how you can take your music and turn it into an income source so you can turn your passion into a full-time career.
This is the most obvious and common way for producers and songwriters get paid from their work.
There are a number of different types of royalties, but the main ones are PERFORMANCE royalties and MECHANICAL royalties.
Performance royalties are royalties paid out every time your song is played and/or performed in public. In other words – any time your song is played and broadcasted to the general public – whether it’s performed live at a concert, or played on TV in a commercial or during a radio program – money is being generated for the songwriters. This money is collected on your behalf by your performance rights organization, or PRO.
In Canada, where I’m from, we only have one PRO: SOCAN. In the United States, there are three: ASCAP, SESAC and BMI. Depending on where you are from – there may be one or many. These are not-for-profit organizations that you sign up with who will collect your royalties on your behalf.
Therefore – every songwriter should sign up with a PRO as you are passing up on potential income if you aren’t currently with one. Furthermore – it doesn’t cost you any money to sign up with one.
Mechanical royalties are a bit different. These are royalties generated and paid to the songwriters for an actual physical or digital sale of their music. For example, if you purchase a song by Drake on iTunes, or stream his music on any popular streaming service, a mechanical royalty is generated and paid out to the creators of the song including the producer.
Mechanical royalties are paid out by whoever obtains a mechanical license to reproduce and distribute the music, such as record labels. Unlike performance royalties, your PRO won’t collect and pay out mechanical royalties. Instead – most countries have a collection society that specifically deals with mechanical royalties such as the Harry Fox Agency in the United States. There are other ways to collect money from mechanical royalties as well and it’s important to understand how you will collect them when distributing music through a label.
Just because you have music out doesn’t mean you will be generating royalties. It’s important that the music is heard and consumed in order to generate income. A song that gets three plays won’t be yielding a large cheque from your PRO – so make sure the artist and team you are working with does everything they can to exploit the record so you can reap the financial rewards too.
- Sync Licensing for Film & TV
Another wildly lucrative way to make money with your music is to license it for use on TV shows, commercials, movies, promotional campaigns and more. This is known as synchronization or sync licensing.
TV shows, movies and other forms of visual content often need instrumental music. Watch anything ever and you will notice that music is almost always tied to the visuals, even if it’s just subtly tucked into the background.
How do you get your music used in film and TV?
Through the show/film/production’s Music Supervisor- that is the key decision maker who decides what music will get used in that production. If you’re good at researching and networking, you can find music supervisor information online with tools such as IMDB and submit music for consideration.
In this industry, you often have to go after what you want. However, sometimes it’s better to let it come to you. Instead of going out of your way to approach music supervisors individually with your music, you can upload your tracks onto online libraries that specialize in licensing to visual content providers. Music supervisors will often rely on these libraries already when searching for the music they need. If your track’s fit the criteria and are tagged accordingly, they have a high likelihood of being licensed. Best of all – these sites usually have existing clientele that span film, television, commercials, corporate companies and more.
- Teach Music Production
Education is a trillion dollar industry. Trillion. People want to learn how to do things that interest them. Our current education system doesn’t accommodate every subject- making beats often being one of them- leading to a big demand of people who want to learn music production.
Chances are if you’ve been producing for a long time, you are fairly seasoned in your craft. You’ve probably made a lot of beats and maybe even worked with some artists, big or small. I would even go as far as betting you’ve learned a lot along the way – valuable information that could save someone else years of trial and error and help them become successful faster. There are people out there who would love to know what you know about music production and navigating the music industry.
It’s even better when you have some specific knowledge outside of music production that can provide an advantage over other competitors. For example, my students benefit from my audio engineering background as I often incorporate engineering and mixing techniques into my music production lessons.
Perhaps you know how to use a specific DAW better than anyone else, or maybe you are a musician and can break down theory easily, or you’ve gotten a publishing deal and can shine some light onto that process. Whatever your specific niche in music production is, you can identify it and sell it to someone who wants to further their craft.
The lesson delivery method can be handled in a few ways. If you like real human interaction and have a place to teach lessons in, you can offer in-person lessons to students for an hourly rate. Lessons can also be offered online via Skype or Google Hangouts if preferred, allowing you to tap into clients outside of your city. The beauty of the Internet.
The problem with personally teaching on an hourly basis though is that it is not scalable, and still requires your time to be invested into showing up and delivering the lesson. The alternative to that is to create an online video tutorial course, market it and sell it as a digital download online. This will require more up-front work to start, but ultimately can be an asset into generating steady revenue if you deliver a lot of value and knowledge in the course.
2018 is an interesting time for music producer income streams. Not only are artists going on tour and performing – but producers are too. The past few years has seen the likes of popular producers such as Just Blaze, Metro Boomin, Murda Beatz, and Boi 1da getting a lot of work as live performers while building their name in other locations worldwide.
They may be a bit more established in their careers than the average producer, but who says you have to have placements to perform live? If you know how to DJ, or if your music has organic live elements such as keyboards or guitar, find a way to put on or be a part of a live show.
Start locally – network and find out who’s putting on shows and see how you can get involved. You can also reach out to venues and bars directly play them some music, tell them why you want to play live and ask politely if they could host you. If the music is good and you’re able to really engage audiences, you may start building a buzz locally and that will help get you more performing gigs and expand into outer regions later.
Filming these performances and creating content around it can also help build credibility when starting to go outside of your city. Again – this may require more upfront work and investment – but will pay dividends later if executed correctly.
- Selling Sounds, Samples and Drum Kits
As a producer, we’re always collecting new sounds and eventually start creating our own. This is an important asset as it helps us create a unique sound that cannot be duplicated.
Having skills in sound design can pay off in other ways. Producers that know how to layer, shape, synthesize and engineer sounds in order to create new textures can sell and license their creations to other producers to use in their work. This can be in the form of VST presets, audio loops, individual drum kit hits and more. There is a large market for this as technology has made it easier than every for regular people to produce music. These people still need sounds and palettes to choose from when creating.
Once you have your sounds, its important to organize them accordingly and figure out a sales and marketing strategy. You can go directly to your consumer by creating a website with an online store that provides a digital download to producers who purchase your kit. It will require a bit of extra effort upfront – but it will ultimately allow you to control variables such as price, content and promotion while keeping 100% of the profits.
You can also approach established sound kit companies online that accept submissions for sample packs. You will have to split the profits with them – ranging from a 70/30 to a 50/50 split – if your sample kits are accepted. The benefit of this is they will handle all the distribution and marketing on your behalf while keeping their stake in the work. These sites will often also have established traffic and clientele, increasing the likelihood of them purchasing your kit.
- Selling Beats Online
I saved one of the more obvious revenue streams for the end. If you’ve got a large catalogue of beats in the stash, you can start selling them online fast and easily with platforms such as Beat Stars and Airbit. Whether you want to sell leases, exclusives, or both – the choice is yours. All you need to do is upload high-quality material, set your pricing and licensing terms then market it to artists who want to buy beats online.
I also wrote an article about how to get artists on your beats if you want to check that out.
As you can tell, there are many ways to make a living as a music producer. Most successful producers today have a diversified income stream that consists of several of the methods discussed above. Ultimately though, this is all contingent on having a high-quality product that fits the bill and can be transacted for monetary gain. If your beats are trash – none of these avenues may lead to dollar signs.
Additional Reading To Learn About Making A Living In Music
If you want to learn more about monetizing your music and making a living passively online, I recommend you also read the following books that partly inspired this post: