How To Make Money with Music in 2021

The New Year is here…. and so far, it just seems like an extended version of 2020. Still, there is no reason to panic. If you are a musician, there are still plenty of ways to make money with music, even from home. Let’s take a closer look at two of them:

BECOMING A SESSION MUSICIAN

Being a session musician has many benefits, aside from letting you make money with music.

It can also be a way into the music industry.

If you are skilled and experienced, you could be hired for a variety of gigs, including live performance and studio sessions. So, where to begin?

According to Emily Dolan Davies, there are two crucial steps:

One, get out there and play with as many musicians as possible and earn a name for being friendly, reliable, and professional; and two, always strive to get better. Maintaining a high calibre means that you will still be playing at a professional level, and you will keep your reputation.  

“As with any new venture, it’s important to work hard on promoting yourself, just like you would with a new band or upcoming gig.”

Get to know the producer at your local studio, leave a few cards at music shops, and don’t miss an opportunity to play live gigs.

When it comes to the actual work, set your day rate based on your relative experience and be realistic. Talk to other professionals in the industry – it is vital not to undervalue yourself or your colleagues.

A session musician can be contracted directly by a production company or record label, but are usually hired by a fixer, aka a contractor who has signed an agreement with the Musicians’ Union. 

Strictly speaking, it’s advisable never to accept session engagements for recording and broadcasting other than from companies and organisations with which the MU has collective agreements. 

“As a musician, it’s important to set goals for your career and create a plan to make them happen. From learning new skills and getting more followers to earning more money and booking more gigs, setting clear goals is the key to seeing your dreams come to life. ” – Owen Davie

COMPOSING LIBRARY MUSIC

Sometimes the hassle of asking somebody to score an entire soundtrack is not worth it. That’s where readymade music comes in. Unsurprisingly, library music forms the backbone of the UK sync market.

If your goal is to make money with music, you might wanna take a look.

According to Martin Dobson, “with it being a low fee, high turnover business model it’s quite different to the commercial sync world where one good sync can change an artist’s financial position in an instant. However, there’s a huge number of opportunities out there, it’s quicker and easier for clients to license music and many use multiple tracks from an artist or a catalogue in one or more of their productions – so the relationships we forge in many instances deliver quicker and more consistent results. Plus, there is the back-end income which can be significant.”

First, let’s look at the pros.

Creative freedom: since all markets are catered for, you can rest assured that somebody out there will be looking for the music you make, regardless of genre.

Royalties: once the work is done, it can potentially keep earning you royalties for years.

High demand: long gone are the days when library music was used solely by those in the high end of entertainment, and for a limited time only. The interest in “stock” music has leaked to public domain, cultivating an enormous following by music lovers everywhere who trade, collect and listen to it avidly.

“No piece of music is guaranteed to be used, but one of the wonderful things about the production music industry is that from a composer’s perspective it’s only the quality of the music that matters. Music libraries are always on the lookout for good, new music” –Richard Canavan

The cons?

Competition: not directly with other artists, but with production music libraries, i.e. catalogues of pre-recorded tracks made available to producers. This means that the library owns exclusive rights for both the master recording and the music publishing, making their tracks readily licensed without negotiating with the composer or record label. Which, of course, makes it the preferable option to many.

Working for the right people: if you want to make money with music, you must first land a gig with a quality company. This means going on a treasure hunt for the right ones, and not settling for less. Even then, the money will only start to trickle in slowly at first, so don’t quit your job just yet.

Quality: not only must your music be excellent enough to persuade experienced publishers to keep hiring you, but you must produce quality work continuously.   

“Before you decide to work with a particular library, vet the company, and make your decision based on your long-term goals as a composer. Be sure you understand the implications of your choices. The desire for short-term revenue can be seductive, but you should think long and hard about the value of your work.” – Eric Jensen.

THE APPROACH

As self-sufficient as we would like to be, the truth is that no one has all the skills – or time for that matter – to successfully make money with music entirely on their own in music.

To make money with music, building your writing teams and collaborating with other musicians can undoubtedly open a range of doors for you.  Aside from being an excellent networking opportunity, you are expanding your catalogue and building up your skills and doing so twice as fast as you would on your own.

Who you bring onto your team, or who you decide to work with, depends entirely on your goals, so a starting point would be to make those clear to other and more importantly, to yourself.

Another essential factor to consider is how much you will charge for the work you produce. In the UK, the best approach is to contact the Musicians Union for advice on rates of pay and other legalities.  Remember that your time is money, so think about what’s a fair exchange for your skills.

make money with music

Being a session musician or a music library composer (or both) can seem like a different venture altogether, but it does have its perks. Be it a side-gig or full commitment; it will hone your skills and, arguably, the reason why you’re reading all this in the first place, help you make money with music!