How do I make money from my music?

Making money from your music may seem like it’s impossible if you’ve tried approaches like uploading your album to iTunes and seen three sales over the course of a year.

There are get rich quick schemes out there too that try to preach to you how you can ‘sell your beats quick-n-easy!’ and ‘license your tracks for big dollar!’. Yet after trying that for a few months, you’ll probably realise it’s a load of cobblers.

Selling is not easy, unless you are the only source for a much coveted product, and much less when it’s within an over-saturated market of competitors who are all shouting for attention.

Not very motivating is it? But don’t get disheartened, there are ways you can build up income streams from your music, it just takes time and some entrepreneurial thinking. We talk about some approaches that have worked for us here.

Get my people to talk to your people

As we’re sure you’re aware, Instrumental Background Music is a small collective of composers who also work professionally outside of the royalty free marketplace model. Our aim is to offer affordable music to the general public while we work on custom projects and other ways to generate income from our music.

We set up this site to directly license our music to customers and build a relationship with them as we felt frustrated by the high commissions other sites took from us per sale and the secrecy surrounding who we were selling our music to.

Speaking directly with our clients means we can serve them better by providing them with the type of music and quality they want and is something you need to do if you want to sell your music, be that general recreational music to fans or production music to filmmakers.

You need (and should want) to meet the people you are going to work with whether that’s online or in person at events. Reach out individually to people you’d like to work with on a regular basis. It will also help you build an email list, which is fundamental to keep your customers (and friends) up to date with your latest work.

Where can I sell my music?

The Internet is flooded with music libraries and royalty free marketplaces, many of which are just plain poor quality and others that are of such high calibre that you’ll have to be amazingly good or lucky / know the right people to get in.

We can’t recommend selling on any particular one as each one has their own system for selling and specific audiences that may or may not fit your style of music. But a good place to start investigating is on Music Library Report where you can evaluate different libraries and how they treat their composers.

Building a presence

If you want to go it alone, then below are some ideas that have worked for us building a presence and getting some sales. Bear in mind that this is a harder route than first building up a profile on existing libraries and services like CDBaby and Bandcamp:

Start a blog for your music to attract the right type of fan
By blogging your thoughts and occasionally reminding people that you’ve got a bunch of amazing music on offer ;), you’ll attract the type of people who share your thoughts (as well as those who don’t!), values and tastes. We blog regularly to talk about our work, but also our passions, feelings about certain topics and provide information we believe will be useful to our customers and fellow composers (like this one).

Sell your music via an online digital goods store
There are a couple of services that we recommend:

We’re not affiliated with them in any way (other than we use Gumroad for our site, but we don’t earn any commissions for referring you), but from our experience selling via them, they are fast, have helpful customer support and their services are cleverly thought out to offer a low commission on sales while providing blisteringly quick Amazon S3 hosting of your digital products. Give them a go if you’re looking for a quick way to get set up.

YouTube it up
Considering YouTube has such a huge following (far far beyond competitor video streaming sites at the time of writing), you just can’t ignore the potential to build an active audience here. By placing affiliate links (such as to your portfolio on libraries that offer a percentage of a customer’s purchase / deposit), you can also build up a little stream of income. Here’s an example of how the sites compare (snapshot from Nielsen on 9th April 2014):

youtube-vs-other-sites

Google+ is the way of the future
You may have noticed a big push from big brother towards their social network Google Plus. Yes, it’s here and it’s here to stay, so jump on board and promote your work via Google’s network if you want to be treated well by them. Your rankings in Google and YouTube should improve if you do, so it’s worth it (we’re starting to do this ourselves and it’s helping).

Continually add value

If you’re trying to make money from your music, the aim is not to pitch your prices lower than the next person. That’s bad for you, the client (yes, the lower the price, the more likely it is that they think the end-product is of poorer quality as good music costs to create, albeit less than before) and the future of the music industry as a whole.

With that last point, I’m talking from the perspective of the composer, not just the record labels and publishers as it ends up being a race to the bottom which means we all suffer. It’s about adding value to what you’re offering and making sure you’re providing marketable and useful music.

How will you know it’s marketable and useful? Well, simply put, your music will sell well if it’s fit for purpose and in front of the right audience. That’s the only real indicator of whether you’re hitting the sweet spot for your clients, so use those two factors as your litmus test for what works and what doesn’t.

Another way to add value to your offering include:

  • Be highly critical of your own work
    In order to reach the highest quality possible constantly compare your work to the best in the industry. If it doesn’t sound on a level with what you hear (be honest), then ask yourself why. Some styles of music may not be financially within your reach (take recording a 60 piece orchestra live for example!), but in many cases, you can get pretty close by improving your craft through mixing better and getting better at playing your instrument(s).
  • Follow trends and use your musical strengths to write the best stuff you can.
    I’m not a banjo player, so I don’t expect to be able to whack out Bluegrass classics. Stick to what you’re best at and the quality of what you offer will increase as you perfect your niche.
  • Offer alternate versions for production music
    Provide 30s, 60s, full length, loop and even underscore versions of your music. We’re guilty of not doing this at Instrumental Background Music enough, but get in the habit of providing options for your customers.
  • Tailor your music to your client’s projects
    This is a selling point for your customers and something we also offer (which is why we don’t feel so bad about not uploading alternate versions for all our music!). If it’s a simple change, don’t charge. If it’s more complex, ‘let’s talk’ is the best approach as every case is different.

Over and out

Ok, hope that was useful to you budding musicians trying to make a living in this market. For the record, and so you know I’m a real person (!), my name is Cato and I pretty much run the blog side of this site. If you have any questions or suggestions, let us know in the comments below. We’d like this to become a useful resource for everyone eventually.

Please note, some blog posts may contain affiliate links to products. If you click on them and decide to buy the product, we earn a small commission which helps us support our work creating posts like this and videos etc. Thank you for your support!

Comments

  1. Thanks, good vibes and great advice. Ive got music on soundcloud reverbnation and youtube but dont get the hits and interest thats really needed to get recognised.
    You guys have given me some good points to follow, cheers.
    Stimpmaster Beatz☺

    1. You’re welcome! I’ll try to update this with some more tips soon. Stay tuned 🙂

  2. Since YouTube is a video site, what do you recommend adding as the video components to promote a piece of music? Scrolling information about the song and where to purchase it? I don’t really know that I can put together a true video or picture slideshow to go with each song. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi David,

      It’s a good question – I’ll be totally honest, I’ve been pretty crap at using YouTube to promote this site, but it’s one of my New Years Resolutions to sort as it can be a great source of traffic if you do it right.

      You don’t need to spend a lifetime putting these things together once you know what people are interested in seeing / hearing – you could create a template / use a formula for making your videos like I’ve done on the Instrumental Background Music channel here (the intro and outro are the same throughout all videos):

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJ7XwQwlhU4

      A lot of musicians who publish their royalty free music online create photo slideshows with images that relate to the music like you mentioned. However, they also put titles saying what the track is, the type of uses it could have and call to actions throughout the video (like adding links to where to buy the track). An important thing to do is also to urge people to subscribe to your channel so they can be notified of new releases.

      If you want some tips on how and what to put in your YouTube videos to engage your audience (and in theory lead to sales), then check out Tim Schmoyer for some ideas:

      https://www.youtube.com/user/VideoCreatorsTV

      He’s great and takes you through all the details of creating videos that will convert on YouTube. Resources like that are useful when you’re starting out and figuring out what it is people genuinely want to watch / hear, but also look at what other composers are doing.

      For example, many composers have luck just using an After Effects template with an EQ-type animation that responds to the audio waveform, like The Secession:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeEDQMLtyGY

      Either way, the priority is to get your music in front of the right people – the video is important, but not as important as the music itself and the ears listening to it. Also, don’t be fooled by view counts as 1,000,000 views from people who aren’t interested in buying your music isn’t worth as much as 100 views from genuine customers.

      Hope that helps!

      Cato

  3. Cato,

    A very good read. I am looking at the hard road of going it alone. Why? Two reasons really. One, I am not fortunate enought be well connected in this industry yet. Two, I like the challenge. I like to create business and combining music and business is a win for me. I also have a long goal. This will give me the time to build in the long run, so there is no pressure to have to succeed right away. Anyways, I wanted to say THANK YOU! For an article that gives a positive message to those going it alone, mostly out of necessity. Thanks and keep up the good work!

    1. Hey Brian,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment! You can definitely make it going alone in this industry, it’s a matter of building up a strong community like in any business in my opinion.

      If you haven’t read it yet, I’d recommend reading Tribes by Seth Godin. Although it’s geared more towards conventional businesses, there are loads of concepts that are useful for us as musicians in there. What kind of music business do you want to set up out of interest?

      Cheers,

      Cato

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