5 ways to earn money as a Music Professional

Posted by James Cullen on

Tired of your desk job?

Not feeling the grind of the 9-5?

Do you just dream of making a living through making music?

Seems like a pipe dream doesn’t it? How many people in days gone by have wished their days away wanting more?

But that dream can be a reality. There are now more resources, and therefore more opportunities than ever to earn an income from your skills as a musician, producer or engineer.

So, today with Top Music Arts, we will take a look at some of the strategies you can employ to build yourself from the ground up to become a successful and thriving music professional, and give you 5 ways you can make money with your musical skill set.

Routes, roles and rates.

The first thing you need to do - if you’re serious about becoming a self employed freelance music professional - is identify where your core strengths and weaknesses are. If you have an idea of what you’d like to do, that’s great, you just need to make sure you arm yourself with all of the necessary skills and tools to reach that goal, and if there are skills you need to practice, what are you waiting for?

However, if you’re not sure what you want to do when it comes to a music profession, a great first step is to make a list of your greatest skills when it comes to your music. This can help you hone your viewpoint and carve out a specific path for yourself, with attainable goals and plans to get there along the way.

Some of those skills might be mixing & mastering, producing, songwriting, instrumental proficiency for example, or even some you may not initially think of in a music context, like social media or marketing skills. All of these are tools in your arsenal when it comes to going out there and making a living for yourself in the music industry.

If you’re a solid engineer and your skills are firmly in the camp of mixing and mastering, then you could consider offering mixing and mastering services for others. Or if you’re more creative in production techniques but not quite a songwriter, you could offer your skills of production to budding bands and songwriters in your local community or music scene.

Once you’ve decided what exactly you want to do, the most crucial thing you need to decide is what your rates will be. After all, the point is to make a living, right?

While at first it may seem counterintuitive, there’s a lot to be said for offering your services for free. It’s a viable way to get real world experience, as well as bolstering your own portfolio in the process. If you’re a beat maker, give your beats away for free, same if you master other people’s work, offer it for free.

But only to a point.

There’s no set rule as to when and how you should charging money for your work. Everyone will have a different formula for success when it comes to this, but the key thing is to find balance. Only offer your work for free if it brings value to your goals. If it’s allowing you to develop your skills and get your name out there, working for free nets a positive result.

If however, you’re stretching yourself thin trying to keep up with all these free jobs you’ve said you’d do for people, and you’re not getting much return from it, it’s probably a good idea to approach your clients and discuss fees. Which brings us to the last point.

How much should you charge for your work?

Again, there’s no set guideline here. What’s important is doing your research, finding out what your competition is charging, and creating a pricing model that is both sustainable for you and is competitive for your clients. The bottom line is, you’ll know you’ve picked the right price when someone is willing to pay it. Just make sure you’re not selling yourself short, as you need to recognise your own value, so that others in turn will do the same.

So, now that that’s out of the way, what opportunities are there out there?


1) Selling Instrumentals

There is a huge growing market for selling instrumental beats in a wide range of genres. Dedicated sites like Beatstars, Airbit and Soundclick provide a great platform for producers to sell their beats through a wide variety of pricing options and a multitude of tools to help create beat stores. But there are even a myriad of producers working and selling through YouTube and Soundcloud, so there are plenty of opportunities to make your name known.

Genres vary, but the market is predominantly Trap / Hip Hop oriented. That’s not to say that there aren’t other genres out there, but bear that in mind if this is a route you’d be considering. There are countless aspiring rappers from all over the world, and they have to get their beats from somewhere. That somewhere could be your beat store.

The key with making a living through selling instrumentals is knowing the market, and creating a sustainable balance of production and promotion to get yourself up and running. After all, it’s all well and good having the skills to make great music, but if no one is hearing it, what’s the point?

This is where branding and self promotion become crucial. The importance of having a consistent brand to present to the world is paramount. At the end of the day, everyone who’s listening to your beats is a potential customer, and you want to present yourself as professionally as possible.

Producers such as Robin Wesley over at urbanmasterclass.com give great insight into how to get yourself up and running as a beat seller.

Get a consistent brand image across social medias, and regularly post to engage followers and fans. The majority of income on sites like Beatstars comes from repeat customers. And as Robin Wesley says, if you can sell one beat, you can sell 10. If you can sell 10, you can sell 100.

Beatstars offers various pricing models for selling your music. These range from non-exclusive MP3 leases all the way up to a fully exclusive track out WAV license, including stems and the full rights to the track. You can set your price for these, and the potential of repeat customers buying consistent leases make this a real possibility.

Imagine you sell 10 non exclusive leases of one beat for $20 each in one month. That’s an extra $200 you didn’t have before. Now imagine you did it again next month, but with 2 beats. That’s $400. And again.

The key with beat selling is your brand. There are thousands of producers out there trying their hand at this, so you need to make sure you stand out, and put the work in to be consistent with your promotion. The sky’s the limit with this one.

2) Offering services on sites like Fiverr

If making and selling beats isn’t for you, you could look into offering your musical services on websites such as Fiverr.

Fiverr is a marketplace for freelancers of all trades that allows you to connect with people who need a job doing. You can advertise yourself for work, or you can respond to advertisements others have made asking for help.

A simple search of ‘music’ on Fiverr brings up a whole host of various people offering services. Everything from being featured in blogs to help with writing music, and music composition for a project is featured in Fiverr’s search results. If there’s a musical job needs doing, someone on Fiverr will be able to do it.

And that someone could be you.

You could be offering Mixing / Mastering or Production work to help musicians who need a more technical mind with their writing, or you could even offer social media or marketing and promotion help to anyone that needs it. There are endless possibilities. If you can market yourself with a skill someone is willing to pay for, then sites like FIverr allow you to do it.

What’s important with this type of career path is having a portfolio. In a competitive environment like Fiverr where people are all vying for the one job or role, you need to be able to back up your offer of services with a solid body of work to show off. This comes back to what we spoke about in the introduction and the value in working for free sometimes; it can be a great way to build up a portfolio which can then allow you to springboard up to paid jobs.

The benefit of using a site like Fiverr is that it offers direct contact between you and the person you’re doing a job for, and who knows what connections you could make that could lead to future work? One simple response to an ad on Fiverr could spark a long lasting professional relationship.

The caveat to this though is that you need to be willing to adhere to a pretty hectic schedule, as jobs can appear on Fiverr with a very strict and sometimes short deadline. Being able to say ‘Yes I’ll do that job and I’ll have it done by tomorrow’ will really set you apart from the competition.

Just don’t overwork yourself!

3) Writing for Film

Chances are, if you’re a Music Producer (and especially if you’ve studied music production) you know a tonne of creative people. These may all be musicians, but you may also know artists, creative writers, film makers...think about how these connections or friendships could form into professional relationships.

One such way is writing music for film.

Your local city’s University is likely to have a Film Studies course, or some variation on this. Likelihood is that there are plenty of students making their end of year short films who will need a musical score or component written.

This is a gold mine for an aspiring film composer.

As with the other areas previously discussed, this may be something you initially have to do for free. Student films rarely have a budget that allows room for paying a composer for a score, but as we’ve said, doing this for free will benefit you in the long run. Establishing yourself as someone who produces quality music within a group of people who are all likely to need some music at some point is an invaluable reward simply for writing music free of charge.

4) Sync briefs

More of a supplemental way to potentially generate passive income than a dedicated career path, writing music for Sync briefs is a competitive yet lucrative aspect of the music business.

What’s a Sync Brief? In short, this is a short brief written by a company who needs music, usually for film, TV or Ads. They will often be very specific, and have a strict deadline that needs keeping to.

An example may be ‘Upbeat pop song needed for TV Ad’. It can be as simple as that, or it could be as complex as asking specific genres or moods, or even lyrical subject matter.

The selling point for Sync briefs is that they can often generate a significant pay day. If you put your music up for a sync brief for a TV Ad of a large, recognisable brand name, chances are there could be a decent amount of royalties or fees in it for you. Each is subject to its own agreement of course, but there are possibilities out there.

It’s worth noting that the ratio of risk to reward can be quite daunting for this, as you’re not writing to a brief for a guaranteed job, as much as you are competing with others for that job. Imagine your boss asks you and ten others to write a report, and tells you he’s only going to pay one person and that’s the person whose report he thinks is best.

However, if you write a lot of music anyway, you can register your tracks with sites like Sentric who can submit your music to sync briefs on your behalf. Providing you haven’t signed over the rights of your tracks to any third party, this could be a good way to (potentially) generate a bit of extra income on the side from the music you’re writing anyway!

5) Session Musician

Lastly, if you’re purely an instrumentalist, or if that’s just one of many skills you have, you should look into becoming a Session Musician.

There are plenty of opportunities here, that range from the likes of wedding bands to studio sessions, and all areas in between. Think of the amount of times you’ve seen live bands, as a background in a restaurant, or a bar. They will often be paid musicians, and this could be you too.

You can use social media to advertise your services, making sure to just reach out and connect with the promoters and industry people in your local scene. The opportunities are there if you search for them.

Things to remember.

You may be noticing a theme developing, and that is the importance of building and maintaining professional relationships within the industry. While it’s easy to write off a group of friends working on a project together as not worth the professional approach that an industry person would give it, if there is money or personal development and progression involved, the results will speak for themselves.

It’s difficult to overstate how important these relationships are; you never know who will need a favour down the line, or who will be able to recommend you to a third party because of work you did for them, whether it was paid or free.

It’s also vital to have a dedicated website to host your portfolio, whether that’s a beat store, or just a standalone site made on the likes of Squarespace or Wix, having a place where potential clients can see your work, read about who you are, what you offer and most importantly contact you directly is probably one of the most important resources you’ll need in your tool box.

Being active on social media is also relevant. We live in an age where everyone from the average joe to the leader of a nation is prolific in their social media output, and for its pitfalls, using the tools of social media to advertise, promote yourself and gain customers or clients is entirely possible. Gaining a following on social sites like instagram is more relevant in the example of making and selling instrumental beats for example, than it would be for being a film score composer, but there’s still a way in which social media can benefit any music professional, so make sure you’re taking advantage of it.

The road to becoming a self sustaining music professional is by no means an easy one, and this is not a cheat sheet for guaranteed results. What you need to remember is that the music industry is filled with driven and passionate people, all of whom are wanting to make their living doing something they love.

It can be competitive, and it’s truly an environment in which hard work pays dividends. So stick to it, and don’t let setbacks dissuade you!

Hopefully you gained some valuable insights into the world of freelance music professionals today, and we've inspired you to think about the steps you could take to achieve your goals. Stay tuned for more content, and check out the rest of Top Music Arts' posts, templates, tutorials and more!

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