Ways to Make Money Online as a Musician

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With the advent of the internet and several business models moving to the digital space, a whole new avenue and sources of income have opened up for most professions. But being a musician is not just any profession. There’s a lot of hard work, grit and a whole lot of natural talent and skills too in the bag. But here’s the beauty of being a musician in the online world. Before you had to go chasing after record labels or hope your friend at the radio station plays your tape on air but being online gives you a whole new platform to take matters in your own control.

No longer do you have to run after other established musical professionals, just so people can hear your single. Simply upload it on your social media profile and you can share your music with thousands of people at once, get feedback in real time and who knows, you may even go viral and get more work! But if it’s so easy, why aren’t more musicians making it? Well, like any other business model, the online space also needs a clever business strategy. You have to make yourself visible and marketable, engage with your audience and let people know what you’re doing. The following article touches upon some tips to make money online as a musician.


Since its launch in 2005, YouTube has changed the game especially for musicians. Remember when Justin Bieber came into the picture? The teenage heartthrob was discovered when musical talent manager Scott Braun was scoping the internet for fresh talent and by the time he was 13 years old, Bieber was singing with R&B artist and his idol, Usher.

Now, Bieber’s story is an incredible one that may not come true for everybody. But even if you’re not plucked out from your YouTube channel and made an overnight star, it’s important to keep your channel up-to-date with new content so your audiences know you’re constantly working on fresh ideas.

There are a few different ways in which you can monetize your YouTube account:

YouTube Partner Programme

If you’re an independent artist you can join the YouTube partner programme and generate revenue through advertisements. You can keep uploading content as YouTube matches advertisements that fit your channel and vibe. At the end of the month, YouTube sends money to your AdSense account. You need two things to be eligible for the Partner Programme:

  • Your channel must have at least 1,000 subscribers
  • Your channel must have received 4,000 watch hours in the previous year

You can take a look at the other programme policies here.


If you’re working with a third-party distributor, they will submit your music to YouTube for you and then collect the money from ads and YouTube Red (an enhanced ad-free YouTube experience for a subscription). Your distributor will also charge a setup fee and commission but every arrangement with different artists is unique. Distributors may work with digital stores like Apple iTunes, Amazon Music and Google Play too.

Record Label

If you’re a signed artist with a major or independent record label, you can engage with YouTube’s licensing agreements that pay money from ad revenue. The label will collect the money depending on their control and ownership of the master recordings.

The label will pay you your share of revenue, depending on the contract you have signed with them. Here are some handy tips you may want to consider before signing with a label.

Social Media

Other than keeping your YouTube channel active and building subscribers, you must have an active social media presence too. The way to interact with fans has changed considerably with the advent of the internet. Now you can have a far more personal equation with your followers, have live chats with them, hold contests, etc in a far more intimate setting.

The following platforms are some of the most important for you to tap into:

Instagram and Snapchat

Both Instagram and Snapchat are intimate ways for you to be in touch with your followers. Instagram stories and Snapchat posts are quick, casual and informal ways for your fans to see what you have been up to in your personal life. Once you have a large enough following invested in your work, they may enjoy knowing about your vacations or the time you spend with family.

Facebook and Twitter

Facebook and Twitter may not be as personal or intimate as the previous platforms. Your Facebook and Twitter page could be to update your fans about upcoming gigs, album launches or sneak peeks of content you have been working on. Twitter, especially, gives you the platform to display your wit and charm through short, crisp tweets.

Building a Fanbase

Building a fanbase has a lot to do with social media, of course. If you have an active and exciting social media presence, not only will your fans remain engaged but may even recruit more fans. This is helpful especially for when you’re not releasing new content but want to remain in people’s minds. But simply being active on social media will not do the trick. You have to curate a fanbase strategically.

Target Audience

Identify your target audience and work towards appeasing them. Is the music you’re creating for teenage girls, people in their 20s or older blues fans? Of course, your target audience could be intersectional too. In fact, the more intersectional it is, the wider your fan base. But identify your sound and stay true to it so your audiences stay loyal.

If you’re catering to a younger, teenage audience, know that every day millions of children are turning teenagers. With every new teenager, a new trend may emerge. What was popular among teenagers even two years ago may not be in vogue anymore. So keep updating yourself and experiment with new styles to stay in touch with your target audience.


1,000 True Fans

This concept is a bit tricky but is very useful for a musician who is just starting out. The idea became popular when Kevin Kelly, editor of WIRED magazine wrote a blog about the 1,000 True Fans.

True Fans are your core fans who will follow your work no matter what you produce. They build the nucleus of your fanbase who will stay loyal, be the first ones to buy tickets to your concerts and wait with bated breath for whatever you put out next. If in the starting of your career you can create a fanbase of 1,000 true fans, you can make the same living as with a larger audience, even without a recording label backing you. The math is simple. What Kelly argues is that you’d rather have 1,000 true fans who are willing to pay $100 for your CDs, merchandise in your name and concert tickets than 100,000 regular fans who may or may not spend $1 to bring you to an even $100,000.

It’s easier said than done, however. Building a core fanbase as loyal and devoted as the 1,000 true fans requires a lot of energy and some investment too. After all, it’s about building a deeper human connection and not just a recreational one. For most people, having fewer fans also does not seem ideal. The point, however, is that if you can make 1,000 true fans initially, then as your career advances your fanbase will only grow.

MP3, Merchandise and Pre-Order Sales

While fewer people are downloading MP3s, iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play are still massive and legitimate sources of sales. Other than offering MP3s and albums on online music directories you can also invest in creating a merchandise line in yours or your band’s name. If you want to make things more exciting, offer free merchandise with every album purchased online.

But the most important marketing strategy is in having a successful pre-order sale. If you’re launching an EP or even a full-length album, offering pre-order sales could dictate how much money the album or EP makes eventually. If you have great pre-order sales, the eventual revenue for when your work officially releases is also guaranteed to be good. Two things happen with a strategically done pre-order sale:

  1. It gives a solid foundation for the eventual revenue stream to build on. People will keep buying more once the work is officially out.
  2. It builds chatter around the release of your work. Fans will feel excited about being the first to get hands on your work, even before it’s out for sale in the market. The feeling of being in that exclusive club is what you must cash in on.

Streaming Sites

In 2017, streaming made up nearly 38 percent of the recording industry’s global revenue. Streaming outlets such as Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, SoundCloud etc, have opened up a whole new avenue for artists to put up their work either free of cost or for a small fee. By uploading playlists and building a following on these portals, you will not only be exposing yourself to millions of users at once but also give your career a big boost. Your popularity on these portals will soon start translating into ticket and merchandise sales.

Online Classifieds

Being in the online space doesn’t mean the tools that worked offline don’t work anymore. They just appear in different avatars. Just as you would browse through your local newspaper for classified ads about jobs and opportunities, the online world also has people constantly looking for talent.

There are two ways to go about this:

Listing Your Goods

List your skills and what you can offer on online classifieds and job hunt websites. People are often looking for musical talent to hire at events and functions. Playing at a bar mitzvah ceremony may not be the glamours launch to your career you were hoping for but any start is a good start. Other than getting some exposure, you can also make some extra cash to invest in recording your own album. Besides, who knows who might be in the audience? Maybe your next break could come from someone in the crowd.


Searching for ‘Gigs’

The other way is to actively approach employers, instead of waiting for someone to click on your CV online. Look for ‘gigs’ on websites like Craigslist or other similar sites. Check under the tabs marked ‘Talent’, you should get some hits on most job hunt sites. While you’re actively looking you may find something even better!


While having an active social media presence has been stressed upon plenty, you also should ideally have a domain name you can call your own. A website is helpful in being in touch with your fans in an organised way. You can publish schedules of upcoming shows, start a crowdfunding campaign, have a detailed About Me page – essentially, you can do everything you’re already doing on various social media profiles but condensed into one platform. What’s more, you can customize your website to how you want to display things instead of having to work with the social media platform’s format.

You can also make money directly from your website, here’s how:

Sell Directly through Your Website

When you can sell your EPs and albums through Amazon Music or Google Play, why bother making a whole new website? There’s one very big advantage of selling on your own website. It means you can cut down on the cost of paying to a secondary seller. Whatever revenue you make from sales will be yours. You can even stock your online store with merchandise like T-shirts and coffee mugs. You may not make as much money from selling merchandise initially but it’ll all add up in the long run and won’t punch a hole in your pocket to create.

Affiliate Marketing

Another way to make some extra cash is to engage in affiliate marketing. Most full-time bloggers make a fair amount of money through affiliate marketing. You can post links and promote some products you have enjoyed using on your website and if a fan clicks on the link and eventually purchases the product on your recommendation, you make a small commission. This may not make you rich overnight, but as you gain more popularity, more sponsors may approach you. Here’s a handy guide to the benefits of affiliate marketing and how it works.

Flash Sales

By building a steady subscriber list, you can keep in constant touch with your fans via a newsletter. You don’t have to send a newsletter out every week, only when you have something to say. Once you have a considerably large subscriber list, announce a flash sale! Nobody will say no to buying something at knock-off prices. Besides, if they’re your fans then it’s a double whammy for them!

Make the sale more exciting by throwing in band merchandise, perhaps even auction old equipment, gear and music memorabilia you don’t have any need for. If it’s something you’re willing to part with, why not let your fans have it?

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, some not necessarily easy but effective ways to make money online as a musician. While you may want to focus more on making your music and less on keeping up with social media trends, there’s no point in creating something if nobody knows about it. Promoting your work requires as much effort and affection on your part as creating it. If you have made something with love and poured your heart into it, let people know so more people can shower their love on it.

Social media and the internet has also changed celebrityhood. While hardcore fans may still wait outside the homes of their favourite stars just to catch a glimpse, a new way to interact intimately with celebrities is through social media. Following a celebrity on social media provides glimpses of a lot more than just them waving from the balcony. One can get a glimpse of their entire lives. While you may not be at that degree of celebrity yet, social media and the internet is an important way to get there. Making use of the internet in an effective way will give you an advantage over other colleagues and peers. After all, it’s not simply about the music and work when it comes to internet followers. What you must sell is also an image.

This is not to say you have to create a facade or lie to your fans. You’re simply catering to your fans’ needs by feeding their curiosities, being in the open and actively sharing your life and work. Of course, the reins are in your hands. You get to decide how far you want to share your life, where you want to release your music and what the nature of your music should be. But there is a parallel aspect to being a successful musical artist in the social media world too, you may want to do justice to that.


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