The Internet has provided countless opportunities for people to make a living doing the things they love. Of course, it was always possible to become an A-list actor or a platinum-selling musician. Possible, but not likely.
If we’re being honest, it’s still not likely that you will be able to become an Ed Sheeran or Dua Lipa-tier global superstar, even with the Internet—which is not to say you shouldn’t try—but being able to make music for a living is far more attainable than it once was because of the Internet. Thanks to the ease with which people can discover your music, and your fans can connect with your content; it is possible to build up a healthy fan base that can support you as you live out your dream of making music.
Will you be selling out global arena tours? Probably not—though, once again, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try; prove me wrong!
But if your dream is just to be able to write and play music and have an audience that wants to listen to it, you can definitely achieve those goals.
Let’s take a dive into how to make money online as a singer or musician.
Understanding Audience Dynamics
The first hurdle to get over is one of outdated methods.
Traditionally, a musician would have to have built up a substantial following before they could start to make real money from their passion, and even then the majority of their money would come from live performances.
This means that to make a respectable amount of money, you not only would have to attract enough people to individual shows, you also have to have enough interest for multiple shows, since you can’t keep playing the same venue over and over.
There is only so much desire to see the same act repeatedly.
Even today, with digital distribution platforms cutting out the middle-men and allowing musicians to sell directly to their fans, the rates of pay are painfully small, and you would have to be getting hundreds of thousands of streams on a service like Spotify to make ends meet.
Fortunately, thanks to the ease with which the Internet makes connecting with people, there are new models for musicians to make their living. In particular, there is a general movement towards smaller, more invested audiences, rather than simply aiming to get as many fans as possible.
To explain how this works, consider an artist releasing an album on Spotify. The rate of pay for a single stream of a song on Spotify (assuming the artist is the full copyright holder) is around $0.00318.
That means that to make the equivalent of the minimum wage in America, you would need over four hundred thousand streams of your songs. That may be small fries for someone like Eminem, but it’s a substantial goal for unknown artists.
Now let’s consider an alternative approach.
Instead of relying on Spotify, let’s say that the artist above puts out a special edition physical copy of the album that can be bought through their website, priced so that they make around $10 profit for every sale. That artist would only need to sell around one hundred and thirty physical albums to make the same amount of money as nearly half a million Spotify streams.
Four hundred thousand streams is a daunting task, even when you consider that someone listening to a full ten-track album counts as ten individual streams. But having a little over a hundred people willing to pay a bit of a premium for your latest album is a very attainable goal.
This is the basic premise of choosing quality over quantity when it comes to your audience. Rather than trying to get pennies from a large number of people by keeping the costs low and releasing your music everywhere, focus on giving the fans that are willing to pay a premium as much as you can.
Give them extra goodies, signed merchandise, and whatever else they might be interested in. Make sure they get their money worth, of course. Nothing will turn a fan off quicker than the feeling that someone is trying to take advantage of them.
Build An Audience
Before you can worry about the quality of your fanbase, you need to have a fanbase. It has never been easier to build a following, but that does not mean you won’t have some hard work ahead of you if you’re going to succeed.
Hone Your Craft
It should go without saying, but if you want to be successful at anything, you should strive to be as good as you can at that thing. This is even more true of creative endeavours in the Internet age due to the sheer number of people there are online who are looking to achieve the same things. In the days before the Spotifys and YouTubes, it was possible to succeed in music even if you weren’t the best musician. Things like the right look, good songs, and a bit of luck could lead you to success.
These days, on the other hand, there are so many budding musicians out there that it is not hard to find someone who has the right look, makes excellent music, and is very skilled at what they do.
Fortunately, looks are not as big a deal as they were in the traditional music industry models, and there’s no reason to go trying to change yourself in this regard. And as for the music, you should make what you want to make. In fact, these two points will be two of the more significant factors behind gaining that dedicated audience we talked about. You want your fans to be there for you.
The point is you can’t—and shouldn’t—try to change your style to appeal to different audiences. There are niches for everything these days; find yours. But when it comes to skill, that is something you can help. Practice makes perfect, and you don’t want to give music lovers a reason to choose someone else the next time they want to listen to your style of music.
Find Ways to Stand Out
Getting noticed on the Internet isn’t easy. As we mentioned above, there are lots of people out there trying to get noticed at the same time, and it is very easy for you to get lost in the shuffle.
A good way to start building an audience is to start off making cover songs. This gives you an opportunity to show off your style and ability while simultaneously piggybacking off of the popularity of an established song.
Try to stray outside your comfort zone with song choices, and only cover songs that you can put a unique spin on.
People aren’t interested in seeing a note for note replica of their favourite blink-182 song; they want to see something new, like what YouTuber, Alex Melton, has been doing with his “Country Version” covers of songs that are decidedly not country. Alex has enjoyed an explosion of popularity in recent months, even getting his videos shared by the very bands he’s been covering.
You can even release your cover songs as an additional way to make money through your music, though there are rights issues with cover songs that will need to be addressed.
Another way to get noticed is to make tutorials. If you are making good music, you must have a skill, whether it is songwriting, producing, playing instruments, or maybe all of the above. We’ve already mentioned that there are lots of people online who are looking to make these same moves, and they are eager for any help in that department.
If you can put together good YouTube guitar lessons, or a podcast about songwriting, or perhaps a sample pack for electronic musicians, then you can start to build an audience that way and parlay the success of that into ears for your new music.
One of the most critical aspects of building an audience or fanbase is being active. If you release a fantastic song that takes the Internet by storm and then vanish for six months, you lose all of the momentum that success gave you.
Fortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean putting new music out every week. Consider other avenues to connect with your fans. If you are touring, you could keep a video diary of the tour. If you’re not touring, you could make regular vlogs. Posting snippets from your latest project, live streaming and playing song requests, basically anything that gives your fans more.
The idea is to keep giving your fans a constant stream of what they want; you. That way, even when you are not releasing new music, you are keeping in touch with your fanbase.
Make it Easy to Support You
This is more of a general tip for anyone who wants to earn their living through creative endeavours on the Internet; make it as easy as possible for your audience to support you.
You might be surprised at how many people decide they will donate or buy a piece of merchandise on a whim to support an online personality they like, only to shrug and not bother because the process of getting to that stage was awkward or difficult.
Make your music and merchandise easy to buy, with clear links on any videos or websites you have. Consider starting a Patreon account to give your audience more ways in which they can support you.
And, while it’s not strictly a rule for success, it always helps to be gracious when people choose to send their hard-earned money your way.
How to Make Money Online as a Singer or Musician as a Non-Creative
Given that this blog is primarily a YouTube blog, it makes sense that we’ve focussed on making money online as a musician from the perspective of someone wanting to perform and release music.
There are other ways to make money from your music online, however.
For example, you can make music for other people, such as jingles, and intro stingers. You could do this as an out-and-out freelancer, though you would need to work hard to market yourself. Or you could use services like Fiverr.
You could also give personal music lessons over a video call, or, though we mentioned it as a way of building your audience, there is nothing stopping you from making tutorials and lesson videos and having that be the main thing that you do.
There are plenty of successful YouTube channels out there working from this model.
Another option is to make music and sell it as stock audio. This is where people making content who need music can come to certain sites and buy the rights to a song. If you have a flair for making music that is particularly suited for use in video clips and scores, this may be a good route for you to take.
Ultimately, there is no real barrier to succeeding financially as a musician in today’s interconnected world. Sure, you may have to moderate your idea of financial success down to something a little more grounded than whatever Lady Gaga is making, but it is certainly possible making a living from it.
Try to remember that the key to success as a smaller musician or band is to build a strong, invested fan base, not necessarily a big fan base.
A smaller number of fans who like you and your music enough to buy albums and merchandise will be a far more reliable source than a huge audience that might only stream your songs a few times a week. But perhaps most importantly, because you are looking to build an authentic, invested audience, be you.
Don’t look to change your look, personality, or style of music to attract different fans. Make the music you want to make let the fans that like that music come to you.
One of the best things about the Internet for creative types is that there is something for everyone; you just have to let the people who want your music find you.