Failure-Proofing Your Music Career

Failure-Proofing Your Music Career

The Tunedly Team

The adage “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is a pretty old saying but its appropriateness still rings true for many facets of life. None more so than for musicians who are seeking to have successful careers in an ever-changing industry that is getting harder and harder to make a mark in.

You’ve probably heard it said many times in recent years about the dire state of affairs for music. What you might not have heard is the fact that there is still a lot of money in the global music and wider entertainment industry, which is worth over $2 trillion.

Now that’s a lot of money but how do you get your hands on some of it? Working hard on creating good songs with the best pro studios, and building your brand is a good start; however, hard work should be accompanied by smart work if you want to earn a comfortable living in the long run. More often than not, just spending money on putting out music and then trying to get gigs will not give you access to much more than frustration.

The first thing you need to do to give yourself a chance of earning a sustainable income from music is to sign up with a performance royalty collection company such as ASCAP, SESAC, or BMI. That way, every time your song is performed, you earn from it. Now, you might be required to pay a fee to get started with some of these performance rights organizations, but the value of being a member is often more than worth it once the royalty checks start rolling in.

Are royalty checks enough to sustain you? Maybe, but the most likely answer will be no - unless you have a few songs that are huge and gets performed a ton of times. Otherwise, you will be exposed to the potential pitfalls of the music business if you’re not earning an income some other way.

With that said, let’s look at some of the challenges being faced by music creators.

  • Lowered value of music:  Back in 2006, the recorded music industry brought in US$31 billion, according to figures released by IFPI back then. The same organization, in their 2016 report, indicated that revenues were US$15.7 billion, which represents a 50% decline over a decade earlier, despite being a 5% boost over 2015. And that plunge does not take into account changes in inflation.

    The sharp devaluation of recorded music over the years comes as people are consuming more music than ever via numerous streaming services. It has also sparked bitter arguments and debates about changing the laws related to music use and royalty payouts.

  • The cost of producing music of quality:  Although revenue for recorded music has taken a nosedive since 1999, the cost of producing a song or album has remained high. To create a high-quality demo or full song, with a reputable studio in one of the major music production locations in the U.S., a musician will easily be required to shell out anywhere between $500 - $5000 or even more. The cost of transporting equipment, hiring other musicians, and the rate per hour charged by some traditional studios can escalate those figures exponentially, as pointed out in this cost of music production illustration by LA Weekly.

    As you can already imagine (or already aware), creating a piece of musical art that sounds great requires a sizable investment without knowing if you will ever recoup the money you put into it, or when.

  • Losing rights:  Songs that make it big don’t automatically mean huge financial gains for the music creator, especially if, during the production phase, some (or all) of the rights to the work was signed over to a record label. It’s a practice that has seen the bottom line of record companies increasing while those of many musicians have not grown much if any at all. It’s also why more musicians are deciding to be independents.

  • The cost of music promotion/exposure:  After managing to put that shiny new single together, the next hurdle that stands in your way is getting exposure for it, which also comes at a cost. This is one reason why many upcoming musicians are willing to sign up with labels, some of which agree to pay upfront for promoting a project in exchange for a cut in the profits, when and if it takes off. These labels often have entire departments and PR people who get the word out about the song or album.

    This is not an ideal model, as many musicians have found out over the years; some have bemoaned the lack of substantial returns on songs that have made it big due to the record label claiming the lion’s share, so to speak.

  • Music piracy:  The ease of downloading a song from the internet has further made inroads into how much it is possible to make from selling music, especially if you’re an indie musician. For some pro-piracy musicians (we won’t call any names), it might not be much of a problem because they are able to rake in millions from touring. However, for those who are just building their fan bases, piracy can reduce earning potential significantly.

There are other challenges that songwriters and other musicians face, but you get the drift; making a mark in the industry is a continuously mounting challenge. Still, there are many who are making it happen, by diversifying their careers to include other music and non-music related activities apart from and in addition to writing or performing music. Like buying stocks, it is a smarter move to ‘diversify your portfolio,’ which will allow you to have multiple income streams, or at least a backup plan if the funds aren’t rolling in from your music just yet.

Some of the most successful musicians have been those who tapped into other ways of making money at some point in their careers. As mentioned in this Forbes article, Dr. Dre earned a sizable chunk of his fortune, not just from being an ace beat maker and rapper, but from his famous headphones which have brought him hundreds of millions of dollars.

Jessica Simpson is another big name who has diversified her career. The “I Wanna Love You Forever” singer hasn’t been seen much on the music scene in recent years, yet she has been raking in millions of dollars from her fashion line that sells shoes, among other things.

But there are other musicians who have learned the benefits of trying out activities apart from their main art which have allowed them to avoid becoming the proverbial starving artist. These include everything from day jobs at offices, to work from home tasks, and even occupations that take them on the road across states and around the world. Wondering what you could do as well? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Blogger/ Author

Have a way with words? Skilled in an area that you can speak authoritatively on? It doesn’t have to be about music either. It just depends on what you have learned in life and how a blog or book could help you get that information out. Ari Herstand is a reasonably successful musician who runs an equally successful blog that speaks to upcoming artists. You can tell that he is earning from his blog because there are usually a number of web banners on there that are advertising for several known music companies and events.

Monetizing your blog can bring in quite a sum over time as your blog attracts more visitors. What’s more, you can sell your website later on in life for a sizable amount if it is successful and your music takes off, leaving you with little or no time to run it. Other musicians who run popular blogs include Solveig Whittle and Amy Klein.

2. YouTuber

YouTube is much more than a portal to market your music. You can start a channel on almost anything, including your own music, and have it optimized for ads. The bigger your channel grows the more you can earn as it will also attract more ads. There are different types of ads on YouTube but the general idea is that you will earn each time one is shown or when a viewer clicks on one. Some of the top YouTubers are earning hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars per year.

But YouTube can also help your music get discovered. Almost everyone knows the story about how Justin Bieber became the poster child of artists who got their big break from posting videos on YouTube. Other acts such as Lindsey Stirling and Pentatonix also made their names on YouTube which led to launching their music careers.

3. Tutor/Music Teacher

There is always someone who wants to learn how to sing properly, how to write a song, or even how to play an instrument. If you are highly trained or experienced in a particular music discipline, you can transfer that knowledge to someone else and get paid for it as a tutor. The cost of music lessons varies, depending on what you’re tutoring, but there are people who are willing to pay handsomely to learn an instrument or for voice training.

There are also schools that are always looking for qualified music teachers, so if you are interested in molding young minds and have the qualifications and experience for it, this is another avenue you could explore as a full time or part time gig.

4. Social Media Marketer/Influencer

Love building an audience on the top social media channels and know how to engage with followers? From mastering Facebook and Twitter to being Insta-famous and a Snapchat connoisseur, you can earn as a social media marketer or influencer. You can do this in a number of ways. For one, you can help brands and popular individuals come up with campaigns to grow their audiences.

You can also act as a consultant, giving advice to businesses that want to know the secrets of engaging people on a particular platform. Another way you can use social media as an income stream is to be an influencer. This demands that you already have a large audience following you and could see marketers paying you for access to all those people. If you’re not sure how to get into this field, follow the works of top social media gurus and influencers such as Guy Kawasaki, who is connected with a number of high profile brands and has millions of followers online.

5. TV, Film, and Games Music Licensing

Like signing up with a performance rights organization, this is something that all musicians should consider. Having one or more of your songs or musical scores licensed for use in TV shows and ads, games, or big screen films could land you a decent payday and residual income if you’re successful.

Most people know the story of Danny Elfman, who wrote the jingle for The Simpsons. Now, every time an episode comes on he gets paid. Since there have been 28 seasons over the years, it’s not hard to see how he has created a lifelong income stream.


There are many other things you could do to generate additional income to supplement your earnings from making your own music. Find what works for you and what will allow you to have the flexibility of being able to express your creativity. At the end of the day, if you really love music, it will eventually shine through and become better from your experiences doing these secondary jobs.

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