Is it possible to make a living from music?
Updated: Jan 26
The short answer is yes, but perhaps the most successful way (unless of course you are the next Ed Sheeran) is in a slightly different sector than you might have imagined.
I’m not talking about merchandise - after all you didn’t start your journey in making music to end up selling T-Shirts and tote bags (however marvelous they might be)!
If you’ve been successful then there are other options like book writing, running songwriting courses.
It is still possible to make money from releasing music, and playing live gigs. Saying that, we all know how hard it is to get attention in a very big market place, where streamed music is now taking over and still not paying what it should, to compensate the artists.
So what’s left?
The market which is moving in the opposite direction is the Sync and Music licencing market. An important factor to remember here, is that this is a different business altogether. It’s the Television / Film / Commercial Industry / Video game industry. Here your music is valued and quality music is sought out and paid for when it matches the needs of the project.
It’s an area I haven’t explored much myself which is why I will eventually point you to others that understand this much better and are successful in this arena.
So who are the people that want to pay for your music?
Generally it’s music supervisors. Check the credits on a TV programme or film and you will see their names. With the growing number of TV channels and programmes online, the need for music is growing and growing. A successful placement of one of your songs in these markets could pay you very well and propel your gigging and on-line streaming results too.
You can approach music supervisors directly by email, this does require more research to understand what programmes the people are working on, what new shows might be on the way and so what music that might mean they need. In my opinion these people will most likely have their ‘go-to’ people or they will use established Music Libraries. These effectively act like music publishers and will actively pitch songs for live projects looking for new music.
So what kind of music is suitable for a music library?
Anything is the answer, so this is why you need to understand your musical strengths and what you are good at producing. Then find the suitable matching library that is looking for that kind of material. Music libraries have their music organised (usually via the music files metadata) making it very easy for them to match potential songs against a specific requirement, be that tempo, style, or topic.
You can of course just offer what you have - my experience of that is you try to match songs you already have to very specific briefs and requirements and they don’t always fit perfectly.
Here is a real life recent example that made me laugh:
“The visual is how affectionate larger pets can be. The lyrics are important for this brief and should tie in the idea of a pet being in love with its owner.”
Personally I didn’t have a song ready for that concept, maybe you do!
As I said at the start, I am not an expert on this topic, so I’ll leave you with a link to someone who is: Michael Elsner - who makes his living from music licensing:
Next time: How to meet people who don’t give a damn about your music