15 Ways To Make Money From Music In 2021

Kavina Kumar
Kavina Kumar

If you love making music but didn’t have a chance to play live this year, you probably witnessed firsthand the literal definition of one door closing(temporarily) but revealing many more. In a short space of time, we’ve gone from no gigs to new music income opportunities and multiple revenue streams, some that we never dreamed of pursuing. 

While it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of choice, the key is to know how to get more out of your music income, not to work harder to gain new skills. Your music distributor site alone has probably opened doors to sync deals, playlisting, music publishing, and social media monetisation, all with clicks of a button, for a single music upload.  And all of a sudden you might have been asked to feature your vocals on a mate’s track, give a remote music lesson or clock some hours as a session drummer on a project. 

The old ways will still be some of the best ways because live music is irreplaceable, but in celebration of the unlimited potential of music, we’ve rounded up our 15 favourite ways to earn money from music – the 2021 version. 

  • Playing live gigs

The biggest moneymaker and the hardest to come across right now, but brace yourself for when live gigs return, because the reckoning of live music is predicted to have our economy back on track in less than a year when it’s back in full swing. We just… don’t know when that is yet… UGH. 

Playing gigs are essential, the roster is extensive and the crowd capacities have stadium potential. Playing live gigs is your bread and butter, the more you play the better you get, and the performance high is like no other – except for seeing live music. Even with all the methods listed below for making money, playing live gigs will always be the backbone of live entertainment, and the number one way for musicians to make money and gain authentic exposure through music. 

  • Exclusive tix and Fan packages

If you’re good at winning friends, include fan-stage passes, signed merch, or ‘meet the band’ additions to gig tickets.  If you’ve got a great social media presence, then you’ve probably got heaps of fans who would be eager to have the exclusive opportunity to join you for a soundcheck, or the opportunity to spend a real-life moment chatting about music. Especially after the two years, we’ve spent apart.

  • Pre-orders 

Never underestimate the power of the pre-order, which isn’t just useful for predicting the success of your new release. Pre-orders will set you up for a successful first day of sales, give you another marketing opportunity, and encourage purchases of full albums if you include instant gratification tracks or teasers for early releases. Pre-orders will also push your tracks chart entries on major streaming sites, additionally, this can be helped by including a pre-order discount price. 

  • Band merch and collabs

Every musicians’ great companion, and it’s never going out of style. Whether you’re well established, or starting, many an album or tour was funded by the proceeds collected from selling merch. There are heaps of opportunities to get creative with your merch offerings, so you can start with small items like band stickers and work your way up as interest(and funding) peaks. Collaborate with your favourite street artists or local designers for a great marketing opportunity and a new fanbase. 

I’m still thinking about the Rolling Stone Magazine X Young Henry’s Collaboration, but imagine the breweries, skate crews, and local tattoo artists who are killing it in your area, and the sky’s the limit for finding new friends to create with. 

  • Freelancing  

Yuhh dude, freelancing isn’t just for content writers and web designers, and it might just become your new favourite remote pastime. Since you’ve already got the gear, and the skills, hit up Fiverr, Upwork, or music freelance services like AirGigs, Soundbetter, and Melody Nest.  There are people out there who are seeking out creatives to bring their projects to life but don’t need the price tag of an agency. Try your hand at jingle-writing, studio recording, supplying original music for company videos, mixing, or writing lyrics. 

The best thing is – you can take on as much work as you want, and create side-by-side with your other projects. 

  • Social video monetisation 

Tick that little box on your distributor site of choice and you’ll be opening the door to the future of music distribution.  Welcome to the new world of reel-time money-making. It’ll happen every time your music is added to an Instagram or Facebook story or a Tiktok or Triller video. Even if it’s just a background song within a clip, the site will allow you to earn a small percentage per play.

 Take it further if you’re bold enough and drive the action by creating a few challenges of your own. By showing fans how to use your music as the backing track to their lives, they will be more likely to use it when next creating their videos. This is how we get to #viralstatus 

  • Session work

When you think of famous session drummers you might think of Travis Barker, who has taken session drumming to a whole other level of celeb lately. But on a smaller scale, you could be the one who pulls together a whole project by renting out your music skills on a short-term basis, especially if you offer a unique skillset or vocal style. Fairly simple. 

  • Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is something you might have already considered for getting fan support during COVID, but there’s no need to be shy about using it for future projects. Only around 11% of artists use crowdfunding whereas sites like Kickstarter show an 80% rate for projects successfully funded. 

If you’re an indie artist in Australia, crowdfunding should be essential for you, and it isn’t reserved for successful artists with a large social media presence. If your project resonates well enough, there are do-gooders, record labels, and established musicians out there that will be surfing sites like IndieGoGo for an opportunity to support a local cause. If you’re talented and market yourself well enough, there’s potential to get your whole local community behind you.  

  • Fan-funding a.k.a Patreon 

Think crowdfunding but more intimate. The idea is born from the Rennaisannce Era ‘Patron of the Arts’ concept where someone covers Michelangelo’s bed and board so he could just focus on creating that genius art. 

The best thing about it is, as long as you keep creating, fans can keep supporting. They can contribute monthly or per creation, and in return, you give them rewards such as raw new music footage, first-looks, personal fan videos, etc… It’s genius, and a great way for fans to feel immersed in the creative process with you. We know they’re already famous, but take a note from KIMBRA and Amanda Palmer who swear by it(check out her Patreon for a great explanation on it), and don’t hesitate to participate just because you’re a newer artist. 

  • Government Grants

While you may be aware of COVID relief grants such as the Support Act, Crisis Relief Grant, you might be surprised to learn that there is a multitude of Australia-wide Grants available to musicians of all skill levels. These grants help with touring costs, recording, marketing, and even mentoring and professional development. Head to the Australian Council for the Arts website to find opportunities for funding between $10k to $50k, and see if you or your band is eligible for help with your projects.

  • Sync Licensing

This one is a no-brainer, and you may have already opted in for sync opportunities on your music distributor site. By putting your music up for sync opportunities such as movie soundtracks, commercials, or video games, you’ll be open to receiving sync royalties. Since streaming sites like Amazon Prime and Apple TV are forever expanding with the addition of new shows on the daily, there is always a need for fresh new music, and just think of the exposure you’ll get to a heap of different audiences! You could be one Shazam away from your big break!

  • Toplining

A Songwriter is just a Topliner who doesn’t know it yet! Does that make sense? The most prominent example would be EDM and electronic music samples, where your job is to create the melody and lyrics that go on top of the beat. Not only is this a fun way to be creative within the realm of music, but you probably already know many electronic producers that you can start collaborating with! On top of your established collection of songs, toplining is a great way to get yourself out there on multiple different projects as a songwriter, and you might even get asked to cover the vocals too! 

  • Music lessons 

Online lessons went off during COVID, as Fender Play led the new breed of pandemic rockstars with three-month free lessons, and Youtube tutorials became a whole new market. Take an ad out in the local paper, put up some fliers on the school notice boards, take to your socials and let your fans and friends know that you’re open for business. Or go all the way with Airtasker, skillshare, or websites for virtual lessons like Wyzant. You don’t have to be a pro to teach, you only have to know a little more than the other guy. 

  • Income from streams

Live streams, digital streams, youtube streams, and playlist streams – just streams on streams. You will inevitably have to join the good fight on Apple Music and Spotify, as all roads lead back to your monthly listener count.  

 So, delve a little deeper, link all your socials, and enjoy the power of discoverability that these sites have to unearth new music to listeners located all around the world. Use Spotify analytics tools to help gain invaluable insight into audience preferences for your music, and directly get your music into their ears without jumping through flaming hoops while lip-syncing for TikTok views(that’s a different strategy).  

  • Royalties on royalties on royalties

Last but not least, remember to properly register your work and educate yourself on copyrights for music so you can collect Performance, Mechanical, and Synchronisation royalties from APRA/AMCOS. You will gain different royalties every time you or someone else plays your music publicly, every time someone reproduces your work for sale or uses it in a new body of work. 

Make sure your work is easy to track by using ISRC tags, log performance reports, and make sure that you understand how to issue a license if you come across someone using your work, who may not have compensated you yet. It’s a tricky process, but you’d be surprised at how many artists miss out on their owed royalties, because it can seem understandably daunting. If you need any more help, check out the APRA/AMCOS website.

And there you have it. 

The world is your oyster, or in this case, all of the oysters, so get busy and let us know what new income streams have been working for you this year. If you’re waiting in anticipation for live gigs, just like us, set up your Muso profile, so you’re ready to gain access to hirers, and get back at it ASAP.