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Can You Make a Living From Music?

  • 27 February 2014, Thursday
An artist on stage singing into a microphone

The problem:

Amid the groans that accompanied’s post about royalty cheques that’ll make you lose faith in the music industry last week, we also heard some hopeful rumours that the new streaming service Beats Music might pay out better royalty rates to artists than its competitors. However, debates over royalty payments and the survival of the modern musician are far from over. Many famous artists and industry figures ranging from Thom Yorke to Richard Branson are calling out for changes in the music industry, and the fair treatment of artists.

Where, you may ask, does a normal, hardworking musician fit into the equation? Are you doomed to be an impoverished artist or hobbyist forever if you’re not the next Rihanna or EDM superstar? Or, are there musicians like you out there who aren’t just relying on streaming royalties, and managing to make a decent living out of music?

artist royalty check

Positive Examples:

We found a post on Digital Music News, which gives a helpful and optimistic insight into 10 musicians who are making good money as full time musicians. These musicians are the author’s own friends and colleagues, and they are all making a living by doing what they love most – music. Let’s take a closer look. Rebecca de la Torre is one of the musicians mentioned. She broke down her income sources into percentages, to show exactly where her profits come from:

 38%: public gigs (resorts, casinos, music venues, etc)30%: weddings & private events/parties18%: church services, funerals, choir rehearsals7%: CD sales (I don’t have any merchandise *yet*)4%: Arrangements and commissioned compositions2%: recording others’ music in my studio (studio engineering)1%: teaching & other (iTunes, Spotify, etc)

However, this is not a ‘one size fits all’ sort of industry – there are other musicians whose statistics look completely different, such as Nicholas Jacobson-Larson, who states:

“My main income sources are creative fees from film scores and concert commissions. Next is orchestrating, score preparation, and conducting, followed by royalties and secondary markets payments from the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund.”

Another good example is Ron Pope, who turns Rebecca de la Torre’s example upside down, listing his top 5 sources of income as follows:

1.iTunes 2. Spotify 3. Sound Exchange royalties 4. Show income (when I’m touring) 5. and syncs.


One thing all of these artists have in common is that they’re not working with labels - this is about the DIY/independent method. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t work with a label if you want to. We’re just trying to show you how many different approaches there are towards being a modern musician. As you might remember from our posts on Sync Licences and YouTube Monetisation, music is needed and loved in all media formats across the world - and you can be the one to provide it! The musicians featured above are making between $20,000 to over $100,000 a year with income from iTunes, Spotify, live shows, syncs, publishing deals, crowdfunding projects, etc!

So, it’s time to get to work! Why not do as much research as possible about the industry, and try out innovative ways of monetising your music. Who knows, you could end up making more money and enjoying the process more than you ever thought was possible! We understand that there’s always room for improvement and development, and there are certainly aspects of the streaming industry that do not yet seem to have been designed to help out musicians! However, active solutions and a positive outlook are usually the best way forward. Let us know if you have any good examples of other independent musicians who are succeeding, or share your own success stories with us! 

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