How to Make Money With Music: The 4 Keys to Success

Signer in silhouette in front of a big crowd

One of the biggest misconceptions about the music industry is what success actually looks like. 

The part of the music industry that fans see appears to be a slew of successful recording artists thriving and making money off of their own original compositions. While this is the case for a small percentage of artists, that kind of success only represents about 1% of the industry. 

Those of us working in the field know that there are about a hundred ways to make money as a musician that don’t require dealing with predatory labels looking to sign you on to bad deals. The reality is that music distributors and music video distributors make publishing work independently a lot easier; this means that artists who can market themselves and use the success they have to their advantage can retain ownership of their work and do more with it than a label could. In this article, we’ll cover some of those alternative routes to supporting yourself through music. 

1. To Take a Gig or Not? 

Many musicians may have a primary band or creative project while taking recording or performance gigs on the side. Picking up gigs is great but can be tricky to navigate. For musicians who are unsure whether a gig is worthwhile or not, consider these three criteria for taking gigs. If the job meets at least two of the three, it is generally considered to be worthwhile:

  • Ask yourself if the gig pays well
  • Consider how much you like the music
  • Ask yourself if the gig is with musicians you enjoy spending time with 

If the gig only meets one of these criteria, it won’t be a sustainable path for you in the future. If you find that a gig doesn’t pay a ton of money but the music is a lot of fun and you like the band members, then take the gig and stick with it. However, if it pays well but the music isn’t so much fun and the musicians are toxic to be around, then pass that up and move on to the next. 

2. Record Labels 

Record labels are a fickle force to reckon with. Don’t get us wrong; it’s completely possible to land a deal with an independent label committed to providing both representation and artistic integrity to their deals. However, keep in mind that record labels are notorious for swinging contracts in their favor. Remember to always read the fine print in your contract before signing. 

That being said, labels and collectives can be a great way to give your project a bit more legitimacy while widening your network and relationships with other bands, artists, and creatives that you can collaborate with in the future. Labels are essentially all of your distribution companies rolled into one. Music video distributors, music distributors, and publishers are all roles that labels take on for artists. 

3. Direct Fan Relationships 

Truly the best tool that independent artists have is their fans. Developing ways to stay directly connected with them is a major key factor for artists wanting to make money from their original music. Some easy ways to do this are to set up social media accounts and post on them regularly. It’s important not to build your entire fan engagement structure off one platform but to hit it from multiple angles. 

Instagram and TikTok are primary platforms for artists to take advantage of, but another way to keep fans in the loop with your activities are email lists. These lists are a great way to build contacts and directly tell fans about merch, shows, and new releases. Having music and music video distributors to post your music doesn’t do much good if the fans don’t hear it! 

4. Licensing Libraries

A sometimes overlooked pathway to make money as a songwriter are licensing libraries. These are essentially libraries of music in different styles that industry producers can buy, or license, to use in a movie, commercial, or some other form of media. For aspiring songwriters, this can be an excellent way to get experience, get your name out there, and make some money if your song gets picked up by a major film or artist. 


This is just a small list of potential avenues to make money and ensure that you’re putting your work where it needs to go. There are many more options, such as teaching, that can provide a stable income for musicians. For artists trying to promote their own music, the most important things to have are music and music video distributors so you can start getting your work out to the fans.