The music industry is made up of many different components — including streaming outlets, merchandise, sync placements, and publishing — but one of its biggest, oldest, and most vital moving parts is live performances.
According to a recent Goldman Sachs report, COVID-19 didn’t wreck so much as rewire the entire industry. “In the longer term,” the investment group wrote, “we expect the current crisis will accelerate the shift from offline to online music and the race to owning the artist-fan relationship, while increasing the relevance of social media for music discovery and promotion.”
Goldman Sachs also forecasted a compound annual growth rate of 6% between 2019 and 2030, resulting in $142 billion of revenue across the industry — nearly twice what it’d been a decade before. In other words, there are more ways to make a living and expand your audience now than ever.
Here are some tools for tapping into our new reality:
Whether it’s sharing videos, performing live online, or simply promoting your latest album, it’s important to broadcast updates to your fans on a regular basis. If you have extra time on your hands, it’s worth creating multiple accounts and ensuring that your music is available on each service. (Check with your distributor and publisher.)
The “quarantine concert” boom led many labels, artists, and venues to launch their own Instagram Live shows, from Exploding In Sound Records to Sebadoh frontman Lou Barlow. Just because we’re back to seeing live shows in person doesn’t mean the platform’s real-time feature lost its purpose. Aside from offering a popular way to play impromptu material, share behind-the-scenes footage, or speak directly to fans, Instagram Live lets other users join your live stream so you can collaborate in real-time and promote your appearances across multiple channels.
TikTok has become a breakout platform over the past few years for anyone looking to create video clips — many of which are widely shared and synced with music. Having your tracks available on TikTok allows people to use your work creatively — even really old material begging to be revived — while earning you exposure and royalties with each use. Artists can also create their own profiles and connect directly with fans.
Many musicians have embraced live streams, whether they’re on YouTube, Twitch, Patreon, or Zoom. Depending on which streaming service you use, you can charge for tickets, have people donate whatever they like, or host each show on a subscription model. Journalist Cherie Hu created a detailed Google Doc that provides resources and useful information about different ways to “perform virtually,” as well as notes about live streaming and the differences between in-person events and virtual streams.
Livestreaming does have its challenges; you’ll need a stable internet connection, a reliable computer or phone, and a microphone or audio interface to play through. Here are some of the more popular options if you’re interested in virtual performances:
Twitch is an interactive streaming tool. You create a “channel” and followers receive notifications when you go live. Popular channels can become an affiliate, which allows you to charge subscribers for exclusive content. There’s also a donation function which allows users to tip you with Twitch currency (aka “Bits”). The band Nap Eyes even streamed a Dungeons & Dragons campaign with its members and made exclusive merchandise.
A major advantage with YouTube is that everyone is familiar with it and can subscribe to your channel for notifications and updates. YouTube is currently rolling out a paid membership service as well, where people can “join” your channel for a monthly subscription fee in exchange for exclusive content. In order to get “members,” your channel needs to meet such eligibility requirements as having at least 1,000 subscribers and being a part of the YouTube Partner Program.
Like many other streaming services, YouTube live streams also let viewers and fans “tip” the performer during the stream. It can also be a reliable way of raising money for the charity of your choosing, as Ben Gibbard proved throughout the pandemic.
“We’re in this period where we have this enormous capacity for altruism,” the Death Cab For Cutie frontman told Rolling Stone. “I think a lot of people right now are looking for a way to help. They just don’t necessarily know where to start or what to do.”
Emma McGann, a current Songtrust client, uses YouNow as a streaming tool. From there, she’s able to stream herself playing video games, playing music, or talking to fans. Viewers can then choose to “tip” her stream or pay a monthly fee for bonus content and features. Live streaming has become such an important revenue stream for her, it comprises about 90% of her income.
Zoom quickly become one of the world’s most popular video chatting services, and for a while an option for artists. It has a basic version that’s free and several paid tiers. The biggest difference between them is that you’re only able to do a 40-minute group call with the free version. If you pay for Zoom, you can host group calls that are as long as you like. With its service, you can play with other musicians and control who can talk and who can listen during your live performances or interviews. Zoom also offers the ability to record and download your calls, so you can upload them to your socials and YouTube. While this might not be your top choice, it is available for those it makes sense to use.
Some groups have gotten especially creative with weaving video games into their online performances. Open world titles like Minecraft are now known for holding “virtual festivals” because they’re easily customizable, and let users host their own worlds and hand out private invitations. Check out an interview with Open Pit, a leading organizer of virtual festivals, over at Pitchfork. The Verge also took a closer look at successful Fortnite shows featuring Travis Scott and Marshmello, which they called “surreal and spectacular” and “a bizarre and exciting glimpse of the future.”
Selling and Making Music
Bandcamp and Spotify have taken different approaches to helping out musicians and artists. Bandcamp traditionally operates with a profit-sharing model — taking a percentage of physical and digital sales from each purchase. Recently, as a way to help artists affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Bandcamp has been holding one “Bandcamp Friday” a month, where they waive their commission and give 100% of sales to artists.
Spotify has recently added a fundraising feature for artist pages as well. This new feature lets artists add personal Paypal, Cash App, or GoFundMe links to their pages. They can also opt into fundraisers for certain organizations that Spotify has selected, such as MusiCares. Here are some additional resources for selling and making your music without leaving the house:
Splice is a platform for uploading and using samples from other artists. As a musician, you can subscribe to the service and get access to millions of samples and loops. You can also become a creator for the website, uploading your own samples for others to use.
Resonate is a community-owned streaming service that plans on paying musicians more for their work than the big streaming services. Artists can upload their music and fans pay a small fee each time they stream a song. You own it once you’ve played it nine times because you’ve essentially paid the artist for a digital download.
Help in Other Ways
The pandemic didn’t just prove how easily an entire industry can be upended overnight. It also showed that performers need some form of social safety net moving forward. The best way to do that is through collective action and working together.
The Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) is one growing force that provides many resources to musicians, including petitions to sign and ways to receive grants from the government.
The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) is a more established union for musicians. They allow anyone in the U.S. or Canada to join. The AFM publishes lists of work for its members to audition for monthly and has various emergency funds that members in good standing can apply for.
Fostering and expanding your fanbase is as easy as it’s ever been, too. Discord helps musicians create their own communities through topic-based channels where users collaborate, share, and discuss their day much like they would on Slack. Patreon lets fans “subscribe” to your work at different monthly payment levels in exchange for access to merch, performances, B-sides, and other exclusive content.
And then there’s Stationhead, a surefire way to set up an online radio station and stream music directly to your fans. Shows can even be recorded, so listeners can listen to old episodes, a la Mixcloud, and maybe even contribute to your creative endeavors through a donation-style “gifting” system.
There are a lot of other ways to supplement your savings as a songwriter/performing artist besides live shows and festivals. Remember to collaborate and get creative with how you market yourself inside and out of your own community. Streaming is as omnipresent as it’s ever been, so just boosting your own marketing and promotions to increase streams can make a difference.