The music industry is made up of many different components like streaming, merchandise, sync placements, and publishing, to name a few. One of the biggest and oldest parts of the music industry is live performance. Touring is a vital part of the music industry, and for many performers, it’s their main source of income. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (a consultancy firm), touring has become an increasingly bigger part of the music industry, with some estimates saying that it could be a 28+ billion dollar industry by 2022. Live performance has become a common way to make a living as a musician, but sometimes that’s not a possibility.
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in 2020, for example, many artists must face the possibility that they may not be able to tour or perform in a public place for an extended period of time. For others, financial or family responsibilities limit them from going on tour. While it’s not nearly the same as being on a professional tour, some musicians have found new avenues to earn income and keep their fans engaged.
If you’re a musician that is seeking to expand their online presence or interested in learning about possible ways to subsidize your lost income, check out these resources.
Social media has been an essential tool in helping artists break out. Whether it’s sharing videos, performing live online, or simply promoting your new release or current project - it’s important to broadcast your updates to your fans. If you have extra time on your hands, it’s worth making accounts and ensuring that your music is available on these services (check with your distributor and publisher).
Some record labels, bands/artists, and concert venues have begun doing Instagram Live shows. The record label Exploding in Sound has thrown several showcases, featuring their artists from all over the world. Dinosaur Jr. bassist and Sebadoh frontman, Lou Barlow, have been regularly streaming at different hours of the day so international fans can watch at their regular hours. That’s just to name a few! People will often add donation links - either for their own band fund, or a charitable organization - in the comments of their live videos. Instagram Live also allows other users to “join your live stream,” meaning you can invite people, like other musicians to go live with you, allowing you to collaborate and to promote the live appearance to both your fans and your collaborator’s.
TikTok has become a big platform for musicians in the past few years, with opinions on both sides. The platform allows users to create and share videos, which they can choose to sync with music. Having your music on TikTok allows people to use your work creatively, while giving you more exposure and earning royalties for each use. Artists can also create their own profiles and connect directly with their fans on TikTok. Before you decide to sync your music, make sure you understand how (and how much) they pay out to songwriters.
Many musicians have begun doing live performance broadcasts - whether it be on YouTube, Twitch, Patreon, or sometimes through the video chat software Zoom. Depending on which streaming service you’re going with, you can charge for tickets, have people donate what they can through the streaming service, or have it based on a subscription model. Journalist Cherie Hu has created an extremely thorough 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 live, in-person performance and virtual streams.
Live streaming does have its caveats; you’ll need a stable internet connection, a reliable computer or phone, and most likely some sort of microphone or audio interface to play through (however you could get away with using your built in computer/phone mic). If you’re interested in virtual performance, here are some of the more popular options:
Zoom has become one of the most popular video chatting services. It has a basic version that’s free, and different paid tiers. The biggest difference between paid and free is that you’re only able to do a 40 minute group call with the free version. If you pay for the service, you can do group calls that are 24hrs+. With their service, you can play with other musicians and control who can talk and who can listen - allowing musicians to send links to fans for 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.
Twitch is an interactive streaming tool. You create a “channel” and your channel followers get notifications when you go live. If you get enough followers, you 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 (they’re called ‘Bits’). The band Nap Eyes recently streamed a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with the members and made exclusive merchandise.
A major advantage with YouTube is that everyone is familiar with it, and YouTube also allows people to subscribe to your channel for notifications and updates. Youtube is rolling out a paid membership service, where people can ‘join’ your channel for a monthly subscription in exchange for exclusive content. In order to get ‘members’ your channel needs to be eligible. For example, to live stream from mobile, you must have at least Youtube live streaming is that you’ll need at least 1,000 subscribers.. Like many of these other streaming services, Youtube live streams also allow viewers and fans to ‘tip’ the performer during the stream.
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 they can pay monthly and subscribe to her channel for added content and bonus features. Live streaming has become such an important revenue stream for her, it comprises about 90% of her income.
You can create your own community, or fan base, with a service like Discord, servers organized into topic-based channels where you can collaborate, share, and just talk about your day without clogging up a group chat. It essentially functions as a video/text/voice chat, similar to Slack. A bonus to using Discord is that it allows you to easily stream your screen or use a webcam to stream yourself. It’s completely free to use, but it allows you to upgrade to Nitro for improved live streaming and video quality.
Patreon is a service that allows fans to “subscribe” to your work at different levels, for varying monthly payments in exchange for access to merch, performances, or other exclusive content. If you’re a musician, you can give exclusive live streams to Patreon subscribers using Youtube Live or a service called Crowdcast. Downtown Music Publishing client RAC, uses Patreon - he has three different tiers and gives subscribers exclusive sales, access to B sides, and signed merch.
Some groups have also decided to get creative with streaming and have been using video games to incorporate with their online performances. Open world games like Minecraft have become popular for holding ‘Virtual festivals’, because they’re easily customizable and let users host their own worlds - basically allowing them to hand out private invitations.
Selling and Making Music
Bandcamp and Spotify have taken different approaches towards 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, Bandcamp has been taking part in removing this profit-sharing model once a month, giving 100% of sales to the artists on their website.
Spotify has recently added a fundraising feature for artist pages as well. This new feature lets artists add their personal Paypal, Cash App, or GoFundMe links to their pages. They can also opt-in to fundraise 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 artists to upload and use 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.
A Community owned (Co-op) streaming service that seeks to pay out musicians more for their work than the big streaming services. Artists can upload their music and fans basically stream music your music, paying incrementally more each time a listener streams the song. Once you’ve played a song nine times, you own the song - you’ve paid the artist for the digital download.
Internet and terrestrial radio are always around, but now is a better time than any to support independent stations. A lot of these stations have tight knit and dedicated communities, and many DJs are still doing remote interviews and performances. While this might not provide direct monetary value, it can help increase exposure to a whole new audience. If you want to become the radio DJ, check out Stationhead.
Stationhead lets anyone make their own radio channel. If you’re an artist looking to promote your music, you can set up your own station and stream to your fans. These shows can even be recorded so listeners can listen to old episodes. The platform pays out per stream based on listenership - so if you’re broadcasting with 50 fans and you play your song to them - that’s 50 streams.
Help in Other Ways
Live touring can never be fully replaced, and a lot of people are hurting because of it. The COVID-19 outbreak has shown how easily entire industries and livelihoods can be taken away at a moment's notice. All performers must have 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) has been a growing force - providing 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 US or Canada to join. The AFM publishes lists of work for their members to audition for monthly and has various emergency funds that good standing members can apply for.
While tours and festivals have been canceled or postponed, there are a lot of other ways to supplement your income as a songwriter and performing artist. Remember to collaborate, reach out to your community, and get creative with how you market yourself. Streaming is still very prevalent, so even just boosting your own marketing and promotion to increase streams can make a difference.
As well, although we shared several ways to supplement your touring and live performances during unprecedented times, one area we didn’t touch on is how these earn publishing royalties. Check out this article to learn more about the royalties you can earn on these platforms or reach out to our team at email@example.com or check out our help center.
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We created this guide to answer a simple question: How do songwriters support themselves?
The answer is not as simple as we’d like, but our goal is to make it as clear, transparent and understandable as we possibly can.
Songtrust is more than just a rights management platform and publishing administrator - we’re a team of experts in the music community who strive to educate, support, and provide thought leadership to creators, representatives, and businesses across the music industry.
Our hope is that you’ll finish this guide with an better understanding of the business behind songwriting and have actionable resources to help you be successful.