Author Topic: Monetizing Music-- Is It Possible?  (Read 1446 times)

dccondounderh20

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Monetizing Music-- Is It Possible?
« on: August 07, 2018, 09:37:54 AM »
Music gets talked about on this blog, and there have been several very thoughtful posts & repsonses.  Summary, which I agree with, is the best (possibly only) ways to make money through live music (without winning the lottery via viral videos or being "discovered") are to play in a popular cover band to large audiences, or by monetizing your music through royalites.  Wondering if there's any other way to do it.

Goal:
Try to maximize money obtained from the following side hustle: Musician in a 5 piece band, playing c. 10 years.  We play covers, but play them in an original way, along with several actual originals. Goal is for each member to gross $500 - $600 per month from this venuture (about 2x what we get now).

Financial Situation:
Income: $15K - $20K per year gross ($3K - $5K per person).  CDs/Merch/online sales are about $500 a year.  Expenses are alot-- eqquipment + travel to shows/rehearsals.  Some years expenses have exceeded income.  When we make money, it's not very much per person.

Emotional Aspect:
Music is awesome.  Playing with a group of people whose company you enjoy (not easy to find/do) like is awesomer.  Playing with a good group to an audience who clearly likes what you are doing is the awesomest.  Even if we don't make much from this, it's a way to enjoy the activity we do and essentially get reimbursed for the (regrettably, sometimes significant) costs.

Challenges:
Venue Selection: To this point, we've approached our shows in a somewhat mustachian way.  We go for guarnateed pay outs of minimum $500 per show compared to the places that force you to "bring an audience" or don't get paid.  Very tough for us to justify that aspect of it since we don't know if we'll get money AND the business model for these places is terrible.  Imagine if you had a business where your main source of income required making your hired help perform their service for free AND bring along THEIR friends/family/fans/supporters to your establishment to enjoy your hired help's labor (not your own) and you make the hired helps friends/family/etc.pay you for it ... and you give your hired help a portion of that.  Yes, it is that backwards, and these places usually shut down.  If you don't believe me, I included some exerpts from one such venue at the end of this post.  The only problem with NOT playing these places is that people who pay to see live music usually go to these places and bands we compare ourselves with usually play at these places (granted, we are not privy to their financial situation).  At our usual spots, the audience does not need to pay to hear us.  Thus, they essentially get used to not paying to see us which could be a problem if we want to make more money.  We've also stretched the budget of the places we usually play.

Building An Audience:
This is something we've struggled with, as our "metrics" (to the extent they are reliable) are behind other groups we compare ourselves with.  We engage regularly with the fan base we have, but we aren't confident that if we played a show, we'd have a good number of fans show up.  We struggle to reach and identify new people who havent heard of us, but who we think would really like us and would pay money to see us.  It's like we are in sales, looking for new markets-- we've already sold what we can to our core customers.  We wonder if this could be the result of playing too many shows that are free to the public.  Anectdotally, we feel our audience is bigger than what our metrics say (metrics = Facebook followers, email subscribers, etc.)

Online Sales
If you believe the narrative that the online streaming services are out to screw the ordinary musician ... you're right.  Check out these numbers for a three year time span:
Song Downloads: 711 downloads = $498.28
Song Streams: 4,917 = $21.98
As you can see, streaming is not really worth it, but there's no way to know that without streaming, our download numbers would be worse, etc., still, to know it's been listened to almost 5,000 times and made only $22-- ouch.  Also, these numbers exceed what we assess our fan base to be, so if it's "exposing" us to new fans, we don't know it. 

Ideas We've Considered:

Virtual Rehearsals: This would be so great if there were technology out there where you could essentially "Skype" together and rehearse in real time; however, the "delay" associated with all of these makes a virtual rehearsl impossible-- if you saw the movie "The Rocker," that technology does not exist in any reputable format.  That would at least save us from driving our cars far distances just to practice together.

New Audience Foucs: We would love to do this, but don't know how to reach people outside of our existing fan base.  We are considering playing ticketed shows for this purpose ... we think we've focused on the venues themselves as our clients (since they pay us for services) vs. the fans themselves who, without which, we wouldnt really exist.

Royalties: We have explored this and have had some interest along the way; however, it's somewhat risky in that submitting to royalty consideration (talking about films, commercials, etc.) requires you to give up some of your ownerships rights.  Since we only have a precious few recordings, we haven't been willing to do that to this point.  We do get royalties from being on Pandora, YouTube, etc., but the money received from that is even lower than the money we get from streams.  Also, recoring an album?  Wow is it expensive.  You'd think all the available technology would cut down on those costs, but it really hasn't.  The time to rent a place, amount to pay a studio engineer to record, mix and master a recording for decent quality costs big time money.  I accept that this is the way music is today, but I'm sort of wondering how the motion picture industry hasn't suffered a similar reckoning that the music industry has.  Presumably, the available tech should be able to wreck that as well?  I digress ...

Play Weddings: We are not opposed to playing weddings, but for those who hire live bands vs. djs (dont get me started on djs ...), they tend to favor those who are more traditional vs. a more niche sounding group.  We tell people we are open to it, but the only inquirires we've had want to pay us really, really low (dj) type rates.  We have half-joked at times that we should advertise ourselves as DJs since we have the equipment and we have iPhones.

Go Out On Our Own/Teach: This makes financial sense, but I should say that personally I was considering giving up music prior to joining this band because I was exerting all this effort in groups and people whose company I didn't particularly enjoy.  In short, it would seem way to much like "work."

Going Forward:
Would love ideas/advice from the board.  We have a hunch that there's something out there we're missing.  We know that people don't pay as much for music like they used to-- due to technology, etc.   We like what we do, but we sure do put a lot of effort into this and are seeking ways to make what we do more efficient.   As promised, this is from a venue with a decent reputation:

As much as we would like to be in a financial position to just book bands based on their desire or self-confidence, or even just on their talent...honestly, we aren’t, and we can't. We would love nothing more than to live in a world where people just came down to The [Venue] every night purely to hear new music, without preconceived expectations. Sadly, not the case.  It used to be that way back in the day, but now The [Venue] is like a movie theater. People don't just walk in to see a movie they have never heard of, they go to movies that they already know about and want to see.  Quite simply, if you think this is pay to play (which it isn't) and you are against that, don't apply. If you can't sell 25 tickets, don't apply. Honestly, if you can't draw an audience of 25 people, you really shouldn't be on a high horse and making all these judgements about "the music industry" and "greedy club owners" etc, etc, etc.  THE ONLY WAY WE CAN AFFORD TO TAKE A RISK ON YOUR BAND, IS YOU SHARE THE RISK.  IF YOU AREN'T CONFIDENT ENOUGH THAT YOU CAN SELL 25 TIX, WHY SHOULD I BE?  This is honest advice from over a dozen years in the business. If you are a new band, with no known verifiable audience draw and no history of playing the market....be honest about it. Honestly figure out where you fit in this program and work WITH us to make the program work. If you come into any venue with a bad attitude or diva personality and you are only bringing in 20 people....that just won't fly. Save that stuff for when you are selling out the place. Every venue has its own system to build bands. This just happens to be ours. Whatever the venue, whatever the system...don't come in throwing shade. It is the quickest way to not get booked.


mozar

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Re: Monetizing Music-- Is It Possible?
« Reply #1 on: August 16, 2018, 08:42:25 PM »
Have you tried playing festivals?

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We play covers, but play them in an original way

Personally I wouldn't care that you played a cover in an original way. When I hear a cover I want it to be like the cover. You might have better luck if all your songs are original.
So for all of you this is your only job? If so that's a lot of pressure on yourselves.

For royalties you can sign up for any licensing website like pond5 and you will continue to own the songs.

Have you tried patreon?

For recording an album you can do it at home. I don't understand why you have to do it in a studio. Sure it won't be beautifully mixed but it's better to get it out there than sit around complaining about the cost. There are also ways to do it cheaply in the studio like have it rehearsed to the point it's perfect and do one take for every song and mix it yourself (if they allow that).

If the venues you are playing or so worried about whether you can sell 25 tickets, just buy the damn tickets and include it in your expenses.

If people are asking you to dj and you want to do it, then offer a separate dj service

There's being mustachian and there's being cheap, if you want to blow up you need to be reinvesting your profits into the business whether by playing for free, buying the tix yourself and making an album.

dccondounderh20

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Re: Monetizing Music-- Is It Possible?
« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2018, 12:02:37 PM »
Great suggestions, thanks!!!  A few notes ...

Festivals are our money makers.  When we get hired to play a big stage by a local government or business improvement district, those absolutely 100% pay the best.  We try to play as many of these as we can.

Re: covers-- this has been such a controversial topic for us.  Covers help us get festival gigs which pay well.  Hear what you mean re: your preference, but I can go off on this forever.  I'll just say listening to Aretha Franklin tributes-- she sure covered a lot of songs and her versions of them are incredible.  And no way am I comparing ourselves to her, just a contrary point; however, your point about being more original is well taken!  In fact, to your point, bands in our area who try to mimick the covers 100% are super successful at making money and having fans. 

It's not our only job-- it's a side hustle we're looking to maximize.  All of us have other jobs as a primary source of income.

I will look into pond5 and patreon, thanks!

Re: recording at home-- it is not impossible, and getting stuff out quickly is important.  The only big hiccup here is the time investment-- it is enormous.  No matter how perfect/flawless the sound/performance, the best performance still usually requires editing, sometimes significant.  Playing perfectly reduces that, yes, but certain things like acousics of the room, etc. have a huge impact.  It's not impossible, but the time to learn it and the time to do it is something that's very labor intensive.  Regardless, we will probably try that.

We would rather not dj (prefer to sell live music), but I see the point. 

Yes, we are cheap, but we question whether playing for free ("exposure") and ticketed gigs would be a worthwhile investment.  We've looked into a few other sources and it seems that provinding content should be our goal.

mozar

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Re: Monetizing Music-- Is It Possible?
« Reply #3 on: August 17, 2018, 08:06:21 PM »
Cool, I'm glad I was helpful.
Re: Covers there are a lot of different paths. If the singer in your band is incredible, people will pay you to sing covers in an original way, but even Aretha wrote the bridge to RESPECT so the bridge part was not a cover. She also got flack during her career for doing so many covers. The other thing is that you have an amazing voice people want to write songs for you. She also got flack because music critics thought that the songs that were written for her weren't that great either. Personally I never cared much for her covers but the musicians that I love who blow me away with their covers are Tuck and Patty. I think taking covers and putting them into a different genre is a great idea.

But unless you are blowing people away with your covers "in an original way" which it doesn't sound like because you are struggling to grow your audience, I think its time to try some new things.

Quote
Re: recording at home-- it is not impossible, and getting stuff out quickly is important.  The only big hiccup here is the time investment-- it is enormous.  No matter how perfect/flawless the sound/performance, the best performance still usually requires editing, sometimes significant.  Playing perfectly reduces that, yes, but certain things like acousics of the room, etc. have a huge impact.  It's not impossible, but the time to learn it and the time to do it is something that's very labor intensive.  Regardless, we will probably try that.

Well yeah. Of course it takes a lot of time. Do you want to do this or not? If you are serious you need to learn to mix yourself. I think you imagine there was some golden age where a musician just focused on playing/ singing. All the greats could play several instruments, mix, market themselves etc. Do you know who Debbie Gibson is? She had to actually cut up tiny pieces of tape and glue them in the right places to make her demos. And you're complaining about how to learn to click something. Michael Jackson spent almost every night  of his childhood when he wasn't performing, sitting in the Motown recording studios, asking questions.

Well, I obviously have a lot to say about this. Maybe I should write a book or something.

dccondounderh20

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Re: Monetizing Music-- Is It Possible?
« Reply #4 on: August 20, 2018, 12:06:26 PM »
I'll buy it, just let me know how you promote it.

intellectsucks

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Re: Monetizing Music-- Is It Possible?
« Reply #5 on: August 20, 2018, 03:04:46 PM »
In my opinion, music is one of the hardest businesses to make a profit in.  The market is SO overcrowded with top notch talent (not to mention mediocre and awful talent) that it’s difficult to break through the noise and into the really lucrative spaces.
That said here are some of my ideas based on what has and hasn’t worked during my 20 years playing in local bands.
1. MERCH MERCH MERCH MERCH MERCH!!!  Make sure you always have T-shirts, stickers, hats, etc for sale at varying price points.  You want some things that are super cheap to make (stickers, buttons, etc) that you can sell for a dollar or so, some things that are mid priced around five bucks (tchotkes, laminated posters, etc) and some that are higher priced (t-shirts, CDs, panties, etc).  ALL of your merch should be priced to turn a profit (even if it’s small).
2. Plan your own gigs, festivals, road trips, etc.  Rent out a hall, park, bar, or other venue.  Then book a bunch of bands.  You can then choose whether or not you want the bands to sell tickets.  You can either pay each band a set amount of each ticket sold/person marked at the door (make sure your doorperson keeps track of who’s there for who) or pay each band a set amount regardless of how many people they bring, then keep a cut for yourself.  Plan on doing one of these gigs every three to six months and put a lot of effort into making sure that these gigs have your absolute best turnout.  Play smaller gigs in between (I found our “sweet spot” to be 1-2/mo) to keep fan interest, grow your network of bands and promoters and to keep a minimal level of income between the “big shows”.  You can also book a show out of your area, rent a bus and sell bus trip tickets that include entrance to the venue.  If the bus allows you to drink alcohol, then get a keg or a couple of cases and price the tickets to include alcohol as well (our “party bus” trip out of the area was our most profitable gig).
3. Regarding your post about “metrics”.  Start thinking about interesting content and more out of the box ideas for how to engage your fans and potential fans.  Offer a free song download or a package of free (super cheaply made) merch to every fan that posts a picture wearing your merch.  Post short videos of really great moments in your rehearsals.  If someone at a show tells you that you did great, ask to take a picture with them and tag them in your social media.  Complement and tag the other bands that you played with on social media.
4. Regarding lessons, since it sounds like it will be a minimal part of your musical income, you will likely be able to be a little more discerning in who you work with.  Keep a couple of names of good teachers in your area, and if you find that certain students are too difficult to work with, let them know that your schedule won’t be able to accommodate lessons with them and refer them to other teachers.  This will allow you to focus on only those teaching situations that you really enjoy.  Since you really enjoy it, you’ll probably be doing your best teaching, so you’ll likely be able to charge more for your services too.  Win-win.
5. You shouldn’t ever consider a show to be FREE.  It’s pretty surprising to me that the majority of your shows do not have a cover charge, so shifting to playing gigs that charge a cover charge would be a big income boost.  If there are circumstances where you’re playing shows that don’t charge a cover (arts festivals, charity events, etc), then you should be evaluating those shows based on whether or not you are likely to be able to sell a lot of merch.
6. Regarding recording, you don't necessarily need to record a full album. You will likely be able to find a good studio that charges $100-200/hour. You should be able to do a complete recording of 2-3 songs in about 8-12 hours. That means worst case scenario you're looking at $1500-$2500 for a professional quality recording. Split between 4-5 band members (or better yet, funded by your most recent big gig), that brings the cost way down. That recording can then be sold in CD form at shows and downloadable online.
One final thought.  If you do all of this (and more stuff that I haven’t thought of), then it may start to feel like “work”.  When my music career was at its most active and successful, I was putting in about 20 hours a week (between rehearsal, promotion, booking, gigs, etc) and probably earning about $1000/mo.  About the equivalent of a part time job earning about $11/hr, both in terms of compensation and in terms of physical/mental effort.  If it doesn’t feel like “work”, then you’re probably not going to get paid for it.  If it feels like a really fun hobby, you’ll likely be paid accordingly.
« Last Edit: August 20, 2018, 03:28:00 PM by intellectsucks »

mozar

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Re: Monetizing Music-- Is It Possible?
« Reply #6 on: August 20, 2018, 07:56:33 PM »
Aww thanks. maybe it will be called "who makes it" but I'll have to figure out who makes it. In the meantime this is supposed to be the best book on how to record. You should read whether you pay a professional or not. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1480387436/ref=ox_sc_act_title_4?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

Also do you know about cd baby? Their blog is a great resource for monetizing music.
« Last Edit: August 20, 2018, 07:58:40 PM by mozar »

Norrie

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Re: Monetizing Music-- Is It Possible?
« Reply #7 on: August 21, 2018, 09:26:24 AM »
In my experience, it is possible, but requires an insane level of dedication.

The way that I’ve seen musical success happen is:

1. Live incredibly cheaply and have it be your primary focus (in the case that I’m thinking of, the band rented a two room space. They practiced several hours a day in one room, and built bunks and lived in the other room). Each guy lived on $5 a day.

2. Expect to play a lot of small shows, opening for bands, not getting paid, donating time, etc. Form relationships with other people in your musical genre. Trade favors, share equipment, be an invested member of that world.

3. Someone in the band learns how to record, mix, and master records (two someones in the example that I’m thinking of). But stupidly cheap equipment at first and eventually work your way up as finances allow. DO NOT STEP FOOT IN A STUDIO UNLESS THE SONGS ARE 100% COMPLETE AND PRACTICED WITHIN AN INCH OF THEIR LIVES. It does take some time to get sounds when in the studio, but once you start recording, it should be done in very few takes.
Eventually the person who is learning studio work will be proficient enough to take over. Build a recording studio in their spare bedroom/garage/basement/whatever.

4. Work relentlessly at all of this for several years. You can either make good money off of being a cover band, or start from scratch playing originals, but I haven’t seen bands go very far by mixing the two.

The band I’m thinking of went from absolutely nothing to running a professional studio that is always booked. They travel the world and play sold out shows, with each guy making six figures a year. But they have been doing this for 40 years as of this year (no exaggeration) and have put everything into it. They still practice several hours a day, without excuse.
We are currently building a small recording studio in our garage so that DH can practice, record demos, and write music for movies/TV (his side gig when they’re touring schedule eases up). He also mixes and masters for other bands and will do so in this space.

Good luck! It’s not an easy path, but it’s an awesome one.

GuitarStv

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Re: Monetizing Music-- Is It Possible?
« Reply #8 on: August 21, 2018, 09:35:43 AM »
You won't make money selling your music if your music is just covers.  People tend to like the originals better most of the time, but are a little more open minded when you're writing and doing something new.

Cover bands can make a little money gigging, but you have to constantly hustle to find new venues to play at . . . it can be also be a headache getting enough commitment from all the band members (life happens).

Neither path is an easy way to make much money, but if you build up a following of people who like you  it's usually possible to get enough to cover new gear that you buy.  :P

intellectsucks

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Re: Monetizing Music-- Is It Possible?
« Reply #9 on: August 21, 2018, 12:36:47 PM »
I disagree about the mixing of covers and originals.  There are countless examples of bands that started their careers mixing covers and originals: Led Zeppelin’s first tour was their (sort of) original set padded with a couple of hours(!!!) of covers and extended jam sessions.  In Metallica’s early years, their shows would be as much as half covers.  Twisted Sister played mostly covers almost all the way up until they released their first album.  Nirvana, Heart, Great White, the White Stripes, all started with a mix of covers and originals.  The covers in a live set (if done well), will keep people hooked and coming back.  This lets them get to know your originals and become true fans.  When recording however, I would limit the number of covers you put on your releases.  People who want to hear those songs will likely turn to the original recordings for almost all of them; not to mention the potential legal hassles you could run into if you don’t get permission to use the songs you’re covering.

CogentCap

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Re: Monetizing Music-- Is It Possible?
« Reply #10 on: September 14, 2018, 04:38:08 PM »
Imo, your band is too big.

You are correct that it's hard to get good-paying gigs to pay a group of 5. However, that same amount of money will go much farther with only 1 (depending on instrument) or even with 3. Can your group do smaller stuff independently, or are you guys ride or die?

Also, if you need some quick cash, go the retirement home route. Here in Cheapo Midwest land, they'll still pay $50-75 per hour for live music for their residents once a week. Fill up one afternoon with a few of those for an easy couple hundred. Again, not great for 5 people, but fine for 1-3.

Goldielocks

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Re: Monetizing Music-- Is It Possible?
« Reply #11 on: October 26, 2018, 11:46:44 PM »
FYI -- our church pays $1000 per month for a pianist.   Approx 2-3 hours a week commitment, ; 2 hrs of playing time (sometimes asked to help choir rehearse) and 1/2 hr of meetings to plan....but the key is the regular pay...consistent year after year... works out to up to $100/hr.

Old thread, but I wanted to put this out there so others can have a $$ reference point.