How to (Not) Make Money From Music

author: James Scott date: 04/02/2014 category: junkyard

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How to (Not) Make Money From Music
No matter what anyone says, there's plenty of ways to make money from your band. You won't be the ones making the money of course, but you should be happy with what you have - the opportunity to play your own songs in near-empty rooms is more than enough reward/punishment for entering the music business.

Still, if you get picked up by a record company, make a successful album, go on a sell-out world tour and win some awards, you may end up making almost as much money as the hobo who stowed away on the tour bus and stole the change from under the seat cushions. That might seem unfair, but there are a lot of deductions that need to be made from the band's income by the record company, and these will be clearly explained in the band's contract (though for legal reasons they will be printed in size 3 font and translated into pig latin). They will be clearly itemised on your royalty statement so that you can be sure that you're not being ripped off, in the following self-explanatory categories:
  • "Expenses"
  • "Overhead"
  • "Miscellaneous"
  • "Other"
  • "Etc."
So you've really got no right to complain that the band made less money combined from your tour than the guy who did the band's laundry. At least the laundry guy did something useful, whereas your bass player spent the entire tour rubbing an Etch-a-Sketch because someone told him it was an iPad.

It's not just on the road that a band can become an economic powerhouse. The internet, far from just being the place where your drummer gets all his illegal porn, offers all sorts of opportunities for a band to make money (for other people). You can stream your music on services like and Spotify, and each time that the listeners fail to press "next track" quickly enough when one of your audio atrocities hits their ears you will get anything up to 0.0001c. That may not sound like much, and that's because it isn't, but at some point you may earn enough to pay for enough electricity to send an email to you to say that you earned some money, but it was all deducted to pay for the email. It's good to keep the wheels of commerce turning. 

If that idea doesn't float your boat for some reason, you can try to sell actual CDs. For those of you born in the last 20 years, CDs are shiny, round things that bands used to sell their music on before people got them for free off Bit-torrent instead. If your music isn't available on Bit-torrent (possibly because it's so bad that people literally won't even download it for free) you might be able to guilt-trip some of the people at your gigs into buying a CD now and again. The rest of your print run will sit in boxes in your dad's garage, until he throws them out without asking you, causing you to not speak to him for twenty years. Maybe you could write a song about that.

You can also try to make money from ticket sales. This is tricky, because promoters know that if the bands end up with any of the money from the gigs, they won't be able to afford a reasonably-sized cardboard box under a bridge to spend the night in. They used to ensure that they got all the money by telling bands that they would get paid after the 20th guest or so, then cunningly ensured that their pens would run out of ink after 19 people showed up. But bands started to get suspicious of this, especially after sold-out gigs at major stadiums, where the promoter insisted that only three people were actually in the audience and that the other 20,000 people the band thought they saw were drug-induced hallucinations. 

So nowadays the canny promoter offers a "pay-to-play" deal, whereby the promoter sells the tickets to the band, who are then lumbered with the hopeless task of promoting the gig themselves if they ever want to see any of the money again. Now you might think that the job of the "promoter" would be to "promote" the gig in some way, but that's as naive as assuming that your "bass player" can actually "play" a "bass." You may also conclude that shifting all the work, risk and financial losses to the bands in this way may be a rather one-sided deal, but actually the advantages to the bands are spelt out in the following comprehensive list:
  • Nothing
  • Diddly-squat
  • Hahahaha you guys are mugs
You can also sell merchandise at gigs. For instance, you could charge $10 for a t-shirt that cost you $8 to order, design and print, plus $2.50 postage and packing. Or you could sell key rings with the band's logo on. I don't know about you, but I buy a lot of key rings, they wear out really quickly and I need new ones all the time. I never got a set of keys that came with a key ring with them for free, and what I really need is to spend $5 on a bulky key ring with an ugly logo on it that will jam into my leg when I walk and rip holes in my trouser pockets. So that's a really good idea. Maybe you should sell branded merchandise that your fanbase will actually use at your gigs, such as ear plugs or crack pipes. 

It might seem from the above that you won't make any money from your music. But if you don't, that's probably OK. It's certainly better than the alternative, i.e. making money, because everyone will hate you if you do. Fans and the press hate the idea that anyone might be able to make a living in music, and will call you "greedy" or a "sell-out" if it looks like you might be making enough money to sleep in one of the more flea-free beds at the homeless hostel. It's self-correcting, though, as your fans will show their disgust by torrenting your albums instead of buying them and watching bootleg YouTube videos instead of going to your gigs. This will stop you getting ideas above your station. They only do it because they care. 

One way to humiliatingly fail to raise any money for your band is to make a Kickstarter. Basically, a Kickstarter is where bands with no idea what they're doing beg fans who don't exist to give them money they don't have to record an album that the band won't record and that nobody would listen to even if they did.

As you may have guessed, most Kickstarters usually fail miserably. But that's because bands are simply not offering the right rewards to their investors. If your band really wants to raise some serious cash from a Kickstarter, you should offer rewards like these:
  • $1 – we will not send you a copy of the new album
  • $5 – we will write you a personal letter of apology for wasting your time with a stupid Kickstarter
  • $10 – we will not gig within 20 miles of you
  • $100 – we will split up the band
  • $200 – we will burn all our instruments and break all our fingers with hammers
  • $1000 – we will commit ritual suicide by pushing masonry drills into our eyes
You'll raise loads of money and provide a service to the community. That's what music's all about.

About the Author:
James Scott is a music producer from London, UK, and the author of "Your Band Sucks (and so do you)", from which this article is an extract.
More James Scott columns:
+ Should You Produce Your Own Music? General Music 01/06/2014
+ Bleeding Through's Breakup - What Can We Learn? General Music 12/18/2013
+ The Locus of Control - Taking Control of Your Musical Destiny General Music 10/15/2013
+ 11 Dumb Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Small Ads for Band Members General Music 09/16/2013
+ The Myth of the Tortured Genius - Music Depression and You General Music 08/27/2013
+ How to Make the Most of Your Recordings General Music 07/22/2013
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