So you want to know how to make money with music production?
To state the obvious, the music industry has changed dramatically in the last decade or so. For upcoming artists and producers, it's getting more and more difficult to develop enough of a brand to make it in the traditional channels.
Labels want the greatest return on investment possible, and with such a dynamic landscape, they very rarely invest in developing artists from scratch anymore.
However, with turbulent times often comes huge opportunity. The internet has opened up a whole new realm of possibility and is enabling creators to not only survive, but thrive.
How to make money with music production
Whether you’re an artist, a composer, a producer, an engineer, or any combination of these roles, I’ve outlined a wide array of opportunities to make money with music production.
Some of these avenues overlap slightly, but I've done my best to outline each one under umbrella categories for easier reference and overall clarity.
I hope this article gets you inspired and potentially opens the door to opportunities that you hadn’t previously considered.
As an artist or producer (or both!) intellectual property is one of the best and most fundamental avenues for making money in the industry. If you are creating original works, you need to make sure that you own the copyright for this material so that you get paid for any use, be it purchases or broadcast.
If you're an artist or performer it's really important to register your work with a performing rights organisation or ’PRO’. They will track the number of plays or public performances of your music so that you can be paid appropriately.
Venues, radio stations and any other place where your music could be playlisted and broadcasted publicly are required by law to submit their track listings to their relevant PRO. These plays are then recorded and tracked by the PRO so that artists are paid appropriately.
There are generally two ways that royalties are collected. One is for the intellectual copyright of the music composition itself, and the other is for the mechanical copyright i.e. the recording.
Examples of PROs include PRS in the UK and ASCAP in the US. These organisations collect royalties on behalf of songwriters and composers for the intellectual property of the music.
For example, for many bands, their material is only written by one or two members. They may choose to split the royalties evenly between band members, but they may have a proportional deal with varying percentages among members depending on how involved they are in the writing process.
If you’re producing an artist, you may negotiate a songwriting percentage on the recording i.e. ‘producer points’ if you’ve made a significant contribution to the composition itself.
You can also register with organisations like PPL that track performances of the mechanical copyright. This quote from the official PRS website sums up the difference quite succinctly:
PRS for Music collects and distributes licence fees for the use of musical compositions and lyrics on behalf of composers and music publishers. PPL collects and distributes licence fees for the use of recorded music on behalf of record companies and performers.
Say, for example, you recorded as a session musician on a track where you don't own any intellectual property. You would still be entitled to a performance royalty from any public broadcast of this track e.g. radio, shops, bars, cafés etc. PPL also collects money on behalf of record labels, as they would also own a share of the mechanical copyright.
For digital performance royalties, Sound Exchange are the organisation to register with. They collect royalties on behalf of artists and sound recording owners for digital streaming plays, through services such as Pandora, SiriusXM and webcasters.
If it's still too early for you to sign with a record label, or you'd simply rather go it alone, you may be interested in releasing your music independently.
Even many established artists prefer working this way, because they get to retain ownership of their material, maintain control and, therefore, keep more money for themselves. Most of the time they are able to achieve this by leveraging a large audience that they've developed over a number of years.
This can be difficult to achieve when you're starting out because you don't have a large fanbase, but it can be worth it in the long run as it has the potential to be considerably lucrative while maintaining more control over the direction of your career and your creative output.
Services such as TuneCore and CD Baby offer ways to license and distribute your music online. They allow you to sell digital downloads as well as enable streaming of your music through the usual platforms, including iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Google Music and many more.
TuneCore have a great article that breaks down all of the various licensing components within music publishing.
An often overlooked income stream for songwriters and composers is sync publishing. As the copyright owner of a piece of music, you can license this music for use on visual media, such as TV programmes, films and online video content.
You can approach filmmakers independently to pitch your music, work with independent sync companies or submit your music to online libraries. If you're just starting out or you haven't yet made a name for yourself, I recommend starting with online music libraries to start with.
These library sites provide platforms for you to upload and sell licenses to filmmakers for the use of your music for a limited period, or in perpetuity. I'll go into this topic in more detail below under 'Production Music'.
You may have even written a number of tracks that don't quite fit with your genre or brand, in which case you can pitch these for sync, which can be a great additional way to make money with music production.
Collaboration plays a major role in music, and if you're a producer working with artists, you may play a significant role in songwriting and development. The bottom line is that, if you're contributing a significant portion to the songwriting process, you should receive compensation relative to your creative input.
Songwriters receive intellectual and performance royalties on their music when it's broadcast or played publicly, and they're also able to make money from touring and merchandise. Most of the time, producers don't accompany the artists or aren't members of the band, and therefore have no involvement in the performance of the music.
Therefore, it's important to negotiate songwriting credits, known as 'producer points'. This enables producers to receive their fair share of the songwriting and performance royalties when their work is used or performed.
Percentage agreements can vary widely and many label arrangements set a fixed percentage. However, it all comes down to the contribution that you're making and a fair agreement should be reached between all parties.
Like royalties, products can be an awesome source of passive income as, once you've made them, you can sell them over and over again! In other words, you put in the hard work once to build a product, and then you can concentrate your efforts on marketing and selling the product in future. Building a range of in-demand products can be a very effective way to make money with music production.
If you're an artist, you can build your image and your brand to the point that you can sell more than just your music.
As mentioned, the music industry has changed a great deal in recent years, and in fact many artists are now making more from their brand and merchandise than their actual music. Indeed, it’s one of the strategies that’s enabled independent artists to support their careers.
There are all kinds of products that you can sell, ranging from clothing and apparel to figurines and characters.
Clothing has always been a key part of any artist’s merchandise inventory. It’s relatively straightforward to source unbranded apparel and print your own logos and designs. Couple this with that fact that, nowadays, this can all be done remotely with dropshipping, selling clothing is an extremely popular option.
It’s also really simple to set up an online store without any coding knowledge, using ready-made themes through platforms like Shopify, Big Cartel, WooCommerce, Squarespace and WordPress.
Plus, with dropshipping, you don’t even have to stock the product, which was traditionally a problem for independent artists with little storage space. You sell the products through our online store, your customer makes an order, and the product is automatically sourced and shipped without you having to handle shipping yourself.
Popular products include clothing such as t-shirts and hats, as well as miscellaneous branded products such as mugs, badges and stickers.
I use the term ‘production music’ here to represent most forms of royalty-free composition licensing. You may also see this referred to as ‘stock music’ or ‘library music’.
Royalty-free licensing can be a great way to monetise the music that you’ve already made. Platforms like Pond 5, PremiumBeat and The Music Bed enable composers to upload their music to their library, where it can be auditioned and purchased by content creators and music commissioners.
Depending on the platform, you can agree to an exclusive or a non-exclusive license deal. Exclusive means that you give one platform all of the distribution rights to your material, so you can’t list/sell it anywhere else. Non-exclusive means that you are still able to sell your music elsewhere, however you’ll normally receive less of a royalty percentage return per sale.
Particularly if you’re a composer, you may be interested in acquiring ‘sync licensing’ deals for TV and film. There are a number of agencies that will pitch to production companies on your behalf, or you may wish to pitch to production companies directly. Alternatively, there are sync libraries that will allow you to submit your music so that music commissioners can browse your work.
Finally, if you have a growing audience size, you might consider setting up YouTube monetisation. It doesn’t take much more effort to add your tracks to YouTube (you don’t even need a music video), and if you’re getting decent plays, you can make a bit of extra cash by enabling monetisation on your tracks through YouTube advertising.
Beats / Backing Tracks
There is a huge beats market online among the hip-hop communities. All around the world, there are rappers, vocalists and artists who are constantly in need of backing tracks to support their voice and promote their work.
Even if you’re not producing hip-hop yourself, it can be quite a lucrative field to look into and another great way to make money with music production. If you have some solid production chops, you can definitely have a go at making hip-hop beats.
There are a number of online platforms that are specifically set up for users to buy and sell beats. Alternatively, you could set up your own website to market them directly.
Much like production music, the simplest method to sell beats is by providing them royalty-free.
The sale of royalty-free samples and loops is a big industry in music production, particularly in EDM. Sound designers around the world, and even established artists, create and distribute loop and sample packs through a wide variety of platforms. Some of the most common examples include Loopmasters and Producer Loops.
If you build your own sounds from scratch, you might consider releasing them for sale on one of these platforms, or even selling them through your own website if you're already pretty established in the production community. Samples and loops can include a variety of different sounds, including:
- Instruments (drum hits/loops, synth stabs/patterns, piano chords etc.);
- Sound effects (risers, whooshes, booms, drops);
- Vocals (melodies, backing, phrases, spoken word);
- Natural sounds (ambience, 'found sounds', miscellaneous everyday).
If you're already creating or recording your own sounds, it's worth exploring your options for selling these as standalone products.
I've had some great results creating sample packs, both on my own and in collaboration with other artists/engineers through platforms such as Loopmasters. You can even download my latest drum pack here, absolutely free.
Although I've mentioned 'sound design' already, here I'm referring specifically to synthesis.
Patches and presets for software instruments are highly sought after as they can provide much-needed inspiration and help to generate new ideas. They also help producers to learn new plugins by experimenting with pre-made sounds.
Once again, there are a number of sites where you can submit your presets and sound banks, or you can choose to sell independently. If you're forever designing your own sounds, plugin presets and instrument patches this may be a great option for you to create some extra income.
I like products because you only have to create them once and they can form a source of passive income. However, being involved in music production provides you with a wide range of skills that you can offer as services to potential clients.
The fact that you're in music means you're very likely to be a musician yourself! I certainly started out that way.
Perhaps you can sing or play an instrument? If you have access to a recording studio or a home studio, you can offer your services as a session musician.
The great thing about having a home studio is that you can work remotely, recording your parts on to sessions and sending the files back to the artist/producer/team.
I originally started out as a musician, but became fascinated by the recording and mixing process. However, I appreciate that many artists and musicians don't share this fascination! Many are only interested in the writing and performing side.
Alternatively, a fellow producer may wish to concentrate only on the music and performing elements of their latest project, and would rather someone else play the role of the engineer to eliminate distraction.
This provides you with an opportunity to offer your production services.
As an artist, it can be extremely helpful to work with a producer to provide a sounding board (excuse the pun) and to help with arrangement and instrumentation, on top of taking care of the technical side.
You may already know a number of artists in your local and online communities who are in need of a producer. In addition, you may be able to help with the creative side, such as aiding in writing and even performing on recordings (see above for production points and intellectual property).
Many producers and artists either don't have the engineering skills to produce their own music, don't have the time, or simply aren't interested in this part of the process. A famous example is David Guetta, who outsourced his mixing and sound design for years when he was transitioning from DJ to producer.
This provides an opportunity for you to hire out your sound design and mixing skills.
You won't necessarily be credited on a production, depending on what the contract stipulates, but this can be attractive for those engineers who aren't interested in the fame. If you enjoy the mixing and synthesis side, this can be a great avenue to explore as it combines both creative and technical skills.
Many producers are better writers than they are 'engineers', and there's nothing wrong with that at all. Indeed, knowing your strengths and your weaknesses, and when to outsource, is a powerful thing.
As mentioned, even professional artists can find that they are too busy to concentrate on sound design, in between marketing, touring, performing and so on.
If you enjoy the sound design process, why not offer your services? Artists can concentrate on what they do best - writing great songs - and send you their session for you to design and develop the sounds and instrumentation.
If writing and arrangement aren't your strongest skills, it can also be a brilliant learning opportunity to get hold of another producer's session and see how their tracks are made.
Now that I've covered creative products and services, it's time to talk technical. Engineering services can be a clear and straightforward to generate extra income and make money with music production.
Heck, I used to produce and engineer full time, and the internet now provides so much opportunity that you're really only limited by the time that you have available.
Straight-up recording engineering can be a very valuable tool to offer. Not only that, but with the rise of digital tools and technology, those with traditional recording expertise are actually becoming more sought-after, as many bedroom producers lack these fundamental skills.
If you have experience recording yourself, your band or have worked in a studio, you can provide recording services to other artists and producers.
If you're lucky enough to have a decent sized home studio then you can invite musicians to record there (depending on how practical your location is) or, alternatively, you can book sessions at external studios.
Once completed, you can simply pass the files on to the project's producer or mix engineer, depending on the arrangement. Alternatively, you can upsell your additional skills...
In all honesty, I often enjoy editing. It can be a therapeutic way to spend time, cleaning up tracks, fixing timing issues and tuning vocals.
Tuning vocals tends to demand the most concentration because you're generally looking at both timing and pitch, but it can still provide a great amount of satisfaction when the job is complete.
Now, I appreciate that, to many people, the thought of sitting down for 8 hours to put drums in time could be harrowing. However, if you enjoy it, this is precisely why there are opportunities to make money! Editing can be a dirty and - let's be honest - sometimes boring job...but someone's got to do it.
You can either agree a project rate or charge per hour, depending on what's required and what works best for all parties. You can also work remotely, meaning that clients can send you their sessions/files and you simply send them back when they're fixed.
There are plenty of inexpensive (and often free) services online that enable you to do this, for example Dropbox, WeTransfer, Hightail and Google Drive, among others.
If you've got good mixing chops, you could be in demand. There are more than enough producers out there, but there are relatively few who can produce a solid, professional mix that grabs the attention of the listener.
If you live near a city or vibrant music scene you may be able to offer attended mixing services. However, for the majority of people, remote online mixing can be a great option.
As with editing, artists can send you their sessions/files and you can send back their fully mixed stereo tracks.
The biggest thing to bear in mind is that mixing is much more subjective than editing, so you need to account for client feedback. Their song is their baby, so it's essential that they're happy with the outcome.
Before I recommend mastering as a service offering, please note that there is a reason why mastering engineers spend years in training, and traditionally they have some kind of background in engineering and physics.
This isn't essential by any means, but mastering is an art that should be respected. I certainly do not consider myself to be a mastering engineer at this stage, and therefore I don't offer this service.
I state this because many misinformed people think that mastering is simply making tracks louder, or adding compression and limiting at the end of mixing. While these elements can certainly form part of the mastering process, this viewpoint is a severe misunderstanding of what mastering actually involves.
A seasoned mastering engineer can offer key insights into the development of a track, bring out key elements and enhance the overall presentation of a song.
If you have experience mastering and you've had great client feedback, then by all means begin offering a paid mastering service. Once again, this can be done online simply with the transfer of stereo files back and forth, allowing opportunities for client feedback.
If you're a producer, composer, engineer or artist with your own setup, you'll have likely amassed a wide variety of skills. You can share this knowledge with others via tutorials, coaching and courses both online and offline.
A great way to share your knowledge is through coaching. This can be in the form of one-to-one tutoring or with a group, and with tools like Hangouts and Skype this has become a really effective way to teach others online.
You don't need to be an expert to coach someone, you just need to be one step ahead of them. The odds are that you're involved in a number of online communities like Facebook groups and forums, where there are questions posted every day from producers just starting out.
If you can answer these questions you could reach out and offer your help via email or Skype. Once you've had some experience and testimonials, you could even begin charging for coaching sessions.
Closely related to coaching is tuition. There may be a large number of beginning producers in your area - or simply music technology enthusiasts - in which case you can offer one-to-one and group lessons (depending on your resources).
If you have a home studio you could host one-on-one lessons. Even if you don't have an available space, modern laptops have made it relatively easy to take your show on the road.
If you have detailed knowledge of a particular subject, creating an online course can be an effective way to generate passive income. Courses take a lot of hard work and detailed planning upfront but, like most products, you can continue to sell them as long as the material is relevant.
For example, you may know the Sylenth manual like the back of your hand, or you be a whizz on Ableton.
However, you don't necessarily need to have an advanced knowledge of a subject. As long as the course material is informative, correct and enables learners to achieve a specific goal, you can create one.
For example, if you've recently learned the basics of getting start with Logic Pro, you're in a great position to teach others because the process will be fresh in your mind. Not only that, you're likely to have a better understanding of the beginner's perspective than someone who has been using Logic for years, and has forgotten what it's like to start from scratch.
There are a number of online platforms that enable you to create and distribute your course, including sites like Udemy and Teachable. Keep in mind that these platforms have various pros and cons, depending on how hands on you intend to be with maintenance, marketing, distribution etc.
Alternatively, if you have your own website or have built up a decent following, you may prefer to host the course yourself.
Like courses, eBooks offer another great way to generate a continuing passive income source. If you have detailed knowledge in an area in your field, you could package all of this information into an 'ultimate resource' for other people to download and reference.
One thing to note is that you should always carry out your market research before creating any eBook or learning resource. It takes a great deal of hard work and effort to create a resource, so it's essential to make sure that there's actually a demand for it in the first place.
Once you've made your eBook you can sell it on a platform like Amazon (including via Kindle) or iTunes (for iPad etc.), or you can even make it available for download on your own website.
How will you make money with music production?
So, there you have it! This was a long post and, as you can see, there are a wide variety of avenues to make money with music production. Indeed, many professionals specialise in just one of these areas, and many become a 'jack-of-all-trades' depending on their market and the resources that they have available.
Please note that this list is by no means exhaustive, as there are all kinds of ways to generate an income within the industry. However, I hope these ideas help you to get inspired and that they enable you to make a living, or even a great side income, doing what you enjoy.
If you've had success and are able to make money with music production please do get in touch in the comments as it will help to inspire others! Alternatively, you may have pursued other avenues, in which case please feel free to share to inspire and educate others!