How are musicians making a buck these days?

The Future of Music Coalition presented the next session of the Denver Music Summit called Artist Revenue Streams: How Are Today’s Musicians Earning Money? The co-emcees were Kristen Thomson and Jean Cook, along with two guest panelists – Mark Bleisner (the Band Guru) and Tom Blomster (VP of the Denver Musicians Association). They tried to cover a total of 44 potential revenue streams for your music, in an hour and a half.

The general categories were: compositions, sound recordings, performances, brand, and knowledge of your craft (like teaching lessons). Here’s a quick glance at some of the list, and comments from the guests:

Composition Revenue
Publishing advances – Mark stressed: “The longer you hold onto your publishing rights the more they will be worth.” But he also cautioned that taking advances was not recommended. It may seem like a great idea, but it will put the artist in immediate debt.
Mechanical royalties – paid at 9.1 cents per track for physical or digital recordings.
Commissions – money offered to write a piece.
Public performance royalties – from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Are you a member of one of these?
Streaming Mechanical Royalties – from subscriber services such as Rhapsody, Spotify, etc. for your composition.
Sync Licensing – commercial or movie usage for an existing work. Mark said there is a crisis in this revenue area, as “they are not paying what they used to.”
Sheet music licensing – sale of your written composition.
Lyric Display – payments direct from the publisher for any of your lyrics that are printed stand-alone, and the emcees said these situations are becoming more common now.
ASCAP-Plus Awards Program – Possibilities to make $100+ if you make less than $25K/year as a musician. Basically, this is grant money.
Publisher settlements – money found for you by the lawyers (label suits against various services).

Sound Recording Revenue
Record label advances – Mark reiterated that this is never a good idea (“digging a hole – not a smart idea.”). He strongly suggested that if you can finance yourself don’t go into hock right out of the gate.
Retail sales – The stores (still in existence, that is) might take anywhere from 10-15% to 50% to sell your music retail.
Digital sales – CDBaby takes 9% but only a one-time fee to feature music. Tune core pays you 100% but also charges an annual fee. The emcees didn’t elaborate on itunes.
Sales at shows – obviously, you keep 100% of the profits and this is still a good way to vend.
Digital performance royaltiesSoundExchange was mentioned as a good vehicle for acquiring more of this revenue.
AARC royalties – collected from audio hardware and blank cd manufacturers.
Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund – recordings, of course, featured in film.

At this point (and throughout), Mark and Tom both lamented many of the revenue streams as “last century concepts” and said that music is continuing to be devalued. Very little revenue will trickle your way with most of these, or as Tom said, “”These old models – if they’re not dead, they sure smell funny.”

Mark said “forget the notion that you’re going to make a million dollars in this business [fewer and fewer do].” Tom also cautioned that “you can die from exposure.” He said that money he has made from some of the revenue streams above was pretty insignificant – enough to “buy a few ice cream cones.” Both guests still backed the concepts of making gig money and from merchandise, putting on a killer show, and being original; which brings us to…

Live Performance Revenues
Show or performance fee – how are you booking your shows these days? Do you use agents? Have you tried to create your own venues?
Session work – getting paid to be on tracks.
Merch sales – have you started thinking more about bundling now?
Fan club income – no one elaborated here. Perhaps you could write ransom notes…
YouTube partner program – no elaboration either, so you might want to investigate on your own.
Ad revenues and affiliate programs – these are blog revenue strategies, and could be do-able for bands with clout.
Personal licensing
Product endorsements
Acting (they were running out of time here…)

What if you could skim a buck a fan for future projects?
What if you could skim a buck a fan for future projects?
Fan funding – Yes, Kickstarter, “crowdsourcing,” pre-selling an album, “funding a tour, ” Etc. Mark said: “One thing that doesn’t change is the fan base.” He also favors local bands, encouraging that “there is an audience waiting for you.”
Sponsorship – supposedly this has become much more common. Do you have a tour bus? Get it painted…
Grants – arts councils and collaborations – but you may have to dig a little, and compensation may not be worth the effort.

Mark encouraged artists not to shut off your revenue options – diversify, diversify, diversify! And Tom echoed “versatility is in your favor. Don’t specialize – there’s no money in it.” They also pointed out that recording and live performances carry the heaviest expenses.

In an attempt to conclude here, revenue streams have been severely marginalized and atomized. The emcees stressed that it’s more important than ever to understand flow back of income (through royalties and licensing). Interestingly enough, very little time was spent on those royalty revenues that are most realistic for an artist. Stuff for another article…

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