[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Suzanne Paulinski and is part of our on-going Life During Quarantine series.]
These last eight weeks have rocked the music industry in a way that hasn’t been felt since the explosion of piracy. Even then, the main source of income that was affected by file sharing was the sale of CDs; other traditional income streams within the industry survived and the way people came together to experience music was never threatened.
But now, anyone belonging to the touring, conference/festival, and live performance professions have had their world turned upside down. This includes venue owners, booking agents, tour managers, festival hosts, industry speakers, venue employees, sound/lighting production teams, drivers, road staff and vendors, and, of course, the performers themselves. People are scrambling to figure out how to replace their main source of income, as there is no clear date for when live shows and events will return.
Managers, booking agents, venue owners and all other behind-the-scenes professionals are going to need to examine their skill sets and figure out new ways to serve their clients/audience. For example, tour managers may find a second career as online festival producers, while sound and light professionals may focus on servicing a clientele whose careers depend on YouTube or podcast content. And, for any professional, teaching others how to master their skill set or particular expertise can always be lucrative with the right sales funnel.
For musicians, however, while the live stage may be missing, their ability to interact and connect with their fans can continue to thrive through their social media channels, live streaming broadcasts, and email lists.
The biggest hurdle many musicians now face isn’t focused around what their new income streams will be, but more so figuring out if it’s proper to be building those income streams right now and knowing how much they can realistically expect to make from those streams.
Is it right to be making money right now?
Obviously we all need to pay our bills and continue making a living as best we can, but with so many people losing their jobs, dealing with illness, and losing loved ones, is it right for musicians to peddle their music to people who have less disposable income than they once had? Is music and entertainment the right place for people to spend money when there’s such a need for donations for frontline and essential workers?
Here’s the thing: you can’t tell people who spend their money, and it’s not your job to determine if someone has enough money to spend on your art while still putting money towards “the essentials,” as that is an extremely subjective term. For many, music and entertainment is essential, and without it life right now would be even more difficult to bear.
All you can control is what you create, the value you place on it and whether or not you let people know it exists.
Can I build a sustainable income solely online?
The short answer – absolutely! The question of how much money you can make or how many people you can reach with what you’re offering virtually comes down to deciding what kind of sales person you’re going to be.
Musicians avoid selling because they don’t like feeling like a used car salesperson. But, once again, you have control over how you sell. The earlier question of whether or not it’s right to promote your music right now comes down to your ability to promote your music without sounding desperate, spammy or selfish during this time.
While there are plenty of courses out there to teach you how to effectively promote your music online, there’s really one rule of thumb you need to live by – lead by being of service to others.
Rather than constantly post about how your new single has dropped or how you’ll be performing it live at such and such a time, focus on showing up for your following and being of service to them. Take a look at these two examples below:
“New single is now out! Go stream it on Spotify now and follow me, I need more streams!”
“I know this is a difficult time right now for you, so I wrote this new song to help bring some levity to your day. You can listen to it here. I hope it helps and I’d love to hear how you’re doing – let me know in the comments.”
Which would you engage with more?
Simply remembering to be an empathetic human (something almost all creatives are naturally good at and only lose sight of when they get wrapped up in the pressure to promote) and showing up to serve those in your community will always lead to more trust within your audience. If you’re familiar with the Know Like Trust factor, trust is the gateway to building a dependable stream of income.
Sell your music. Promote your art. Charge for your live shows. Let people support you as a thank you for supporting them.
How much can I reasonably charge?
That is going to depend on how much your audience already trusts you and how much you’ve connected with them already. Amanda Palmer can easily pull in tens-of-thousands per month on her Patreon because she’s proven to her fans they can trust they’ll find value consistently in her work.
Maybe you’re just starting out. Maybe you won’t charge $10 or $20 to stream your live show. But DO have a link to a virtual tip jar. As Amanda Palmer herself has said – you’ve got to ask for it. You determine the value of your art.
Maybe no one in your community is buying your album download for $5. If you’ve tried and there haven’t been enough bites – ask them to help you design a cool t-shirt. Then sell the t-shirt and give the album download to them for free with purchase. Test it out.
More often than not you’d be surprised how many of your fans are willing to spend money on your art – you just need to focus on serving them rather than focusing on how it serves you.
Do I have to completely say goodbye to my old income streams?
Time will tell us when the live music scene will be back and how from this point on it will be altered. In the meantime, one thing that won’t change is what it takes to build a sustainable career, and that relies on multiple streams of income. So, if you’re stuck on how to translate your now-defunct streams of income into the online/virtual world, here are three quick ideas to get you started.
Ticket sales from live shows.
Live streaming with ticket sales/tip jars and offering themed nights with requests to related cover songs.
Selling merch at shows.
Selling exclusively-designed merch from your online shop with a percentage of proceeds going to a charity.
Teaching lessons at a school.
Teaching them virtually at a lower cost to students in groups (more money for you and better for the students) or selling a step by step video course as passive income to a larger audience.
Just remember, people’s love and need for music isn’t going anywhere. The way they experience your art may change, but your art will always be needed. Take a breath, take note of your unique skill sets and then do what you do best – be creative. Think outside the box, experiment, and double down on what’s working.