How To Make Money with Music as Your Primary Income Source
We get it: it feels impossible to make money with music as your primary income source.
Major-label artists are struggling to make money with music, let alone maximize their music streaming revenues. Independent musicians are competing with those artists for a spot on the best Spotify and Apple Music playlists. And all of them are hustling, grinding, and doing their best to get verified on TikTok.
But turning your musical passion into reliable profit isn’t impossible. TuneCore helps you take actionable steps to make music your primary source of income, from monetizing and marketing your song catalog to taking advantage of music licensing, master residuals, and sync opportunities.
Don’t take it from us – here’s platinum-certified rapper and TuneCore artist Russ saying as much in a recent Instagram post:
“For inspirational purposes. This is the money I made this week off just the masters of my independent catalog [with TuneCore] – $79,367.81 It fluctuates weekly obviously but this is just to give insight. You do not need to be on the radio or signed or have the biggest album in the world to f**king cake. You have to have a lot of good music and own it lol.”
It is time to get paid for making the music you love.
Understanding Music Monetization
The first step to making a living from your music is understanding music monetization and music monetization boils down to two key components:
- Continuously maximizing your resources
- Maximize your earnings
Do you play an instrument? Be willing to gig for that instrument at an hourly rate. Do you produce beats and love sample-digging? Consider teaching production to others online.
Yes, these pursuits are less glamorous than instantly monetizing millions of streams from YouTube Music, but both are bedrocks of a life where music is the primary fiscal provider. When you gig, you’re making money from instrumental music. If you teach beatmaking, you’re making money from instrumental production.
In both cases, you’re building up the financial resources to take incredible next steps like touring, recording, or shooting a video with viral potential.
Here’s Italian rapper and TuneCore artist Egreen, discussing embracing this process from TuneCore’s Creative House in Ibiza:
“From ages 18 to 30, I had all types of jobs and, at lunchtime, I would write bars, I would come home at night, and write…I did that life for 12 years…and then, when I realized I could have paid my bills with [music]? I just kept waking up very f**king early in the morning and I always took it very seriously and I took it as my job.”
Making A Living From Music
No matter how many ways you choose to make money from music, the goal is to make a living from it – and what that living looks like is up to you. Some artists are happy to hold down day jobs while fronting hugely successful rock bands. Others want music to be their only pursuit.
Both are valid. TuneCore offers a wide range of Artists' Services to make your dream a reality. You can access them here.
For this guide, we’re going to tackle the tools you need to make your money your primary financial source of income.
And that begins with knowing what sorts of opportunities are out there.
Exploring the Income Landscape for Music Artists
Where do musical artists make money? How do music artists make money now?
The music industry landscape is forever changing, and getting a foothold on what the most contemporary income methods are can feel more challenging than doing the renegade on TikTok.
Thankfully, it isn’t. The most financially successful music artists have monetization strategies for six core categories:
- Music copyright and licensing
- Music streaming platforms
- Social media
- Fan engagement
- Creating profitable music
- Selling original compositions
Take Olivia Rodrigo: she announced her comeback single “vampire” on social media two weeks before its release with the ability for fans to pre-save it on Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal. She dropped “vampire”-themed merch when the song officially launched. That was followed by live performances and thousands of fan-created TikToks. “vampire” is one of Rodrigo’s lowest-charting Billboard songs, yet it still proved very monetizable.
Can you afford to make bucket hats and jean jackets for every song you drop? Probably not. But you can follow Rodrigo’s template in microcosm with TuneCore’s help.
Let’s start with a look at the heart of any monetization strategy – music licensing.
Understanding Music Copyright
If knowledge is power, understanding copyright law makes musicians as strong as the Hulk. If they don’t, disaster can follow. Take legendary 90s band The Verve. Their “Bittersweet Symphony” went 3x platinum in the United Kingdom, but the publishing rights and royalties went to The Rolling Stones for 22 years due to copyright infringement over a few musical notes. That's the difference between a down payment on a house or years of legal fees.
Since most people would rather have a home than bills, let's examine copyright basics.
According to the United States government, “copyright protection exists from the moment an original work is 'fixed' in a tangible medium.” A recording is a tangible medium — and so are sheet music and digital files. Once your work is in a tangible medium, it is yours to make, sell, and distribute copies of. Period.
And here's where it gets interesting: any song you write and release yields two separately protected works: the published song and the recording of it. Because both are subject to separate music licensing opportunities, both can generate music revenue streams, from placements in films and television shows to YouTube music monetization or a synch in NBA 2K.
Score even one of those and windfall revenue can follow.
A company like TuneCore can ensure you get the most bang for your buck from each of them, but you should also understand exactly what music licensing is if you want to make money with music as your primary income source.
1) Understanding Music Licensing
Have you ever heard a song in a movie, TV commercial, or television show and rushed to open Shazam? That’s the power of music licensing in action.
Synch options afford artists a wealth of opportunities to make money from original music and get promoted on multiple streaming platforms in one fell swoop. Your best chance at getting synched and maximizing the money you make from it is fully understanding how both music licensing and copyright work.
Since we just discussed copyright, let’s dive into music licensing further.
As we previously mentioned, any musical recording yields two separately protected works; both can be licensed.
- The publishing license applies to the song and credited songwriters
- The master license applies to the recording being synched
Put another way: if you write a hit song and another artist covers it, you're due royalties from their cover. And if their cover of your song gets licensed for a film, TV show, or video game? You’re owed additional royalties. This is why music licensing is such a valuable income source for musicians. It can generate loads of passive income across multiple mediums, and it is why TuneCore is committed to helping you monetize and maximize your returns through music licensing quickly by covering all your music licenses under one digital umbrella, whether they’re publishing, mechanical, or streaming.
Remember Russ' Instagram post from the introduction? That covered master license residuals alone. This is why it pays to understand real-world music licensing opportunities.
It also pays to be online.
2) Online Opportunities for Musicians
It isn't impossible to make money from music if you're not taking advantage of online opportunities for musicians, but it is like playing a video game in "extreme" mode -- an uphill battle.
Making money with your music online is all about leveraging the platforms available to you, the artist. Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal are known global commodities. Independent platforms like Bandcamp offer higher payouts and strong scene cred. All are the most reliable way to reach millions and earn money from music on the internet in the process. The question isn't whether you want to do it but how.
Let’s look at each and how they integrate with social media.
The revenue potential offered by streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Beatport, and Tidal is a music industry equalizer. The base rate for all artists is the same. That’s right – you technically get paid the same rate as Beyonce. Let that sink in.
Monetizing music streaming, then, is a numbers game. And artists make money from streaming by being on as many platforms as possible and maximizing their engagement on each one. Spotify is known for its wide-reaching playlists. Beatport is favored by electronic music insiders.
TuneCore uses algorithmic tools to help make your music more visible, but developing your understanding of and confidence in your catalog is your ace in the hole. It also feeds directly into having excellent social media.
3) Social Media
Artists make money on social media by following Socrates' most famous creed: knowing themselves.
Harnessing the power of X, Instagram, Bluesky, YouTube, and TikTok (especially TikTok) means mastering the idiosyncrasies of each so you can express yourself to the fullest to build fan engagement. TikTok’s SoundOn and Instagram’s Reels allow your listeners to make their content utilizing yours. A hysterical quote tweet – er, a repost – is an art exclusive to X and a speedy way to go viral. And, as this Tunecore landing page proves, counting Facebook out of the equation is just leaving money on the table.
But, again: none of these tactics will matter if they are executed blandly. You’re not white bread – you’re a vibrant person making one-of-a-kind music. Hone in on what makes you appealing to others and what you love about your songs. Is it their sense of humor? Are you the most outspoken member of your friend group? The qualities that have gotten you noticed in life will translate to the digital realm.
Once they do, trust in these three repeatable activities:
- Post consistently
- Track your analytics
- Play with trends
You can follow or run counter to the latest dance crazes or popular genres, but an awareness of and reaction to them is one of the fastest ways to monetize music from social media output. Lean into it.
4) Maximizing your Earnings with Fan Engagement
As we mentioned at the beginning of the guide, making money with music isn’t just about monetization – it’s about maximizing earning potential. And if your work as an artist is the proverbial floor, fan engagement will help establish just how high your ceiling is.
Think of it this way: even your most casual fans passively engage with your work every time they stream your tracks. If you actively engage with your most fervent supporters, there’s no telling how empowered they might feel and what they’ll pay for that connection.
Here are some tactics you can take to catalyze fan engagement:
- Crowdfunding (and crowdfunding perks) – reward your fans' investment in your work with one-of-a-kind connections to the music you wake, be it signed copies of an album or exclusive behind-the-scenes of your creative process.
- VIP Concert Packages – they’re not just for pop superstars. Tier access to your shows or creative exclusive merch for fans who will pay extra to see you live and in person.
- Merchandise – It’s not just tee-shirts anymore: mugs, keychains, and mousepads have all become viable swag for bands trying to express themselves. Take stock of your margins and audience to make products your listeners will rush to purchase.
- Instagram Lives – When a major artist risks the spontaneity of live-streaming, it instantly makes them feel more human and relatable. Even if you’re not huge yet, that logic still applies. Put yourself out there on social media to form active, meaningful connections with the audience that adores you.
And there’s another way to engage with fans entirely that you’re already great at –songwriting.
5) Crafting Profitable Music Productions
Believe it or not, the steps you take to catalyze fan engagement will help you craft the sort of musical productions that generate revenue through licensing and sync placements.
The key to making money from music production is authenticity. Great music supervisors can sense a song that’s trying too hard from its first few seconds. You probably can, too. If your presentation online and in merchandise and through band videos accurately reflects the music you make, you’re raising the chances of piquing a supervisor or licensing company’s interest and being easily found by them to boot.
Beyond that, answer these three questions:
- What shows or movies feature music that sounds like mine?
- Who music supervises those shows or movies and do they accept submissions?
- What sort of music syncs appeal to me as a viewer?
These steps will put you on the right track to creating sync-able songs, as well as partnering with a company that can help get you synched (cough cough, TuneCore, cough).
6) Monetizing Original Music
There’s one more step you can take when it comes to making money with your music – and it’s the most direct one of all.
You can write songs for companies that license music for a flat fee, such as Epidemic Sound, Shutterstock, and Pond 5. The downside: your residuals will be capped because songs on these services are sold sans negotiation. (In the case of Pond5, users can add a track and its license to their digital shopping cart and then check out).
On the plus side? You might get synced in some cool and unexpected places. Twitch streamers utilize these services, Netflix shows, and tons of other appealing content creators and properties. Peruse these sites. See what sort of categories they offer and organize their music by. Then, if you’re inspired, get to composing.
Remember: every step counts as long as those steps maximize your opportunities and revenue. This one does both.
We’d love to pretend that this guide solved and answered every question about making money with music and achieving financial success in the music industry. We also know no guide ever will.
The music landscape is always shifting, as is social media. If the tactics and services highlighted in this guide prove anything, it’s that the job of a professional musician is to shift with that landscape or purposefully run counter to it. With enough hustle and discipline, you can turn the valleys of hustling for your art into peak financial gains. It might not feel like it, but trusting in yourself usually feels scary.
And let the earning begin.
To start earning more with TuneCore, click here.