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Riley Music Academy Blog: How to make money as a musician Article 3

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In this series of articles I will identify methods to earn money as a musician.  Yes, you heard me right, it’s tough – but it is possible!  I’ve been a freelance session musician for 15 years now and although at times money has been tight, I feel blessed to continue earning a living from music.  I want to pass on some of what I’ve learned so that more people can enjoy a career in this amazing industry.

Writing Songs


I think every musician dreams of writing songs, selling millions of copies and becoming rich and famous.  I won’t say that is unrealistic because it does happen and I think its very important to think BIG!  If you are starting out then this is very possible.  There is a catch though…your songs have to be good.  Not just ok or average…really good!

The production has to be up to the same standard as everything else.  Much like any other business, if you produce something that is substandard then it isn’t released to the public.  Songs can be simple but the quality is immensely important.  This is why successful producers can make an unknown artist into a star because they know how to create a product that is up to standard and is also very marketable.

It would be easy to talk about pop groups, boy bands and x factor hyped commercial artists but in this article I’m going to stick to the hard working, dedicated song writers out there that want to work in the music industry because they love music.  Most artists have a degree of talent and what makes them successful is usually a confidence and certainty that they will become successful.  They dream and it comes true.

Many songwriters starting out are deterred by the pop artists that seem to come from nowhere.  Its frustrating when you are working so hard and somebody just comes along and becomes successful at such an early age.  Don’t be put off, it was obviously their time.  My advice would be: keep going!  There are many bands and songwriters who have worked hard for years and years and not had any success but then suddenly…it happens.  I saw Elbow play a tiny gig in Exeter in 2000.  They played to maybe 30 people and it wasn’t their first UK tour.  This group had been working hard for years and then all of a sudden they gained recognition and they exploded into mainstream media.  Hard work, determination and ultimately…good songs!

Write good songs, keep going, dream where you want to be and it will happen.

So, how do you make the money?  Well, they are many revenue streams for a succesful artist but I’m going to focus on royalties.  If you write your own material then please consider signing up to PRS for Music or alternatively Sentric Music.  PRS costs about £50 to register whereas Sentric costs nothing.

Royalties are earned every time your music is played in public.  This could be a live performance or airplay on radio or just through a stereo system in a shop.  If it’s played in public you are owed royalties.  Many people do not realise this and it can increase your income as a musician without you really doing anything different.  Play your music in public and you can receive royalties, its as simple as that.

It works because every business playing music (be it a pub, venue, festival or even a doctors surgery or a flower shop) must purchase a license.  The income from those licenses is then distributed to the artists (minus a percentage taken from the collection agency).  What you will need to do is register with a collection agency, list the tracks that you have composed and input the place and date that they have been performed.  If the track has been aired on the radio, television or internet then that information is usually automatically sent to the collection agency by the company itself.  If you play bigger venues then you may be asked by management to complete a PRS form which is then sent off by the venue directly to the collection agency.

Both the PRS for Music and Sentric Music websites are really easy to navigate and they have a members section where you can upload your gig or airplay details.

The money you earn is dependent on:

  • Size of the venue
  • Ticket Price
  • Where you are on the bill – Headline/Support etc

So if you played a few of your own tunes at a local venue you might get around £5 but if you go on to play a huge festival then you could be entitled to thousands.  Airplay is approx £50-80 depending on the audience figures.  The most popular UK radio station (Radio 2) pays the most because it has the highest number of listers.

Streaming music is slightly different as, at present, the streaming companies have managed to build a system where the artist is paid very little and the streaming companies receive a lot.  Each stream is worth much less than a penny and looking at some colleagues streaming statements, the return to the artist is laughable.  Good business I guess but as usual the artists are left feeling the pinch.  I do not use Spotify or Deezer for this reason and even iTunes has a fairly poor return for the artist.  Music business has always been the same, the person or persons producing the product are not the people making the profit.  They get some but the lions share seems to always go to a third party.


Music for television, internet and advertisements is becoming increasingly popular and synchronisation provides a method for artists to submit their work for these opportunities.  PRS and Sentric both offer sync updates and have a list of national and international clients looking for music for their product.  If you think that your music would suit an advertisement or the title music for a new show then sign up and start posting your links.

Get writing!

So if all this sounds doable then get writing and start playing your own music in public.  I hear so many covers in this profession.  Don’t get me wrong, I like listening to covers, playing covers and reworking other peoples music but the way to truly move forward is to create and promote new music.

Useful links for UK readers:

Please post links to your own material in the comments section below – I’ll try to listen to all of them!…


One Comment Add a Comment
  1. Payoneer
    May 5, 2015

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