Shine and poverty: a little more about how modern musicians earn their living

    We conclude our short series of articles on how the digital revolution affected the earnings of musicians , and what to do with it now - what are the alternative sources of income .

    Today we’ll talk about three more ways to earn money and give examples from the industry. Photo by Artem Beliaikin / Unsplash So, let’s once again note for those who have just joined us. We started the cycle of materials on making musicians with a review of the situation as a whole and tried to speculate on what the digital revolution had in terms of real opportunities for making money on music.

    This material caused an active reaction and discussion in the comments, so we decided to continue the story. But already with a lot more examples of who of the real musicians finds alternative ways to improve their financial condition - from “regular” work to tours and side projects . Next - expand this list.

    Exploit your brand

    With the advent of the Internet and streaming platforms, albums have become much more accessible - in every sense of the word. It is believed that modern music should not be expensive and be the main "product" of musical groups. The brand that the group is developing is much more important and easier to monetize. Thus, production projects, which are primarily a reality show for fans, and, in the second, a music product, are profitable.

    People go crazy with Korean boy bands, and sweep products on the shelves where you can find their name. They are so popular that famous brands from the fashion world fight for the right to associate with their music. In total, fans of such groups spend more than one hundred million dollars annuallyon licensed souvenirs. They literally pay for the right to carry ads on their bodies. This is an absolutely win-win situation.

    You can recall a dozen groups, the existence of which many know only thanks to T-shirts and other branded products. One of them is the Norwegian project Burzum . A difficult-to-understand album, Filosofem became part of popular culture, because T-shirts with its cover were popular among teenagers at one time.

    To make money on T-shirts, you need to invest a lot of money in cultivating a commercially attractive look. Group members should be the subject of media interest. Sometimes interest can be sharply negative - for example, vocalist Burzum “became famous” for setting fire to churches and killing a colleague . But this is an extreme situation.

    Most likely, the musician will have to spend money on professional media production and content marketing. Creating a celebrity “from scratch” so that interest in a person is manifested regardless of her creative contribution is not an easy task. Ultimately, it can be even more difficult than just “spinning up” the music.


    If you really need money, you can always ask them directly from the fans. With the advent of platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, this has never been easier. Even well-known musicians resort to crowdfunding simply in order to recoup the recording of the album.

    Photo by Melissa Walker Horn / Unsplash
    Legends of the 90s hip-hop De La Soul thus raised 600 thousand dollars . To raise funds, they also had to use their brand - fans who supported the group received a variety of souvenirs and even the opportunity to meet with the performers in person.

    You can also, bypassing crowdfunding platforms, open pre-orders of the album a year before its release, and use the proceeds to pay for the recording and production.

    True, no crowdfunding is likely to help a start-up group. To gather an audience that can provide financial support, you will need to spend a lot of money, effort and time.

    Fifteen thousand people pay "salary" to Amanda Palmer using the Patreon service - but these people probably would not have known about her if it had not been for the success of her previous work.

    Commercial music

    The easiest way to write music and get paid for it is to agree on a payment in advance. This is possible when you write music for commercials and movies.

    Many musicians in their free time from the tour are busy precisely in this kind of work. Tequillajazz's Evgeny Fedorov makes a living by creating soundtracks for the police series. Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood has become a respected film composer - his work has been nominated for Academy Awards and Golden Globes. Of course, not all musicians have a talent for writing movie music . It may be easier for them to try advertising.

    Music in advertising is usually ready-made tracks sold for advertising purposes. Such music rarely surprises or makes a deep emotional impression. Its role is to create a positive context for the presentation of a product to an audience. Therefore, with rare exceptions, advertising songs are so similar to each other.

    If you write a light, digestible indie pop, and do not touch on serious, emotional topics - you should try to break into advertising. But know that you have many competitors. In an attempt to popularize their work and start making money on it, many post music with an open license for commercial use. In our blog on Habré, we just recently spoke about the whole spectrum of such sites:

    The situation with the intensified struggle of musicians for the attention of brands is wonderfully illustrated by a parody of the Canadian comedian John Lajois entitled "Please use this song."

    In Japan, the situation with advertising music is slightly different: new songs for advertising are written specially, and even popular artists do it. Siina Ringo - a singer who began to assemble stadiums twenty years ago, and most likely does not need financial support, has released many branded songs over the past few years.

    Some served as “introductions” to television broadcasts, and specifically this one was written for the opening of a new shopping center in Ginza. The company logo is even on the cover of the single. This model is sometimes copied in the West: for example, Britney Spears once released a song for advertising Pepsi. But this remains a rarity.

    Now there are many ways to make money on music, but most of them are open only to established musicians. It is hoped that over time the situation will change, and professional performers will be able to spend more time on art, and less on trying to feed themselves.

    What we recommend reading on the weekend:

    Radio recorders from the USSR: a brief history of audio systems in Soviet cars
    Russian radio performances: from "Baby Monitor" to "Solaris"
    "They didn’t shoot": audio projects in which something went wrong
    How did the story begin and end record players for cars

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