10 Ways to Earn More Music Income Today

As you transition from part-time to full-time in your music composition career, it’s important to supplement your income with other music work to speed up the process. Here are 10 ways to earn more music income beside custom scoring:

1. Music Teaching

Teaching is one of the best and most flexible ways to earn supplemental music income while growing your composition business. You control your own schedule and rates. You can start and stop at any time of the year. I did this for three years before going full-time into music composition and the transition was seamless. Should you take the freelance route, there are three options:

Brick-and-mortar music store

PROS

  1. Store staff finds you work and handles all communication, scheduling, and payments

  2. Commission opportunities when students upgrade to more expensive instruments and gear

  3. Free access to studio equipment and facility for recitals

CONS

  1. Company gets a large cut (usually 33-40%)

  2. Lessons are more challenging to stop since it affects both the store and your students

  3. Limited ability to choose students (all decisions are made with lesson manager)

I recommend that you apply to become a lesson instructor at music stores including Music and Arts, Guitar Center, and Sam Ash

Personal studio

PROS

  1. Work from home and students travel to you

  2. Use your own resources and teach at your own leisure

  3. Keep 100% of profits

 CONS

  1. You handle all communications, scheduling, and payments

  2. You must find your own students

  3. Housemates, children, and pets can easily interrupt lessons

I recommend that you have a dedicated music room in your home that is setup for teaching. Always communicate with housemates about what times you will be teaching to avoid awkward interruptions. This is particularly important if you have children or pets.

Online Teaching

PROS

  1. Work from home and students travel to you

  2. Use your own resources and teach at your own leisure

  3. Keep 100% of profits

  4. Share screens and software with students

  5. No need for a dedicated music room

CONS

  1. You handle all communications, scheduling, and payments

  2. You must find your own students

  3. Housemates, children, and pets can easily interrupt lessons

  4. Technology errors can cause stress and frustrated students

  5. No ability for a “hands-on” teaching style

I recommend using the GoToMeeting app for online teaching. Teaching companies such as OutSchool allow you to teach through their website video conferencing software and they handle all the administrative tasks for a large cut, similar to brick-and-mortar music stores.

2. Performing

Most music composers play at least one instrument and this is a valuable skill that people want to pay for. Reach out to friends and family in your local network and ask about upcoming weddings, parties, and events to see what performance opportunities are available. The winter holiday season is particularly fruitful if you reach out to local schools, churches, clubhouses, and camps. I’ve been performing piano at Christmas parties for the last decade…none of which I’ve ever once sought out. Once you start playing at a few gigs, your name will spread among friends and you can stay as busy as you’d like. On average, these performing gigs pay $200-300 per hour and you can charge more depending on additional rehearsal time, sheet music preparation for additional musicians, and travel distance. As a bonus, these gigs are usually scheduled on the weekends, so you can easily earn an additional $1,000 or more from a couple performance gigs.

 

3. Royalties

As a music composer, you likely already have music in your portfolio. Why not put this music to work for you as passive income? Here are three ways to earn royalties with your music:

Stock Music Libraries

Music library websites such as Audio Jungle, Pond5, and Premium Beat, among dozens of others, are great avenues to sell your music. Whenever uploading new music, you have the option of deciding between exclusive or nonexclusive licensing with the website. Exclusive licenses earn a higher payout per track sale but limit your track to only be sold on that one marketplace. Nonexclusive licenses have a lower payout but allow your tracks to be sold on other nonexclusive marketplaces. There is no right or wrong way to choose, but focusing on exclusive licensing through one marketplace is usually the best way to grow quickly. The simplicity of maintaining one artist profile and gaining traction through repeat customers in one marketplace is significantly easier than dividing your musical assets among numerous platforms.

When choosing a marketplace to focus on, try to match the style of your music with the typical clientele of the website. Audio Jungle attracts corporate video creators, so upbeat instrumental pop music will sell well there. Alternatively, Premium Beat is marketed for filmmakers, so epic orchestral trailer music will sell best there. For video game composers, the Unity Asset Store and Unreal Marketplace are the best websites to sell music packs.

 Music libraries help tell millions of stories through film, television, video games, radio broadcasts, podcasts, and social media, so it’s important to have products readily available for these creators. It’s important to regularly update and maintain your libraries. For best results, upload one new track every week to attract attention and exponentially increase sales.

Music library companies usually receive a large 30-50% cut, but this is a fair exchange for exposure, sales processing, and automatic payments. With a portfolio of ten genre-appropriate tracks, you can easily earn a consistent $100+ per month. This will increase as you continue adding to your portfolio.

Performing rights organizations

Aside from music marketplaces, the big royalty payments come from your Performing Rights Organization (PRO) when your music is placed on broadcast media. In the United States, the three PROs are Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), and Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC). In my experience, television pays the highest royalties in the industry and BMI consistently pays the highest rate of the three PROs for television.

 The best way to land music on television is to become a writer for a small, boutique music library whose focus is quality music. These smaller libraries usually consist of music editors for major TV networks, so they are the decision-makers for what music is placed on TV shows and commercials. Music placement earnings vary wildly, ranging from $0.01 to $2,000+ per usage, but $50 to $75 is the most common. These royalties are distributed 9 months after the air date of your music, so this is a long-term, back-end strategy. Pricing depends on numerous factors including country, network, time of day, number of viewers, prestige of show, etc. Landing ten seconds on NBC’s Dancing with the Stars during a weeknight primetime episode will pay significantly higher than a full two minutes used on a foreign network at 3AM.

 The advantage of television royalties is that one of your tracks can be used hundreds of times if it becomes a hot track within the small circle of music editors (they like to share their favorite tracks with each other). As a bonus, these boutique music libraries receive occasional inquiries from major TV networks for custom ad campaigns, usually paying between $25,000–$150,000+ per track license – offered only to their small roster of composers. These boutique music libraries are not open to the public and don’t have applications for new writers.

 The only way to become one of these writers is to know one of the music editors personally or to have a composer within one of these libraries vet for you. If you have neither of these in your network, I suggest compiling a demo reel playlist with three to five tracks in a modern epic orchestral or electronic-hybrid movie trailer style and directly emailing every boutique library you can find. Be sure to include something to the effect of: “I would love to serve your team with more music in this style. Let me know when you’re available for a brief follow-up call.” No one is going to bring you on their team without meeting you first. Extending a follow-up phone call will provide an opportunity to introduce yourself and share what you can bring to their team.

Sound exchange

Sound Exchange is an organization that collects unpaid online royalties and pays them directly to the artist. Membership is free and the system automatically detects your music from published releases (through a distributor like Soundrop) and pays you monthly for every unpaid use of your music in online media. YouTube is by far the largest provider of this information as creators are uploading over 576,000 hours of new content daily! Your music is likely being used in some of these videos and you can now get paid for this. Don’t leave money on the table. I earn almost as much from Sound Exchange monthly as I do from YouTube ad revenue.

 

4. Album Sales

Soundrop (previously Loudr) is my favorite music distributor for selling and streaming music. Its connected marketplaces (Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, Pandora, etc.) are the giants of the music industry and you can upload music to these marketplaces for no upfront or annual costs in exchange for 85% of all digital revenue (Soundrop earns a 15% cut). Additionally, cover songs only cost a one-time $9.99 per song fee to license. Compare this to TuneCore, CDBaby, or any of the other major distributors and you will see how exciting this model is versus annual subscriptions or costly upfront fees. Soundrop gets paid when you get paid, so they fight to maintain your catalog and are constantly expanding into other relevant marketplaces to stay current. I can also vet that their customer service is unparalleled; their team is willing to help you as much as possible (and as quickly as possible).

Alternatively, if you wish to retain 97% revenue from your music sales, I suggest selling your albums through Bandcamp. Even though Bandcamp earns a 3% commission, you can price your music however you like and there are no costs to upload music. Generally, your music will receive less exposure (and thus less sales) from Bandcamp albums versus the higher-traffic marketplaces, but Bandcamp albums are always fully editable – this is particularly useful if you want to sell an album with multiple updates throughout the development of a project, including track updates, artwork updates, or additional music. I tend to use Bandcamp as a holding cell for soundtracks in production that are of high-enough quality to sell, but not quite finished enough to release in a permanent format. 

 

5. Instrument Recording

Recording an instrument for other composers, artists, and producers is another great way to earn supplemental income. These gigs pay well for your time and often book you for multiple hours and sessions if working on an EP or album. The industry average rate is $100/hr. per instrument and you can charge more once your notoriety increases or if you’re recording challenging passages. If you are skilled at multiple instruments, consider recording more than one per session to earn a double rate. These jobs can best be found by reaching out to local recording studios and offering to record for musician friends online. It’s important to have a demo reel of your recording work handy to share when a potential client is interested.

 

6. Courses

Online courses have played a significant role in building my music business – course sales account for 20% of my monthly income. Education is the second largest industry in the United States following healthcare. With online education growing every year and university prices increasing, many students have turned to courses as a viable alternative for learning.

Udemy and Teachable are the leading course platforms available for educators. Each is extremely different with multiple pros and cons. Here’s my comparison, having used both to successfully sell my courses:

Udemy

  • hosted within the Udemy website marketplace

  • Free to create and upload courses

  • Courses must follow specific criteria (length of videos, number of videos, video format, video quality, etc.) and must pass review by the Udemy team

  • You can set your price up to $200 per course, but Udemy will constantly offer up to 95% discounts to students

  • Udemy handles all course marketing (and does this extremely well)

  • Udemy gets a 50% cut of all courses they sell and 3% of all courses you sell (affiliate links)

  • Udemy pays you once a month, 30 days after previous month sales

Teachable

  • embedded within your personal website

  • $29–$399 Monthly Subscription

  • Courses have no limitations

  • You have full control of your prices

  • You handle all your course marketing

  • You earn 100% profits

  • You get paid instantly whenever a course is purchased

 

When I first became serious about transitioning from part-time to full-time as a music composer, I knew that course sales would be a pivotal income source for accelerating my business growth. I had already created hundreds of YouTube videos, including music composition and music business tutorials, so I knew that I had a proven audience who would benefit from a paid course. The need was present, so I began researching. I was shocked to find no courses on these topics. How could this be? A course like this would have changed my life ten years prior when I was trying to figure out how to compose for digital media in high school. I had never met another composer until private lessons with my composition professor in college – and he was an academic classical composer. He taught me a lot about music composition, but he admitted to not having any experience or knowledge working with film, TV, or video games. I had to earn a Masters degree, pay over $100,000, and move to a different state just to work with and learn from digital media composers. I knew that I was not alone in my experience. What if I packaged my decade of experience and mentorship into a course? How could this change the industry? Could this be a solution for thousands of composers starting their journey with zero access otherwise?

I only had a small following at this time – less than 100 subscribers to my email list. Realistically, even with an average 5% click-through rate of my emails, my tiny audience would have only yielded a handful of sales at best. Thankfully, I chose to use Udemy as my course platform and let their marketing do the rest. Within one year, my first course Film, TV, and Video Game Music Composition + Production Basics rose to the top as the Best-Selling and Top-Rated course within its category. Years later, I still yield great sales from that course (and more courses created since). You can experience the updated version of this course for free today.

 As a bonus, I’ve also used my Udemy courses as a lead magnet to funnel thousands of students into my other services and products – they join my private Facebook group Sonic Storytellers, listen to my podcast of the same name, subscribe to my YouTube channel, read my blog articles, enroll in private coaching, and purchase this book. Courses are an incredible source for generating passive income and for building a community around your expertise – ultimately establishing yourself as an authority.

 I’ve also used Teachable to sell courses directly on my personal website and enjoyed the customization options and freedom to charge higher prices. When compared to my experience with Udemy though, I decided that I would rather let them handle all my marketing and management, despite the reduced prices and lack of control. Udemy has landed me thousands of sales, so I’m not complaining. I suggest you try both platforms and compare results.

 

7. Freelancing Websites


Freelancer, Upwork, and similar websites are practical resources for finding music work on famine days. After a quick filter search, you can easily find numerous job posts seeking quick turn-around work from skilled musicians. Typical jobs consist of custom jingles, notation, production, recording, voice overs, etc. and can be completed in one or two days. I strongly recommend avoiding any job-posting sites that require payment to apply. You should be paid for your work, never penalized for seeking work.

Most digital media composers have experience working with live musicians and orchestras. These orchestration and notation skills are extremely useful for earning additional income. There are countless musicians in your area who have great songwriting skills, but little understanding of how to notate their songs for future performances and other musicians. Help them succeed in their careers by offering to create sheet music, chord charts, lyric sheets, and tabs. You might even land some recording or production work during your conversations.


8. YouTube Monetization

YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world…use this to your advantage. Whether you upload your soundtracks, perform music covers, create tutorial videos, or offer valuable insight into the music industry, these can all be monetized. As a YouTube channel creator with at least 1,000 subscribers, you can opt-in to Google AdSense and place ads before, during, and/or after your videos to earn extra income. Ads have become normal for YouTube viewers, so there’s no penalty for adding them in your videos. Serious YouTube viewers can subscribe to YouTube Premium to avoid all ads, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t opt-in to AdSense if you’re eligible. After all, even YouTube Premium subscribers still earn you ad revenue for watching your monetized videos. You can’t expect much revenue until you receive upwards of 100,000 views per video, but every income source counts.


9. Affiliate Marketing

Amazon, BlueHost, Apple, and numerous other companies have affiliate programs that allow you to make a 5-20% commission every time you sell one of their products or services. This can easily be done by providing purchase links on your website, social media, blogs, YouTube videos, etc. For best results, I suggest passionately sharing with your audience about why you enjoy using a product or service in your daily life, then providing a link in a very organic manner. Always keep a clear picture of your brand identity when choosing products and services to promote – never compromise your integrity or audience trust for a quick buck.

Also keep in mind that affiliate link disclosures are mandated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Whenever you use a link that results in a commission, you must disclose this information to your audience. Best practices include placing disclosures in obvious areas and using clear language to avoid confusion. You can read my Affiliate Disclaimer here.

10-20% of my monthly income comes from affiliate marketing. The best part about this style of income is that it’s a one-time investment per product. The process is simple: create a compelling promotion (video, blog article, podcast episode, etc.), link to your affiliate URL, create a short affiliate link disclosure, and leave it alone to earn income while you sleep and focus on other projects. My favorite products to sell are sample libraries – I use these every day to compose music and I know them in-and-out. I only promote sample libraries that I believe in and know will be beneficial for my audience.

 

10. Tax Deductions

While you should certainly consult with a tax professional, there are several well-known tax deductions that you may be eligible for as a small business. Particularly as a music composer, you can write-off all music gear expenses, entertainment expenses used for research and educational purposes, office supplies, business events, business travel, services needed to run your business, and more. On average, I write-off $1,000 per month as business expenses from my LLC bank account, saving me over $3,000 annually in taxes.

Conclusion

Once you’ve evaluated which of these ten supplemental strategies are a good fit for your skills and lifestyle, it’s time to act. Even a few extra hundred dollars per month can make a difference for your family budget, allowing you the freedom to pursue your first custom music job…

 

ACTION STEPS

  1. What supplemental music income streams do I currently have?

  2. What music products can I create to give myself more financial freedom?

  3. What is one additional music income stream I can pursue today?