How 6 Independent Musicians Make a Living Today

Vo Williams
  • Save

The whole point of this post is to show you that, yes, you can make a living as a musician. It takes great music, a lot of hard and smart work, and a solid music community. But you can do it. This post also shows you the specific ways six indie musicians are making money today (and how you can too).

Vo Williams – sync licensing

Vo Williams’ first sync placement was in a Big Game trailer around 2014. Since then, he’s landed over 1,000 placements.

And he said a trailer placement can pay the artist $20,000 on the publishing side and $20,000 on the master side ‒ and that’s on the low end!

He got started in this niche working with a music library (which is different from a sync licensing company). And now he works directly with music supervisors and others in the film industry.

Lucidious – streaming royalties + touring

Lucidious has garnered 200 million streams on Spotify. And as of this writing, he has over 300,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

He makes around $20,000 a month from streaming alone. How is this possible? Even though DSPs pay fractions of a penny per stream, most of his fans listen to several of his songs every month.

But streaming isn’t the only way he makes money ‒ he also tours and sells merch. But his career is thanks in large part to his success on Spotify.

Learn how to promote your next song (and your old ones too).

Carey Rayburn – special events

  • Save

There are about 1,400 Performing Arts Centers (PACs) located in most major cities in the United States. And each one books about 50 performances each year.

Trumpeter Carey Rayburn is one of the premier acts in the PAC market. He and his band, Good Co, have earned major agency representation, and they’ve appeared at most of the major Special Event conferences, playing over 500 shows in the Special Events market.

And they make over $200,000 a year performing in the PAC market, according to Ari’s Take.

Even though Rayburn trained under some renowned trumpeters and got a degree in Orchestral Trumpet Performance, that doesn’t mean you need to go that route too.

A PAC will pay between $1,000 to $15,000 (or more) for unknown performers. And then they’ll pay tens of thousands for the known, more experienced performers.

The types of performers that do well in Special Events include cover bands, tribute acts, world music, reggae, R&B, lounge singers, soul, blues, funk, a cappella, comedy, and niche acts.

Learn how to book high-paying private events.

Dave Ruch – educational performances

Dave Ruch
  • Save

Dave Ruch is a full-time musician, mainly performing for families and at schools. He started out playing 4-hour performances in clubs but ended up getting tendinitis.

That brought him to the world of educational performance.

He says you can make “$1,000-2,500 a day doing educational performances in schools, museums, libraries, and arts centers.”

He told me via email he charges $500 for a ~45-minute educational performance locally, and he’ll charge more if he has to travel. And he will sometimes do 2-3 of these shows a day.

He’s also been offering online educational performances, charging $149 per school.

So if you’re an entertaining performer, good with kids, and love to educate people, this niche could be perfect for you.

Joy Ike – live performance + live streaming + sync licensing

Joy Ike
  • Save

Joy Ike is a singer/songwriter/artist who left her publicist career in 2008 to become a full-time musician. She confirmed by email she has been a full-timer ever since.

Her biggest source of revenue is performing (in-person and live streaming), which includes merchandise sold at her shows.

Her second biggest income stream is licensing music through Musicbed.

Here’s her income breakdown in percentages for 2021:

  • 51% – live performance + live streaming (includes merch sold at shows)
  • 26% – licensing music via Musicbed
  • 12% – streaming and downloads
  • 7% – online merch sales (on her website and Bandcamp)
  • 4% – musician coaching and workshops

Clare Means – live streaming + street performing

Clare Means
  • Save

Clare Means makes her living from live streaming and busking (street performing).

She started out playing on the streets of Los Angeles five days a week. She began live streaming her street performances with her smartphone, soon streaming from her home. And over the past five years, she’s spent an average of 20 hours a week live streaming.

And she’s unique in that she mainly plays original songs. In fact, she’s had so much success that Ari’s Take partnered with her to make a step-by-step guide on how to livestream on Facebook, Twitch, YouTube, and Instagram. And some of the students are making several hundred dollars a week just from live streaming.

Clare has also set up tip jars on PayPal and Venmo, and she has a small group of supporters on Patreon.

Basically, music is her full-time gig. And she’s now considered one of the top experts in the niche of busking and live streaming.

How To Make a Living in Music

As you can see from this list, most of these musicians have multiple streams of revenue, usually 2-3. This is smart because if one stream dries up, you have others to rely on.

However, a few of these artists just got really great at one thing. They’ve gotten so successful at that one thing, they most likely have enough reserves to fall back on if things go south for them.

The point is, you can make a living as a musician in many different ways. These indie artists are proof of that.