by Aden Fischer-Brown
At the end of my senior year of high school, my rock band released an album online. It wasn’t a huge commercial success, but that wasn’t our goal. We just wanted to commemorate our time playing together and allow our friends and family to listen to our music. A few months later, I received a check in the mail from multiple streaming services and digital music stores. Even though that money was barely enough to buy dinner, it still made me wonder:
can significant money be made in the music industry?
With the right expertise and connections, musicians can make a decent profit through real-world opportunities. They can teach music lessons in their area or using video chat. They can play live gigs, and sell physical copies of their music and other merchandise. Or, they can write, record, and produce music for others.
However, the traditional ways of making money might not be enough. Fortunately, new innovations have fundamentally altered the music industry and created a host of new income opportunities for musicians. It is no longer necessary to be signed to a record label in order to be successful. Digital distribution companies like CD Baby, TuneCore, and Loudr enable anyone to post their music on music streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. Every time one of their songs is listened to, the artist gets paid. The popularization of social media has also benefited artists.
Musicians can share their music, gain traction, and interact with their fanbase instantaneously and for free.
Artists who need help to get their career started can even raise money through crowdfunding sites to offset the cost of producing and marketing their music.
At the center of the music industry’s relationship with social media lies the concept of going “viral.” For those who are lucky enough to have a video or song go viral, it’s pretty simple. Once your content gets noticed and shared enough, it can spread across social media like wildfire.
Going viral can turn a bedroom singer into a worldwide star overnight. There is a growing list of music celebrities who got their big break through viral performances, like Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, and Tori Kelly. Producing even one viral song can launch your career and allow you to make a living and more out of your music.
So, whether you try to create a viral hit or make money from a variety of different sources, it can be argued that there is money to be made in the music industry, and it has never been easier to do so.
But is this optimism misguided? Perhaps these same advances in technology have made it more difficult to be successful and make money.
The first issue lies in how difficult it is to go viral. No one has cracked the code on how exactly to induce virality. It is almost impossible to predict how social media sites will react to any given phenomenon. So, money remains the most important factor in determining the success of a song. Big corporations in the music industry can use their money and influence to promote songs on social media, increasing the probability of virality. While it is possible for a unsigned and relatively unknown artist to go viral, it seems that the traditional powers still have control over who becomes famous in the industry.
The boom in streaming services also has its downsides, as the online music market has become oversaturated due to how easy it is to publish music.
Because there are so many artists vying for attention, it is difficult to get noticed by both potential listeners and record companies. Plus, streaming services don’t actually pay that much; Spotify admitted that it pays an average of $0.006 to $0.0084 per stream of a song. This means that an artist needs to have hundreds of thousands of listens to make significant money.
It’s clear there are both reasons to have hope and doubt with regards to making it in the music business. For every success story, there is an equivalent tale of frustration and failure. As the mechanisms of music consumption further evolve in the 21st century, this debate will surely continue. The only thing that is certain is that nothing is certain in the music industry.
So, can money be made in music, or should aspiring musicians start looking for steadier day jobs?