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(Almost) everything you need to know to earn a living by recording music

What do you need to know to earn a living by recording music? Who will pay for your music? How should you market your music? How much can you earn?


'Everything', in this sense, is a bit like 'infinity' - it's difficult to gauge its extent. But we are here to help. Undoubtedly you would like to earn money recording music. Trouble is, it is just so incredibly difficult to get past the first hurdle - even if you're good.

Here are some of the issues facing anyone wanting to earn a living by recording music...

  • Knowing what markets are out there. Everyone knows about CDs and downloads. But there are many other potential markets for recorded music, some even more profitable. Some markets are almost entirely overlooked, and hence offer opportunities.

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  • Knowing what the market wants. The market is almost never directly the public. Almost always there is an intermediary such as a record label or publisher. They know what their market wants, but do you know what they want? Don't underestimate how much there is to learn.

  • The competition! Didn't you know - everyone is trying to make money out of music. That means the competition is tough indeed. You have to improve, improve, improve and improve until you are in a league with only very few other players. Having said that, the best musicians only want to work on the most prestigious projects. There are plenty of low-end projects around that you could work on, even if you're not yet the best recording musician in the world.

  • Making money from other people's music. You can do this as a producer, or as a remixer. You can also do it as an engineer. But a producer usually gets a royalty. A remixer only gets a one-off fee. An engineer usually works for a daily rate. Which would you rather be?

  • Legal issues. If a record label, for example, is going to spend a lot of money promoting your work, they will want to tie you to a good long contract. So you will be tied, but they will be free to cut you loose the moment your popularity starts to wane. That's legal issue #1 out of around a million.

  • Establishing a career. Many musicians achieve overnight success, then fall out of favor just as quickly. Signing a contract may be many musicians' dream, but it hardly ever leads to a lasting career.

  • Knowing where the money comes from. You can make money by writing a song and having that song performed. That gets you performance royalties. Selling records brings you mechanical royalties. If you make a recording of someone else's song you can earn royalties on performances and manufacture of records. You can make a master recording and license it to a label. The list goes on...

  • Avoiding blowing all your income on equipment. Equipment is like a drug for many a recording musician. Every penny they earn, they spend on more equipment. And setting up and learning new equipment takes time and energy they should be using building and establishing their career.

You may have realized that to cover everything you need to know about earning a living by recording music is too big a concept to cover completely.

But what do you think? Do you know of any interesting ways to make a living from music (that you are prepared to share!)

By David Mellor Wednesday January 12, 2011