Making Money in Music is Hard, Part 1

by | Dec 22, 2022 | Music

I have a friend who’s been burning the candle on both ends chasing his dream.

I don’t think he sees it as a sacrifice. He loves what he does, he’s worked hard to get to where he’s at, and he’s achieved a degree of success in his endeavors as a teacher, producer, and artist.

In his own words, he’s achieved “mid-tier” status with Spotify. The reality is, if you’re making any money on Spotify, you’re doing well. So, he’s correct in his self-assessment.

But the only way he’s been able to get to that point is by reinvesting into his music. Heavily. His takeaway isn’t anything to write home about.

“Making money in music is hard,” he shared with me in one conversation.

I know well what he’s talking about. I don’t just have personal experience or anecdotal evidence to back it up. I’ve looked at the cold, hard numbers and have seen exactly how hard it is to make anything close to a living wage from Spotify.

But I must emphasize, from Spotify.

I know how heavily the industry is invested in Spotify. It trickles all the way down to the smallest of independent artists attending music industry conferences in hopes of finding their own path to success in streaming.

I still remember when Canadian blue-eyed soul artist Remy Shand came out of hiding after a long absence to begin releasing music under the pseudonym Canary, and eventually Remy Shand.

I was lit up by what I heard, and I think it’s one of the reasons I got so excited about releasing singles and EPs again in 2016 and beyond. Shand was releasing sketches and demos, and that gave me the courage and permission I needed to do the same. Showing up consistently became my new M.O., not trying to do it right.

“If I just released more prolifically, maybe I’d have a chance at making a decent income in streaming too,” I thought to myself. Of course, I had no idea whether Shand himself was earning anything either.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s human.

And even though releasing more prolifically will give you a better chance at growing your Spotify following, it’s a long road to the bank. Plus, it’s the furthest thing from strategy, especially if you don’t have other pieces of the artistic career puzzle already slotted together.

The recipe for artistic success is out there, and it is possible to reverse engineer it, but the couch to big screen dream tends to blind young artists from the realities of exploitation. As I shared yesterday, finding a good musician coach is not as straightforward as following the first face you see on Instagram, unless you’re especially lucky. Shills and charlatans, sadly, are often the most visible.

There’s a bridge we need to cross as artists. Unfortunately, it’s not easy because it requires a paradigm shift.

Having gotten to the other side of it, it feels to me like a quick jaunt across a suspension bridge at the park. But to artists who’ve come this far trusting the often-empty promises of the music industry, it will appear more like a long, lonely, treacherous journey across a tightrope over the Grand Canyon.