I’d argue that becoming a successful Producer is harder than ever. Sure, we have a greater access to technology than ever before, but that means that so does everybody else, creating this huge surplus of Aspiring Producers all being able to create high quality music from a laptop in their bedroom. And that’s a beautiful thing, because it allows all of us to take advantage of that, too. However, when you couple that with the fact that Music Industry revenues have substantially decreased (let’s be honest, mostly due to Piracy…) we suddenly have an abundance of Producers fighting for a piece of a smaller pie.
As a result, Producers have to work harder than ever, and more creatively, to try and earn a living doing what they love to do and the most important factor in successfully doing that is DIVERSIFYING YOUR INCOME STREAMS. I know that might sound like some stupid business mumbo-jumbo, but all it basically means is trying to squeeze out multiple streams of income from different places, rather than relying solely on one thing i.e selling beats. The days of $250k beats are pretty much behind us, let’s be honest. And that’s really only the Pharrell’s, Dr. Dre’s, Timbaland’s etc. of this world that would have been able to command that price. For most of us, it may not be that likely. That doesn’t mean that you can’t earn a good living doing what we all love to do, you just have to think a little more creatively.
Below I have outlined the best ways to keep that money rolling in (IMO…)
1. Sell & Lease Beats
Obviously, this had to be the first one, because as a Producer it is our most direct and straightforward way to create an income. As a Producer, we create ‘works’, however you want to view them, that’s essentially what our beats/tracks are. They are our art, novels, films and as music creatives this is what they represent. Each of these pieces have a monetary value that you attach to it in exchange for the right to use it, in the same way that a piece of Art has a value. Obviously, the price of each track is at the discretion of the Producer, you may feel like your tracks are worth $500,000 every time, but let’s be realistic here. However, don’t sell yourself or the music that you create short. These are still your beats that you’ve poured your soul and many hours of hard work into.
As for online selling, there are two primary categories we are dealing with here – lease and exclusive licenses. Leases provide the buyer with limited use of your track, it could be up to 5,000 copies sold, for example. They do not obtain ownership rights of the track and you are free to lease it to other artists. If they wish to have more exclusive use of the track, then they could pay more to purchase those ‘exclusive’ rights to the track, providing you with the greater income up-front, but you would not be able to sell or lease the track to anyone else. This could be accomplished by simply setting up a Soundcloud site with an e-mail address, or could be a little more professional and setup an official website through a hosting company, such as Bluehost and a WordPress blog, but really all you need is a Paypal account (to accept the payments, duh) and a way to distribute the files once purchased (even something as simple as an e-mail or file transfer service). It doesn’t take very much to get started.
If, however, you are dealing more with artists, managers, A&R’s etc. the setup will be slightly different and you will be dealing more on a beat-by-beat basis, depending on the budget of that artist and, of course, how badly they want the beat.
Don’t devalue your artistry by charging $20 a beat (#noremore20dollarleases …. that’s what I’m saying) when it’s obviously worth much more. Although, there may be times when you may wish to charge much less, perhaps even give it away for free, if there is something else available in exchange, which leads me on to my next point…
2. Producer Royalties & Publishing
Quite often looked at as the Holy Grail of Income for Producers and Songwriters because if you do it right and have a substantial hit on your hands, these will continue to roll in for years and years after the song or album has been released.
Firstly, let’s take Publishing. In it’s most basic form, Publishing, or more specifically Mechanical Royalties, Performance Royalties and Licenses, are basically the fee the Writer of the Composition receives every time their composition is sold, performed or covered. This is where the lines become especially blurred in most genres these days, especially in Hip-Hop/EDM/Pop etc. where the Producer of the track is often viewed as a Writer also because they are responsible for creating the “musical bed” (i.e the beat/track) that the artist will sing or rap over. So, for the Travis Scott track ‘Antidote’, WondaGurl is listed as one of the Producers and is also listed as one of the Writers, so she will receive a share of that Publishing pie whenever the track is sold, performed or covered. (Interestingly enough, all the members of the Menahan Street Band are also listed as Writers, which suggests to me that a sample of theirs was used, and they/their publishers are taking some of the Publishing royalty in exchange).
However, if the Producer didn’t contribute any musical material to the track, which is quite often the case in Rock genres, then they would not be entitled to any of the Publishing pie, but would still receive their own Producer Royalty for the work on the track.
It has been well known for Producers, especially Aspiring Producers looking to gain a foothold in the industry to give away free tracks in exchange to get them placed with bigger artists, in the hope that they would earn more back from the Publishing & Royalties. There is nothing wrong with this strategy, and whilst I don’t want people to devalue their craft by giving away free beats every time, be smart and assess whether it would be beneficial to forego the money up-front for a bigger slice of the pie after the fact.
PLEASE NOTE: This is quite a complex and detailed topic, bigger than the realm of this article, so I will be having a whole series on Publishing and Producer Royalties on tAP and on the Podcast in the very near future, be sure to sign up to the Newsletter to be notified of that.
3. Become The Artist
As the music buying public becomes so much more diverse, and the styles of music people wish to consume have expanded along with it, there are plenty of opportunities for the Producer to become the artist and to sell their tracks as SONGS (not just beats for singers/rappers). This is most evident in the EDM genres, which have exploded in popularity and diversity over the last 10/15 years, and have given a whole other generation of bedroom Producers a platform to become the artist and the name on the cover of the CD (you remember, those little weird round things…) or, more appropriately today, the artist in your iTunes library. These Producers have the luxury of not having to seek placements because, essentially, they ARE the placement. This could be possible in any genre, too, so long as you can make the instrumentals interesting enough for the everyday listener, or you can enlist the help of some singers/songwriters to feature on the tracks i.e NaughtyBoy ft. Sam Smith. The Producer becomes the artist.
4. Sample Kits
I’m sure you’ve seen that pretty much every Producer has a Sample Kit collection these days, so this may not necessarily be the most effective point. We’ve even got some (awesome ones) here on the site and I’ve also partnered with !llmind over at Kitsohard.com to bring you the Haunting Pianos kit, which you should definitely check out. It is obviously a pretty highly saturated market but there will always be a demand for Producers who need new sounds, samples and inspiration, no matter how much you grow as a Producer, you will always need that. Maybe look to do something a little different and create something slightly more unique to bring the the Sample Kit market because, let’s be honest, Drums have been done to death right now. Get creative with it.
5. Sync Licensing
Another one that is a little more behind the scenes and often overlooked, but can be highly lucrative for it’s creators, are known as ‘Sync’ licenses. It is simply a license which grants the copyright owner of the track to allow someone to ‘sync’ (hence the name…) their music to some form of visual media. That could be commercials, movies, television, video games etc. Some of these deals can be highly lucrative especially for big movies and commercials and could be a great way to jump start your platform as a Producer. Although, be warned, similar to the Publishing world, this world can be very tricky due to the collaborative nature of the music industry and the complications of who owns which part of the copyright. Something to keep in mind as you develop as a Producer but more to come on this later…
6. Online Library Music
Somewhat similar to the above point, Producers can create music to be used as part of a Royalty-Free library. I included this one as a separate point to the above because, to me at least, it’s fundamentally different. With this one I am talking about utilizing one of the many online Royalty-Free music libraries such as The Music Bed, Premium Beat and AudioJungle, my personal favorite where I have passively earned into the 4 figure region (look out for an in-depth article coming on AudioJungle in the very near future). Essentially, these sites allow Producers to upload music and maintain a profile where prospective buyers can come and purchase licenses to use in their YouTube videos, Corporate promotions, Wedding videos and so much more. Depending on the site, they pay a flat fee depending on the level of license they wish to purchase, and you continue to earn income from it over time.
I know, I know, there’s always that stigma of ‘those who can’t do…. teach!’, and there may be some truth in that but let’s be real for a moment… Producing is a skill, and a very technical one at that. You’ve spent hours in your bedroom perfecting it, and perhaps like myself, spent hours in University and Music classes learning the fundamentals of Music and Production. So you have the technical knowledge, and people will pay for knowledge/education to help them get better, quicker. It’s no different from teaching someone to Dance, or play Piano or how to fix car engines. People will pay for knowledge. As a teacher, you are still involved in what you love doing, and it can often be more lucrative than simply working a normal 9-5 job, and provides you with the freedom to still work on your own craft. Perhaps look at creating an after-school club to teach Production, or advertise to teach privately where you can take on adults and children as students.
And there you have it folks, those are my recommended methods to help diversify your income streams as a Producer. As a test, I urge you all to get out there and just try and introduce ONE of these streams into your daily hustling as a Producer. If you’ve only ever focused on selling beats, then maybe release an EP of Instrumentals… or if you’ve got an EP, try and get some of that music featured on a commercial through a sync license. You won’t be able to achieve and implement them all over night, it’s not possible. But try and gradually introduce them one-by-one over time, so that if one dries up, you won’t be left bankrupt and you can rely on the others to hold you over, whilst you bring the others back up.
There is no exact science to this, so get creative! If you’ve got any ideas you can add, or anything that you rely on as an Aspiring Producer, then please hit me up on Facebook or Twitter and let me know. Hopefully we can get a healthy, helpful discussion going.