The 3 Most Profitable DIY Revenue Streams, And Why Many Artists Succeed At Only One Of Them

14186955_904edd6831 (1)Guest post by Jay Frank (@Repojay) for sidewinder.fm, a music and tech think tank. 

Independent artists can make more money than ever before. The walls of major label distribution have crumbled, and have been down for a decade. Social
networks make promotion to fans easier and cheaper. Add in home recording, crowd-sourced artwork, and other cost cutting maneuvers and DIY musicians can be
financially successful.

Or so goes the myth.

Reality is far murkier. Yes, it is possible to make money as a DIY artist and many are doing it. However, they are not making it from selling recorded
music. That can certainly bring in money, but even modestly successful DIY artists generally gross $20,000 to $50,000 from sound recordings annually. These
are artists who have many songs in their catalog with some momentum. After you take into account recording costs and splitting revenue amongst band members
and the producer, there’s not a lot left. Even those with a big enough fan base to do deluxe packages get a decent gross, but profits can be elusive.

Yet, DIY artists living below stardom are consistently finding profitable careers. How are they achieving this if iTunes and Spotify revenues aren’t paying
the bills? The ones who are making a profit mostly fall into one of these three buckets:


Complain all you want about musicians making YouTube covers and goofy videos instead of being “serious”. The reality is many of them make a good living
from this. Costs are minimal compared to professional studio time. Distribution costs are near zero. The casualness of the content also allows for more
rapid creation than one might find for “official” recorded work.

Companies such as Maker Studios and Big Fra.me have grown to help these artists monetize their music with better-leveraged ad rates, production assistance,
and channel cross-promotion. Once ramped up with a lot of content, successful artists in this area can clear mid-to-high five figures in revenue. Since
they are often solo artists, they also don’t have to split it up much.


It’s a rough life trudging from city to city, especially with gas over $3 a gallon. Yet many artists have figured out a way to make this work. The rise of
house concerts has allowed some to make thousands per night when a club in town might have previously paid them hundreds.

Social networking has made promotion in new cities cheaper and easier to find the dozen “super fans” that might bring friends to a show. Smart artists also
tour in areas where they know a fan base exists from mailing list and social network data points.

Once at the show, with an audience primed to like the band (instead of grumpy locals), these artists sell more merchandise. Easier access to creative items
like sunglasses, jewelry, and handbags also leads to increased sales. Add this up, and musicians who aggressively work these approaches take in mid-to-high
five figures in profit. As tough as touring can be, artists focused on this are clearly leveraging it into a career.


The proliferation of cable channels and niche online audiences has meant more content and advertising that needs to be created professionally. This has
also led to more needs for music around the world. Creators also can’t settle for mediocre library music. They need professional, contemporary songs that
fit the mood of the creative.

Artists who fit the sound requirements and have a certain buzz amongst music supervisors are often rewarded with multiple placement opportunities for their
music. Rates can be as lower than $100 (on sites like Audiosocket, The Music Bed, and Cuesongs), but they can also be upwards of $100,000 for a worldwide
television spot. Even after paying a placement company, an artist can still end up with a mid-to-high five figures in profit. This is also before they may
get lucky with the “magic sync” that results in larger sales and popularity.

Bucket List

There are multiple examples of DIY artists who could fit into each of these buckets, but there are very few that were actually succeeding in multiple

YouTube artists don’t get enough road experience to draw well and their music lacks the “cred” music supervisors want. Touring artists mostly have “road”
content to post on YouTube (which doesn’t perform as well), and they are in the studio less often to make tracks for sync placements. Meanwhile, sync
artists tend to avoid YouTube for fear of diminishing their brand with covers, and don’t get much name recognition for their sync placements to draw on the

While success in multiple categories is elusive for most, success comes to those who focus on one revenue stream. By putting their energy in growing that
one element, a musician quickly learns what works for that bucket. Then they refine their trade to fit the medium and achieve greater success. Laser-sharp
vision allows them the financial resources to make a living at what they love.

The disadvantage is that this singular focus makes it difficult to get the career momentum most artists desire. Those that want to be rich and famous in
music need to be succeeding on radio, the Internet, press, TV, and touring. For the DIY musician, much of that is cost prohibitive anyway, so a focus on
what you can achieve makes smart business sense. However, it also explains why most major labels continue to dominate the biggest selling artists. Even
when the artist comes from an indie, they usually have a partnership with a major label to generate success.

If you are truly DIY and don’t have a team, focusing on one area to succeed is a wise business plan. If you achieve a lot of success in that bucket, then
you can evaluate how to grow on your terms. The new music business may look different, but it’s clear that a focus allows a greater chance towards DIY

(Photo Credit: Flickr)

Jay Frank (@Repojay) is the owner and CEO of DigSin and the author of "Futurehit.DNA" and "Hack Your Hit." He was formerly the Senior VP of Music Strategy for CMT.

Sidewinder.fm is founded and edited by Kyle Bylin of Live Nation Labs. If you would like to contribute a post to be featured on the site, please reach out.

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  1. While rates are generally lower for cable television, Audiosocket also places its artists’ music on network television, film, and with brands from Monster Energy to Volvo which generate higher revenue for its artists.

  2. Great article.
    I’m a selfmanaged musician myself and I got a lot out of it.
    Sometimes you can get stuck in your own thoughts/plans and feel a bit lost at times.
    Reading something like this helps to refocus and it reminds you that you are not the only one out there.
    Thanks for sharing……

  3. This article is really great. It definitely helped me to think about different revenue streams for the independent artist, but I felt like another huge part of the DIY artist’s revenue is merch. When an artist identifies their target market, they can then cater their merch to the unique interests of the segment and boost their income. For example, if an artist’s target (and responsive) market is interested in bicycles, top tube covers with the band’s logo could be a cool idea to sell.

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