Music Income Streams During the Pandemic

By Tristan Seume, Professional Guitarist and DIME Online Learning Technologist

If you were a performing artist in 2019, the chances are you haven’t been in 2020. It’s been tough, hasn’t it? But don’t despair – re-evaluating what you do is a periodic necessity regardless of whether it’s been enforced by a global pandemic or not. Let’s look at five different ways you could earn money through music while the venues are dark…

Start a YouTube channel

You’ll have doubtless seen clickbait promising failsafe tips for earning a fortune on YouTube. Yes, it is possible to earn, but it’ll take time and no small effort. Monetising your YouTube channel requires you to hit certain milestones and criteria before converting views into dollars:

Subscribers: 1,000 subscribers watching 4,000 hours of video in a 12-month period are the magic numbers for earning money via your channel. You’ll also need a linked AdSense account. So, how do you gain such a following? Well, there’s no single right answer, but create good, regular content and they will come. Of course, established artists are always likely to draw their own fans to their channel, but many famous YouTubers are famous because of YouTube – it’s a meritocracy determined by quality content.

Content: keep it short and keep it regular – succinct, meaningful videos hold viewers’ attention better. What will your angle be? Sponsored gear reviews? Artist interviews? Your own music videos?

It’s worth investing in some basic kit to improve your production quality, such as a vlogging camera, mic and lighting. Entry-level gear has improved so much that there’s really no excuse for poor quality audio and video these days.

The hidden bonus is that you’re upskilling as you go, developing your Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Premier chops. Just like those gigs you practiced for; your latest video will always be an improvement on your previous!

Performance royalty income

DIME ONLINE’s Head of Music Entrepreneurship, Tim Ferrone advises you take some time to ensure you’re properly registered for performance royalty income:

 “Have you ever played on a recording that has been broadcast somewhere, be that on the radio, television, or even via streaming platforms, for example? If you have, then you might not know that as a musical performer, you should be due broadcast performance royalties for your efforts.

“If you haven’t received any corresponding income, then it could well be that you are not correctly registered on the recording itself, or with a suitable collection society (such as the PPL for example) whose role it is to issue licences for this type of musical usage, and then distribute royalties to the relevant musicians accordingly. You can learn a whole lot more about this topic on DIME ONLINE’s Creative Industries courses.

“Now is a great time to ensure that your performance royalty house is in order; otherwise you might just unknowingly be leaving a sizeable chunk of change down the back of the sofa…”

Online tuition

There’s great pleasure to be found in teaching your instrumental skills to others and with the useability of various video conferencing platforms, it’s one of the easiest income streams to facilitate. Skype and Microsoft Teams are both free to use and Zoom works very well for saving video lessons although you’ll need a paid plan to run lessons longer than 40 minutes.

It’s also well-worth registering with a recognized awarding body such as RSL to add kudos to your teaching profile. You’ll gain access to ready-made syllabi as well as support and training opportunities plus exposure to clients via their database.

Digital sales

One of the great things about selling digital downloads is that once in the public domain, there’s no need to replenish stock. That’s not to say there aren’t fees involved, however, as digital download services will likely require either an annual subscription fee or take a slice of your sales.

The obvious product is your music. Bandcamp is great for giving you, the artist control over the price of your album, so you can undercut other services, safe in the knowledge that you’ll take a bigger percentage anyway.

How about selling your sheet music? For example, PDFs of guitar tabs or lead sheets of your songs can be hosted on your website with services like Easy Digital Downloads or Big Cartel (which lets you sell up to five products for free).

Although famously poor in terms in remuneration per stream, you should still be present on Spotify, Amazon and Apple Music. Services like Tunecore and CDBaby take care of the online distribution of your music online to the big players and pass the royalties to you. Depending on which platform you choose, you’ll either pay an annual fee and keep 100% of the royalties, or a one-time set-up fee followed by a revenue share.


A single payment for an individual product is one thing, but repeat business can be even better and is great for enabling this. In a nutshell, Patreon lets you connect directly with fans to offer exclusive content or rewards through a tier system of monthly subscriptions. For example, a dollar a month might give access to exclusive podcasts or livestreams you create, while a few extra dollars might be rewarded with personal shout-outs in your videos or merch such as signed guitar tabs or setlists.

More than ever, fans are interested not just in artists’ music but their whole brand, their creative process, even their ethics, and patronage helps turn your fans into a family of supporters. Just remember to keep your subscribers happy with regular content so they’ll want to keep supporting you!