How to continue making a living as a professional musician during the Covid 19 crisis?
Maartje Simons 2 november 2020
Many professional musicians got into serious financial trouble since the Covid 19 outbreak. Live shows have been cancelled or reduced to a very small live audience. As a consequence it has become impossible to earn enough money to pay the bills. Rehearsals and studio recordings are more difficult to organize, but even if musicians have the time and space, there is no money left to pay the rent or the studio engineer.
Thanks to the internet there are various platforms that can help you to continue making music, but can they help you to earn money to keep your musical career professional?
I’m interested in how this really works. How much time does it take to set up your online music channel for example? And there are so many people (professional or not) making music online, that it can be somewhat overwhelming.
In the upcoming 4 months (4 blogs in total), I’m going to explore a couple of platforms in different categories to see how they work and hopefully this will answer my questions. I will write a 5th blog with a conclusion of my findings in the end.
I need to say this before I start: I’m not a professional journalist or blogger or writer.. I can only speak from my own experiences and findings, and so they will never be complete. It’s simply too complicated to cover everything. I hope this article gives you some insight. If there is something you miss, or if you have your own experiences with creating an online music career, please share it with us in the comments section! We can all learn from each other!
1. Streaming live music
Everyone has probably heard of Youtube and Facebook… if not, you must have lived in a cave in a far far away no man‘s land! More and more, social media platforms are providing you with a hit and ‘go live’ button. All you need is your phone or tablet and you’re set to go. Great! This is the end of all your troubles!
First of all, you need to be able to reach people.
Who is going to watch you? How good or bad are your recordings going to sound like using only your smartphone or tablet speakers? Are you making any money doing this?
It’s basically the same as playing gigs on a real stage in ‘normal’ circumstances; how many people are going to watch you live? What gear do you use for your show? Is your audience willing to pay a ticket to hear you play? And an extra thing to pay attention to; are you allowed to play cover songs or can you only play your own original material? I will answer these questions short and simple:
You need to do marketing to gain your audience and make them go watch your show (duh!)
The better your equipment and the more knowledge you have on how to use it, the better you will sound (double duh!)
The more audience and followers you have, the more chances you have to earn money making music (I will dive deeper into this section later..).
Due to the latest guidelines set up by for instance EU and US government regulations, it’s basically forbidden to play other peoples’ music without their permission. However there is a but.. and let’s discuss this one first.
Four years ago a friend of mine started to play music online using the platform Twitch. I asked her why Twitch and not Youtube? In the first place Twitch is a gaming platform and Youtube is more known to a broader type of audience. The choice didn’t seem logical to me. She explained to me why she made that particular choice; Twitch promises to protect the streamer when playing covers on their platform. Youtube on the contrary places all responsibility on the person who streams. In other words; on Twitch they will not kick you off the platform if you play covers and the chances that Youtube will are high. Facebook and Instagram will also not protect you. Especially when you start earning money. Even if you’replaying your own material, you must be able to prove that it’s yours, otherwise it’s still possible to get kicked off most platforms.
Read the guidelines of the platform you want to use and try to understand them (I know they are boring…). It will at least help you learn what might happen when you start streaming and how to make sure it doesn’t happen to you. As far as I know Twitch seems the safest place to be able to make music the way you want to. Because of this reason most of my findings below are pretty much based on Twitch.
For everything you do, online or offline (when you want to gain followers, fans, customers or however you want to call it), you need to make a plan to be able to reach them. And more importantly, you need to know how marketing works! To keep this blog simple I’m not going into detail about this subject because it’s a lot to cover. I might write another blog in the future to deal with this topic.
This one can be tricky. My problem as a drummer already starts with a room where I can make noise. I have neighbors. Besides that, I don’t have an extra room that is big enough to put my drum set in and mic the whole thing…. If this is not your concern and, for instance, you only want to perform with guitar and vocals, there are still some things you need to do.
You need to be able to have a good quality stream. Internet connection is one of them. Wifi is just not good enough. You need a more stable connection with a cable. (here is an article explaining high speed internet: https://www.reviews.org/internet-service/what-is-high-speed-internet).
Besides an internet connection, you need an audio interface to be able to connect your instrument(s) and microphone to your computer and a pair of headphones to avoid feedback. You’ll need a camera (a webcam is fine) and enough light in the room. When you’re considering streaming on Twitch there are several things to do before you can start. I’ve found a very helpful article to get you started: https://restream.io/blog/ultimate-guide-to-twitch.
These guidelines, especially when it’s about software and hardware, are very useful when you’re using another platform than Twitch as well!
I would like to explain more about earning money using streaming platforms. Like I’ve said before; the more audience you have the better the chances to earn money playing music online. You probably know that YouTubers earn money by becoming a YouTube partner and therefore earning money by advertisement. When a YouTuber is really popular a company could contact them and offer a contract. With Twitch this can also happen. Besides advertising on Twitch viewers are able to simply donate money.
There are 3 ways of donating;
- Tips: the viewer donates an amount of money of choice and it goes directly into your PayPal account.
- Bits: On Twitch viewers can use the chat to talk to other viewers and the person who streams. There are a couple of things the viewer can do to let the streamer know they like what he or she is doing. One of them is by cheering, using ‘bits’. They literally pay money to Twitch and get an amount of bits they can use to give to streamers by ‘cheering’ in the chat. Okay, this may dazzle you. In this link Twitch explains every aspect on how to cheer with bits: https://www.twitch.tv/bits
If you still don’t understand this, go watch some music streams and you will learn There are different types of bits and it has real money value.
- Subscribers: a viewer can subscribe to your channel and pay you money on a monthly basis for as long as they want.In both circumstances (bits and subscription) Twitch will keep half of this money to themselves when you are not a Twitch partner. Besides, they start paying you as soon as you’ve earned at least a 100 dollars. I know from experience (I’ve had a channel myself for awhile) this can take months, or more. It depends on how popular you are.
Now you’re thinking: ‘Great! Let’s start an account and let the money roll in!’ Well, it is easier said than done…. Not every viewer donates money. And to earn at least something; the longer you stream the greater your chances are. Of course the more viewers you have the better. In practice it’s a full-time job with no insurance that you’ll be able to make a living out of this. Viewers come and go. Almost no one stays on to watch your entire stream. So make sure someone sees you and hangs around for a while. You should stream for at least three hours. Five hours is more common. If you want people to come back, stream five days a week, or at least make a schedule and stick to that. And then it’s important to be patient. Most successful streamers have been doing this for at least three years before they manage to turn it into their main income.
Streaming online takes some practice. You are basically running your own tv show. But it’s totally fun and exiting! It’s best to do this with not too many expectations. Viewers don’t go watch you in order to pay you money. In fact it is just not done to ask or to beg for money. Don’t do this if this is your main goal! Though, it is possible.
There are some people I started following three years ago, who now have succeeded. They are not necessarily doing crazy things. They are simply playing the music they love and are very engaged with their audience in the chatroom.
In addition I have found out that playing covers makes it easier to grow your channel. Streamers make a song list and a viewer can request a song from this list. Make sure the list is long and keep on learning new ones. If you’d rather play your own material, maybe it’s good to combine this with some covers, at least in the beginning. Or you can choose to play your own stuff exclusively. And last but not least: You don’t have to stream alone! You can play with your band or decide to work with different guest musicians every week. It’s your party!