Show Me The Money

Some of you might love making music so much that you’d happily do it for free forever, and that’s great. If you’re happy with your day job and music as a hobby I’m very happy for you. It may be that you’re not so happy with the 9-5 but someone needs to pay those bills right?

So how can you make money doing what you love.

Money in the music industry comes, at its simplest, from 4 different areas.

  1. Playing/singing on records

When you get a record contract or if you self release, all of the band members get a share of the royalties determined by the artist contract. If your contract says you get 10% (10% of what is for another article, let’s keep it simple) and you have 4 people in the band, you get 2.5% each.

An organisation called PPL(UK only – the US doesn’t have an equivalent – if you’re in the UK and you have music out there and you aren’t a member join now and register all releases you have made and other people’s releases you have played on) also collect money from television and radio stations, bars, clubs, shops, etc. on your behalf, every time they play your music. This money is shared equally between ALL performers on the record including the guy you dragged in from the corridor to shake that tambourine, not just band members.

If you license your music to a company to use in an advert, a jingle, a game or anything else, this is a separate fee that your lawyers will negotiate with their lawyers. You will still also get the PPL money above every time the jingle or whatever is played (if you specifically write music to order for a company (known as “writing for hire”), rather than let them use music you have already released, the PPL rights could be bought outright as part of the contract so you won’t get any PPL money then – they will keep it. L).

Sometimes in shops or lifts you will hear bad cover versions of famous songs. This is to save them from having to pay PPL for the performers.

  1. Writers Royalties

If you wrote the song you get a separate payment from 2 organisations (effectively merged into one now) in the UK and a choice of 4 possible organisations in the US. MCPS(UK) / The Harry Fox Agency(US)  collect money for every CD or record sold or every track downloaded or streamed (played online). PRS(UK) collect money from television and radio stations, bars, clubs, shops, etc. on your behalf, every time they play your music much like PPL but the money goes to the writer, not the performer.

In the US, instead of PRS you have a choice of 3 collection agencies; ACSAP, SESAC and BMI. You need to investigate carefully which you think is best for your situation before signing up (SESAC is invite only).

As with playing/singing royalties, if a company wants to license your music they will have to do that as above, by negotiating with your lawyers.

Writing royalties can be a lot more that than royalties for playing/singing. Most of the money you get paid for playing on the recording is used to pay back monies owed to the record company and so it can take a long time before you actually make any money if they have spent a lot of money on recording, promotion, etc.

Money paid to writers is not generally used to pay back the record company and if your contract allows the record company to take it for debt repayment then you need to fire your lawyer. This means that often the band are in debt and getting nothing while the writer is raking it in and this is often a cause for friction in bands.

PRS/MCPS will also collect money for the writer if another artist does a cover version (live or recorded). This is automatic so long as your song is registered.

  1. Live Performance

For smaller bands, in support slots there is often no money to be made. In fact, often your record company is paying the main act to let you play there and also paying to cover your costs. However, when you get to be the headliner of a big tour you can be earning millions. Many bands make much more money here than from CDs or downloads.

If you are playing small, local gigs you are unlikely to get paid. Some venues, in the past used to actually charge you to play if you didn’t bring enough fans but this practice is thankfully dying out. The good news for the song writer is that PRS should be collecting money for every song you play. Be sure to submit a track list to their “Gigs and Clubs” scheme.

  1. Fan Relationship

If you can get fans who truly like you and your music, you can make money from things other than the music itself. T-shirts, posters, mugs, dolls (yes I know), signed stuff and even meet the band experiences. You can also offer exclusive recordings, advance access to new materials and even charge them membership fees to your fan club.

Many rock bands make more money from posters, t-shirts, and programmes sold at their gigs than they do from the gigs themselves.

Join up

If you’re not already a member of one of the organisations mentioned above, join using the links below. They’re completely free to join (actually there is a small, one-off joining fee for some but this is taken out of the money you earn, not charged up front) so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by joining.

For UK based writers/performers

PPL – – if you self release you should join as both record company and performer


For US based performers/writers (see note below)



SESAC – by invitation only but you can contact them here

Harry Fox – – if you self publish only

Please note: if you are in the UK you should join PPL and PRS/MCPS. If you are in the US, you should join Harry Fox (if you already have a publisher you do not need to) and one of ASCAP, BMI or SESAC – investigate the best fit for you before deciding. If you are in another country, there will be related local collections agencies there (try Google) which you should join. DO NOT join societies in other countries. Your local societies will collect your royalties worldwide through agreements with local agencies.

More next time on copyright and how it works.



One comment on “Show Me The Money

  1. Pingback: They Stole My Song!!! – Copyright, The Basics | MusicBizHow2