Making Money, or Not Actually Doing That

Photo by Ryutaro Tsukata on

Dear Readers,

I’m not going to lie – this article isn’t going to make you rich and successful. If anything, I hope it will give you a reason to support your local artists next time you’re out and you see an artist selling their goods at a local market or shop. Because that small amount of support could go a long way, if we all invested just a little bit. If you’re not the type to go out or you live away from a big city, check out Bandcamp for music or find local artists on Etsy.

Anyway, let me give you some background and tell you what I have spent thus far on my musical journey. These goods and services are things that I’ve invested in to help with music making and marketing. (Costs are rounded for simplicity or estimated where appropriate.)

Service / GoodCostPurpose / Additional Info
Arturia Keylab 49 Essential$250This was the MIDI keyboard I started with.
Arturia Keylab 49 MK2$500This is the MIDI keyboard I am using now.
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Closed-Back Studio Headphones$100Bought for music mixing.
Logic Pro X$200While I used GarageBand for “Inside the Red Room”, I wanted to step up and chose Logic as my DAW.
Mac Mini (M1 Chip)$1000I traded in an older Macbook Pro to get a new M1 Mac Mini. I love it, by the way.
Tunecore$30I used Tunecore for distribution of “Inside the Red Room”. I later switched because the annual recurring cost of this service seemed… excessive.

Note that this is a yearly cost per album. $30 for the first year and $50 for each year after.
LANDR Distribution*$90This is a yearly fee paid for unlimited distribution through LANDR.
WordPress*$96Yearly payment for premium WordPress stuff.
Domain*$14I actually own numerous domains but I’m only going to count in this post for simplicity which runs $14/year.
CloudBounce*$240This is a monthly cost of $20 for automated mastering. I’d rather pay a proper sound engineer but… you know, costs.
Splice*$96I’m paying for the $8/mo plan in order to easily get access to samples.
LANDR Sounds*$72$6/mo plan for more samples and to compare against Splice.

Here are some items that I know I may need to pay for at some point but I haven’t paid for as of the time of this article:

  • Microphone(s)
  • Audio Control Interface
  • Additional Plug-ins/Software Instruments
  • Additional Hardware Instruments
  • Band Name Trademark
  • Music Copyrights
  • Music Submission / Marketing
  • Advertising
  • Education

One thing I have purchased that I’m not including here is an Acoustic-Electric guitar which I don’t need strictly for the music I’m making today but I wanted to learn and incorporate in the future. I also didn’t include things like computer accessories/monitors, that digital piano I owned for a while, groceries, rent/mortgage, and a number of things that have costs and have been part of the process over the years… because you have to draw the line somewhere.

So, my initial first year costs come out to $2,688 dollars. My current recurring requirements assuming no changes or hidden renewal fees come out to $608 per year or about $51 per month. Though I do expect this to grow as the modern world relies heavily on subscription fees and those monthly fees are often easier to swallow than massive upfront costs.

So now, let’s add in something a bit more nebulous. Let’s assume that I spend 20 hours per week working on music, marketing, or any of the things related to my project and my initial hope is to make a minimum hourly wage of $15 per hour. According to one calculator on the internet, at $15 per hour, 20 hours per week, I could expect to bring home approximately $300 per week before taxes and deductions. Assuming I work 45 of the 52 weeks in a year, this is approximately $13,500 pre-tax dollars.

Running with that, to recoup material and labor costs for the first year I would need to make roughly $16,188 in streaming royalties, sales, or selling a kidney. Given that streaming revenue will be pennies at best – my main hope would lie in selling music and merchandise directly to fans. Assuming that, if I were to set a full-length album price to $7 per sale, I would need a minimum of 2,313 album sales just to meet my goal, and I still wouldn’t make a living wage or be in a place to make this my full time job. (Note: Okay, the platform gets a cut of sale, the payment processor will get a cut of the sales, and you have to account for taxes. So the actual need is higher.)

I know artists and musicians have been saying this for a long time and I’m just another voice lost in the cacophony, but I chose to write about this and be transparent in my spending in the hopes that you’ll come to the same conclusion that I have over the last few years: support your local artists. If you have a few extra bucks to spare, give one to an artist because art is important. Art makes our lives better. Art can make the world a beautiful place and you’re doing humanity a favor by supporting those artists.

For the artists out there, if you happen to see this, do me a favor and set up at least one digital way to accept cash. It’s 2021 and so many of us don’t carry cash – I never do and I always feel bad when I want to chip in a couple bucks and can’t. Cash has advantages, I’m aware, but you should weigh out if it’s still worth it when so many of us are going full digital in our money transactions. (For the love of all that’s holy, if you’re going to use Venmo or similar products, set your profile to private. No one needs to see how you send or receive money.)

Anyway, that’s my plea, get out there and support the great artists in your area and if you don’t want to go outside – find a way to support local artists online. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but you could be helping someone else with their grocery bill.



P.S. You should know that I am aware of my own privilege that I can afford the things I’ve listed above and this, in part, is why my article is not a plea for you to support my work. For now, I’m just asking that the next time you have the opportunity to support an artist in your community – do what you can. It’s tough for everyone out there.

Also, to play with numbers more, in America the definition of poverty for a four person household is $26,500. (Reference: here and here.) Sticking with the $15 per hour rate and assuming you worked 40 hours per week, you’re looking at $600 pre-tax dollars and after 45 weeks of work (of the 52 available weeks in a year), you could expect about $27000 pre-tax dollars. At $7 per album sale and no streaming royalties, you’d need 3,858 sales per year to meet the minimum goal. More is required if you need to cover any new material cost. (See my previous comment above about how you don’t get the full $7 per album… so you actually need quite a few more sales.)

Thing is, all this talk about money… none of it is even targeting being ultra-successful. It’s just about making the “minimums” so you one can eat, live, and produce some art they love.

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