Selling to yourself

My breakdown of the four main vocations for independent musicians.

Selling to yourself

One definition of being independent is selling to yourself.

It's been a confusing road for me to figure out how to make a living independently in music. I've had a hard time focusing on, let alone explaining to anyone else, what I do to try and make money.

I've come to think there are only four main vocations for musicians. They're different based on what they sell.

Here's my breakdown of these vocations:

  1. Recording artists sell recordings to labels like an author sells books to publishers. Some recording artists have deals with million-dollar advances because the label knows that they'll make even more than that in sales.
  2. Live performance acts sell entertainment to promoters. Maybe you're a touring performer, having built a large audience over the years. You show up in a city and sell a predictable number of tickets. Importantly, your professional team is strong enough to deliver the goods every night, keeping the tour moving.
  3. Composers sell compositions to music directors. Whether it's an explicit role or not—every film, game, podcast, or video that uses music has a music director. The music director must license the musical work copyright.
  4. Teachers sell time to schools. Note that you're not selling education—you get paid by the hour, or with a salary, or for each student you spend time with.

Alternatively, you can sell any of those four things to yourself. You can:

  • hold the copyright to your own sound recordings
  • book your own performances
  • use your own music when you make YouTube videos and podcasts
  • teach lessons from home

You can also hire people to help you do any of the above.

That's being independent. Being independent isn't good or bad but it might be easier depending on factors in your life.

Think about to whom you're selling, and remember that you can always be your own most enthusiastic customer.

If I missed anything that you sell, let me know.