How to make money from your music: Get in the right mindset

It is often said that profit follows passion – implying that if you simply focus on doing what you love, the ways in which you can make money from it will manifest over time. As an Artist Manager I disagree.

If you are a musician of any kind (be it artist, vocalist, songwriter, or music producer) you are already following your passion, but many of you may not be making the salary you need to live, never mind want.

Whilst those who are committed to making a career out of music may persevere until such a time they are afforded to be able to continue doing so, the journey needn’t be any harder or longer than necessary. Monetising your music is something you should be purposefully focusing on, as opposed to waiting/hoping/wishing to happen. This is why one of the modules in my Self-Manage Your Music Career course is dedicated entirely to monetising your music.

Yes, you love what you do, and perhaps would (and no doubt have) done it for free. But just because you have chosen to turn your passion into your career doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t expect or want to be paid for it. We tend to think of ‘jobs’ as work we don’t like so if you love what you do there can be some resistance to expecting to make money from it.

This is the first thing you need to remedy to make money from your music – getting in the right mindset. Without this, it will be hard to ever turn your music into a profitable, sustainable endeavour.

Here’s how to make money from your music:

 

Get in the right mindset

As a music artist you need to think of yourself as a business, and no business would launch without a clear idea of how they were going to make money, how much they needed to make and when they might expect this to happen. I want to encourage you to do the same.

You can’t simply follow your passion (creating and performing music) with a view to making a living from it, whilst neglecting the how’s, when’s, why’s and where you’re going to make that living. This is generally the first mistake Artist’s make when it comes to monetising their music.

You are the owner of the business that is ‘you’, so how are you going to make money from that business? It’s important to have a sense of the how and the when.

 

Know how you can make music from what you do

Do you know all the ways in which music can be monetised? Are you aware of the various potential income streams, and which of these might apply to your medium and skillset as an Artist (for example these may be different for a singer than they would be for a music producer)? If not, this is a good starting point.

At the time of writing, the top 3 income streams for Artists in commercial music are touring, songwriting royalties, and brand partnerships. These will not be applicable to all Artists, and it’s also important to remember that these may not be profitable before you have built up a strong brand and an engaged audience. However, understanding how Artists do monetise their music is important so that you can focus on the income streams which apply to you.

Viable income sources include streaming and sales of your music (recording), publishing of your songs, live performance, selling physical products (merchandise), music synchronisation (placement of your music in media, such as films and TV), revenue from social media and session singing or playing.

 

Be entrepreneurial & diversify

Having read the list of income sources above you may now be panicking slightly when you realise that, to make a living from any of these, you’re going to need to be able to do at scale – which means with a sizeable fanbase behind you. The good news is that there are far more ways to make money from your music than you may currently be considering.

It’s important to try and think outside the box with this. Using the musical talent and skills you already possess, what else could you do, create or facilitate that would provide an income stream from your music? This might be creating a product, turning one of your services into an online course, or facilitating music workshops either locally or online, which might not be as difficult as you think. Are you already doing something (or have a great entrepreneurial idea) based on your music skills which you could turn into a new income stream for your business? Get creative and innovate.

Also, diversify where you can – Artist’s rarely make a living solely from just one income stream, which is just as well given the impact that the internet had on record sales, for example…

 

Aim to make 100% of your income from music

If you do need to have a job that facilitates (and perhaps provides much needed funding) to support your music career, why not make this something music-related? In my experience of working with Artists, at times when they need a second job to help pay the bills, it often feels far more positive to them if this is music-related.

Not only do they find that this less draining than doing a job that feels a million miles from the musical life they want, it also inevitably provides them with relevant experience, knowledge and – perhaps most importantly – fantastic networking opportunities.

Any job within the music industry is going to provide you with all the above, which will no doubt be of use in your Artist career. This could include music teaching, music shops and venues, or an administrative role within a music company. If 100% of your income comes from your music and/or music-related work, this really helps to put you in the right mindset.

 

Set goals…

Whilst I agree that a certain amount of working for free can be beneficial early on in your music career, try setting income goals for yourself in the same way you would set career goals. If I were to ask you what you wanted to achieve in music this year you’d probably be able to tell me opportunities you hoped to secure, venues you’d like to play, and songs you plan to release. Try also setting some income goals for what you need to make monthly, alongside what you would like to make in the medium to long term.

Of the music work you are currently undertaking, which percentage of the monthly income you need does this provide? If you’re not reaching your income goal, what could you do to make up the shortfall now that you know how you can monetise your music? Be aware of the difference between short term income streams (session playing for example) versus long-term income streams (such as songwriting royalties) here. Your initial focus may be on cash flow, so what could you do with your skills in music that will make money now?

 

…& Prices

Lastly, whatever work you do take on as a vocalist or musician, have set prices for your time across the various work streams you undertake. Do you have an hourly or session rate for each of these that you are comfortable with? If not, drawing up a price list for your services can be a very useful exercise. Unsure what to charge? The Musicians Union have some guidelines on minimum rates for live performance here and recording sessions here.

Learn More

Want to hear more on this topic? Watch the Facebook Live video here. To find out more about how to monetise your music you can register your interest in our Self-Manage Your Music Career online course here, with an entire module dedicated to exactly that!

The real cost of a vocal topline – Part 2

On last week’s blog we began discussing the real cost of a vocal topline, having observed a devaluation of singers and topline writers within the electronic music community. We asked if you agreed with this statement or not and received some interesting responses from both topline writers and producers (you can see these and join the conversation here).

In order to gain a clearer understanding of the cost of writing, recording and producing a vocal topline we have broken down the topline process, determining the approximate cost to the vocalist/topline writer for each step. Please note that these are based on average costs and only applicable in a scenario where the vocalist/topline writer is collaborating remotely with a producer.

THE TOPLINE PROCESS – STEPS
1. The vocalist/topline writer writing the melody, lyrics, harmonies and full vocal arrangement
2. The vocalist/topline writer recording demo(s) for the Producer’s approval
3. The vocalist/topline writer making amendments to the topline in preparation for final recording
4. The vocalist/topline writer recording the final vocal topline stems (including comping etc.)
AVERAGE COST TO VOCALIST/TOPLINE WRITER
1. Vocalist/Topline writers time – indefinite; Vocalist/Topline writers training and experience – years
2. Vocalist/Topline writers home studio set-up and equipment costs – several £100 minimum; OR the Vocalist/Topline writer hiring studio time and engineer to record demo(s) – between £100-£350 minimum
3. Vocalist/Topline writer’s time – indefinite, depending on how many amendments the producer may want. Further recording costs may also factor at this stage.

If you are a producer who has requested the services of a Vocalist/Topline writer to feature on your track, recognise that the process alone means that they will be incurring several expenses – often into several hundred pounds. This does not account for possible lost earnings elsewhere, whilst they take the time needed to complete the above process. So, it could be that the vocalist/topline writer has spent largely on expenses and/or lost revenue, long before receiving a session fee and co-writing split, the norm which is usually agreed between the two parties.

Of course, no one size fits all, and every circumstance must be considered individually. The point we wish to make is that the business of making and releasing music is expensive. Whilst the overall return on investment in releasing music has declined, the time, skills and experience required to make a quality track have not. It is here where the disconnect which can lead to vocalists and topline writers being devalued comes.

Agree or disagree that you need to invest in your music, if it is to reach the standard you hope for? Head over to our Facebook page and leave a comment there now.

Next week we will be looking at the overall costs to producers in procuring a vocal topline, but for now we’d love to hear your thought on this topic.

The real cost of a vocal topline – Part 1

So, you want a vocal topline for your track? But you don’t want to pay for it, at least not too much.

But what is ‘too much’? Despite working hard to deliver quality vocals to music producers at reasonable prices, we have noticed a discernible devaluing of singers and topline writers amongst the electronic music community. Many producers feel they should work for free, and be happy for the opportunity to do so. It’s a complaint we often hear from the singers and topline writers themselves too, including many established names. It seems that singing, and even lyric and melody writing (the definition of a topline), are often not considered as skilled a trade as music production.

Speaking with many electronic producers, one of the reasons presented for this is ‘everyone can sing’, by which they mean that everyone has use of their voice – not the same as having incredible natural talent, a distinct tone, and years of singing training to ensure professional technique. By this same argument, anyone with access to a laptop can produce music – but this is not the same as having years of experience, an innovative use of sounds, or fantastic software/hardware, much less a great record. Another reason given is the fact that while a producer may spend several weeks working on one track, the singer and topline writer’s work appears to be done in the few hours they spend in the studio recording the finished topline. Little accounting seems to be made for the many hours often spent developing the melody and harmonies, writing the lyrics, arranging the vocal and rehearsing the performance of it to ensure the topline is captured at its best during recording. Let’s not forget the many years, finances and efforts invested into learning and perfecting their craft, just like the best producers.

That music production is any more-or-less skilled than singing or songwriting (and vice versa) is an argument we simply can’t get behind. We believe mutual respect between the two is vital amongst the electronic music community.

Agree or disagree? Head over to our Facebook page and leave a comment there now.

We will be breaking down, in real terms, the true cost of a vocal topline next week but for now we’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Are Topline Writers & Producers equal in the collaboration process?

As you will know we have been putting the finishing touches to AR Vocal Agency’s ‘The Topline Library’ – a service which provides pre-recorded acapella vocal toplines, primarily to music producers. The Topline Library will be launching very shortly, and will be updated with new toplines every month. Since you are a subscriber you will gain exclusive access to the library on the first Tuesday of every month (like today) so mark it in your diary.

In order to make the service the best it can possibly be for both our clients (music producers) and our content generators (topline writers/vocalists), we have surveyed and interviewed several music producers, topline writers and vocalists from our community. You may be one of them. Hearing your thoughts on, and experiences of, the topline process has reaffirmed for us the fact that an industry standard – if one exists – is rarely adhered to. Furthermore, the contribution that both parties make during the collaborative process, and the respective rights attributed to both producers and topliners/vocalists, remains an area of huge misinformation and misunderstanding. This has become a topic of fascination at the AR Vocal Agency and we hope to better understand the opinions and feelings of producers, topliners and vocalists, so that we are able to better inform and add value to those within the music community. With that in mind we would love to hear your thoughts, and open a conversation around the topics which we see sparking greatest debate.

With that in mind, we would love to hear your views and provide a platform for the music producers in our community to converse directly with the 2000 topline writers and vocalists in our community, starting today. So, without further ado, whether you are a music producer (or someone who works with them) or a vocalist/topline writer we would like to hear your thoughts on the following question – in the collaborative process between a topline writer/vocalist and a music producer working together on a track, do you feel that the topliner and the producer’s contributions (skills, talent and time) to that track are equal?

Please comment with your thoughts here.

We hope that this will be both insightful and useful for you to be able to make direct contact with one another. As such, as well as our usual content, this will be a regular feature for the AR Vocal Agency community moving forward.

Join us over at the conversation now.

Vocals We Love – Autumn 2016

We wanted to take the opportunity to share some toplines, vocal performances and vocal production/edits we have been loving recently. In no particular order, the below list have all been on the AR Vocal Agency office stereo on rotation in recent weeks and we hope they provide some inspiration whether you are a topline writer, vocalist or producer.

Robyn – Main Thing (Mr. Tophat Remix)

Emelí Sandé – Hurts

Becky Hill – Warm

Sasha – Track 10

Nao – Happy (Live)

Lady Gaga & Florence Welch – Hey Girl

Fono – Feet On The Ground

Kaytranada featuring Craig David – Got It Good

Disclosure featuring Kwabs – Willing & Able (Live)

The Golden Boy – Good To You (vocalist Jasmine Knight – one of our own!)

Which vocals have you been listening to recently? Let us know over at our Facebook page now.

What Makes a Good Vocal? Here are some tips

In electronic music what is it that makes a ‘good’ vocal? This is something we think about a lot in trying to ensure that our Topline Consultancy services and The Topline Library are as valuable to music producers as possible.

Yet there is not necessarily an industry, or musical, set of standards that make a vocal work. Our subjective views on the sounds we hear also mean that for every person who loves a particular vocal, there will undoubtedly be another who doesn’t.

So what is it that makes a ‘good’ vocal?

Vocals sell records

There are the tangible qualities of a vocal – the singers range and technical ability, how it is recorded and where, type of microphone used, for example – which we can measure. However, the intangible features of a vocal – a far longer list which would include everything from the tone and timbre of a singers’ voice, the lyrics and phrasing they use, how emotive their performance is, the song arrangement, and the creativity and innovation of the producer/studio engineer – are entirely variable and non-formulaic.

These cannot be measured, and it is often hard to describe why a certain vocal track speaks to us above others. What we can universally agree on is that the vocal in a track is what resonates most with listeners – fundamentally, the vocal is most often what sells a record.

 

Vocal Quality

When it comes to vocal toplines, our focus at the AR Vocal Agency is on quality.

First and foremost, that means the quality of a singer’s voice (though not necessarily how ‘good’ a singer they are).

Our ears are piqued by interesting voices – unique tones, original deliveries, and natural ability. Such voices may not be trained, technically perfect or on-trend at that time, but if they are able to capture the right ‘feel’ we don’t think it matters.

Conversely, we are also rightly impressed by wide vocal ranges, unmatchable technique and vocal control; there will always be room for these in commercial music. Our role in supplying vocals for such a wide range of sub-genres means embracing an equally broad variety of vocal styles.

 

Vocal Production

Second, and just as important, is the quality of the vocal production, using the most suitable recording technique for the vocal. This can mean a different approach is taken to the recording of each individual topline.

The producer must ensure the singers’ best performances are captured, showcasing their unique sound and the atmosphere they create accordingly.

We are concerned with the recording studios used and their equipment but, most crucially, with how experienced the producer is in vocal production – a skill that requires patience and keen attention to detail.

 

Some things to consider for your tracks:

  • How ‘good’ (whether that’s interesting, unique, emotive, suited, soft, strong etc) is the vocalist?
  • Using a vocal producer – a producer who specialises in vocal recording
  • If this isn’t possible, ensure you are always honing your vocal production skills – vocals should never be an afterthought in the production process
  • Focus on the vocalists’ performance as well as their technical ability – capturing emotion is key
  • Do offer the vocalist guidance & reassurance when recording – studio singing is often more challenging than live performance
  • Allow the vocalist to perform/record vocals in the way that makes them feel most confident
  • Record as many takes as possible – you may need to comp extensively
  • Have the vocalist do a great amount of ad libs – often these ‘finish’ a track and add feeling
  • Ensure the microphone used, and the set-up, is the best fit for the vocalist
  • How are you processing the vocal takes? Is this best suited to the feel you are trying to create?

 

Learn More

For more information on vocal production, read tips from Kuk Harrell, vocal producer to Rihanna, Pentatonix, & Mary J Blige; Music Tech’s 20 Vocal Production Techniques; and The Little Known Recording Trick That Makes Singers Sound Perfect.

 

The Subject of Subjectivity

The subject of subjectivity – in music it’s a big one. Not simply that we, of course, have differing tastes, musical influences and ways of expressing ourselves musically. But we also seem to hear, and certainly feel, music differently. The very definition of subjectivity being ‘based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes or opinions‘ speaks of a purely emotional response, rather than one informed by facts or science. This has given us a rich musical tapestry, none of which is better illustrated than in electronic music– an umbrella term for a diverse and often polarising multitude of sub-genres (here are just some. Gulp). This is no doubt a positive, for both music listeners and music creators; the scope for musical expression being so broad that people of all tastes and influences can find escapism in it. But it can cause an issue when applied to the business of music.

This is never more true than when producers and topline writers come together to create a track. There are a number of reasons this can be the case–a fusion of the twos differing musical styles, ways of writing, and inspiration included. However, it can be far more complexed than that. If people hear and process music somewhat differently to one another, this is a very minor disparity compared to how we describe and talk about music to one another. What is generic to the topline writer may not be to the producer, what is underground to one may not be the next, likewise what commercial, universal, leftfield or catchy are, to use some terms frequently bandied about in electronic music. We even recognise differences in the way sub-genres within electronic music are understood or described. This is largely where misunderstandings and setbacks can occur within the topline process. It is with this in mind that we ask all of our clients (the producers) to provide musical references which illustrate the key stylistic traits they have described to us in their topline briefs. This must then be followed with extremely clear communication of what is required to the topline writer.

One thing that does seem to be widely accepted within commercial music is that all producers (not to mention their respective publishers and record labels) are looking for hooks– those short riffs or phrases which catch as many listeners ears as possible and make a song accessible. Again, not exactly a scientific definition but we all know them when we hear them. They can be created within the produced track itself, but are more often left to the topline writer/vocal to bring to the track. At the very least a producer needs to have allowed the required space and flow within a track for the topline writer to embed them (when writing a topline to a pre-produced instrumental that is). There is a formula to writing in such a way, however to achieve this by speaking purely in (very subjective) musical terms is near-impossible. It is for this reason we ask all of our clients, in addition to the (subjective) style or feel of music they are hoping to create, what their objectives for their track are –who is it to appeal to and on which platforms? Which record labels are they hoping to find a home at? What are their radio targets for the track, ideally?It is in identifying these types of clear-cut goals to a track that musical subjectivity can remain a creative gift, without becoming an obstacle to the topline process.

-AR

Anna Russell speaks at Point Blank

Thank you to Point Blank electronic music school for having AR Vocal Agency founder Anna Russell last week, talking about the working process between producers and vocalists/topline writers.

Anna will be returning to Point Blank, London as guest speaker, this Friday the 24th of June at 4pm, for all music business students interested in attending.

AR’s Favourite Vocals: Flight Facilities feat. Jess – ‘Foreign Language’

Having been a fan of Flight Facilities since the beginning, we were reminded of this disco-tinged track by the Australian producer/DJ duo earlier in the week. It is just one of several vocal collaborations they have released, this one featuring vocalist Jess.

Their ‘decades’ mixes are firm favourites in the AR Vocal Agency office, but it’s their vocal tracks which always standout, for choosing interesting and left-of-centre toplines and artists to work with. Also check out ‘With You’ featuring Grovesner (David August remix).

Looking forward to their next album, but in the meantime we’re listening to these early singles.

Listen here.

Searching for singers? We have over 1000

In the last blog post, we talked about the one crucial asset you need – time – in order to get the right vocal for your track. Time to carefully consider what type of vocal is best suited to your track, time to source the right songwriter and vocalist, time for the writer to do their best work, time for demos to be submitted and considered, time for re-writing of the draft topline, time for final amendments to be made, time for the vocals to be professionally recorded, time for mixing and mastering, time for liaising with the vocalist, time for negotiating agreements, etc. Of each step in this process, our clients state that sourcing and securing the right vocalist is the most time-consuming part.

Since first having the idea to start the AR Vocal Agency in 2012, I have consistently scouted for singing/songwriting talent and built relationships with those artists. As of today, I am pleased to say that this network of singers and songwriters tallies at over 1000. However the agency remains committed to sourcing new vocal talent and developing our working relationships on a weekly basis – it is the key part of what we do. The vocalists cover a wide range of genres, as well as all levels of experience. This gives us a very large base of talent to work with, from established session singers and hit songwriters, to emerging artists whom we are proud to introduce to the commercial music industry. As a result, in our Topline Consultancy work for producers we are often able to identify the vocalists they should be working with right away. Where we don’t feel we have the right vocalist for their track we go out and find them, and hence our vocalist network grows even further.

There are many ways in which this expanding vocalist network allows us to deliver such a wide variety of projects for our clients. But we would be remiss if we didn’t try to provide a solution specifically for the producers who do not have the time to get the right vocal.

The most common request we get from producers contacting us is for (acapella) topline vocals which they can personally select and then produce around. They want immediate access to these; a place they can listen through them at their leisure; all of the necessary logistics and contractual agreements already taken care of. The agency has been working on a service that provides exactly this – a Topline Library – and for many months now our vocalist network has been writing and recording original topline vocals for the library.

Subscribers to our mailing list will be the first to gain exclusive access to the Topline Library in just a few weeks time. If you are Producer/DJ, or work for a record label or publisher, and feel you would benefit from access to the library all you need to do is subscribe to The Topline Library at our website before its launch.

Sincere thanks and looking forward to sending you the library!

-AR

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