EPISODE 20 ~ MAKE MORE: Selling Royalty Free Music Is a Creative, Lucrative Side Hustle

Thanks to modern technology, if you’re a musician and composer, you can easily record your songs and sell them as a creative side income.  My next guest doesn’t want us to use his full name because he’s a respectable government lawyer by day and a secret musician at night.  Please welcome Evan Barrett to Easy Money.  Hi Evan!

When did you first start playing music and get the bug?

I have been playing music pretty much since I was in 2nd grade. Started with piano lessons.  Back when I was a kid there was software where we could write music. My friends and I wrote a song – Gerbils like to Fly – and it was pretty great as you can imagine. The bug stuck with me and most of my life I have been playing an instrument and writing songs consistently since middle school.

Did you ever consider a full-time career in music?

I play guitar, bass and keyboard.  I’ve been in bands and then when I went to law school I just focused on that. At some point I realized I had a hard drive of half finished songs and I didn’t have the time or energy to be in a band to get them out there and didn’t know how to promote them to launch an album so I started to look at other ways to release my music.

Did you do it for love or money?
In law school, by the time I graduated, in addition to student loan debt I had $10,000 in credit card debt. I paid it all off. That was my first order of business. Paid it mostly off before licensing. But I think it was a motivator for finding more ways of making money.  It helps pay off student loans.

How did you come up with the idea of selling your songs online as stock music?

One day some little part of me realized that all my songs needed to hear the light of day (to mix metaphors), and I began researching sites to license music.  After lots of research I found a few sites that let me pretty easily record, upload and I didn’t have to promote. Buyers would find them on their own.  In your 30s you often feel done with music and I say no – there is still a way of getting it out there if you want people to hear it.

What sites do you like and why?

I am on several sites. The sites I know that work well are Audio Jungle, Pond 5 and Premium Beat. Most sites that have video stock also have audio stock. Pond 5 is the most artist friendly. They let you be more experimental. I make the music I want to make. I don’t try to make it for licensing. I just record and put it up. Pond 5 also lets you set your own prices which is nice. 

For those who don’t know how stock music sites work, can you explain?

It’s sort of like Ebay or Amazon. You type in – fast, classic rock songs – as a buyer and the search engine will pull up sound clips. You can listen to a preview. It is pretty easy. People that need the music know where to go.

Who was the client?

Clients are anonymous so don’t know who buys your song.  I really do wish I knew more where songs are going.  But one day I was home and we turned on a Fios on demand movie so we were on the guide and this really familiar song came up and she wasn’t in the room and I said did you put my song on the computer. The song was over before I realized it was my song. So for about twice an hour for about a year, Verizon was using it on their On Demand channel. That was one place I have seen it.

Is there some street cred in having your song picked up by a well-known company?

In terms of credibility, it definitely helps if you can find one placement and pitch or mention that to other people.  Because that  Verizon thing happened I was able to go to a friend  who is a contractor with NPR and get him to put a few songs on his broadcast.  It’s allowed me to get music on the radio!

Are you ever surprised by which songs sell?

You don’t know what your big songs will be. They sometimes surprise you. Probably about 5 or 6 tracks (various versions of them) are 70%-80% of my earnings. That changes over time. Certain songs hit and I can’t really predict which ones it will be. I think the search engine may reward success so if you sell a song, it might show up higher. It might not have to do with the song. It could be about the site.

How much time do you spend, how many sites are you on and how many songs have you put out there?

•I spend about 20 hours a week.

•I am on about 7 sites but only 2 or 3 actively.

•On the main site I’m on I probably have 200 songs and little edits and clips of those songs cut into stingers and things.

So how much do you make per song?

It’s about $10 -$20 a song but there are other licenses if larger productions need it that can take it to $50. Also are back end performance royalties where if used on TV for example, the networks have to pay a performance royalty. I haven’t gotten one of those yet. They run about a year behind when the song is broadcast so fingers crossed.

Has this become a nice side income for you?

I started 2.5 years ago and it was about $15 a month. It has grown pretty consistently since I started.  I make about $300-$400 a month at the moment.  As this grows I definitely see it becoming more and more significant. I would imagine that part of it is getting my music on more sites which I’ve been lazy about bc it’s more fun to me to write the music. But if I got on more sites I think my earnings could multiply considerably.  It’s sort of an addiction so I can get more gear and write it off which is a nice side bonus.  As a musician you find things you want. It’s sort of an addiction so I can get more gear and write it off which is a nice side bonus.

Speaking of gear, what equipment do people need to do what you do?

It requires at a bare minimum:

  • a home computer
  • a piece of recording software that ranges from $300-$500.
  • An audio interface which is $100-$200
  • and a lot of practice.

OK, so advice for other musicians who want to sell their music as stock.  First, you say you don’t need to write Grammy-worthy tracks, just clean, consistent songs.  What do you mean?

You need to be able to write songs and not every musician can do that.  There isn’t enough margin to send this out to a producer or go into a studio.  You have to do it yourself at home.

What type of music should people try to sell?

The broader you keep it the better.  Looking at the market I think almost every kind of music works if you can do it well. You have to make the music you can do well. Go with what you are skilled at writing and  playing because comes down to that performance.

You say avoid knock-off songs.

If you are just doing a knock off song it will sound like 500 other knock off songs on the site and people wont buy it. If you go with the genre you are familiar with you can probably also do it faster and this is a numbers game to some extent, the more you can get out there the better.

And, finally, you say, if you can sing, do it!

I can’t sing to save my life, which is unfortunate.  If you can sing there is more money to be made because there is premium placements with singing and song writing.

Evan Barrett, song writer and music licenser, thank you so much for joining us.  Evan has provided even more detailed advice for licensing music in a guest blog post and that will be at EasyMoneyShow.com/20.

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