How to Make Money With Music in 2024

Leigh Cara

When it comes to growing your music business, most artists focus on overall growth, reflected in “vanity metrics” like social media followers, views, likes, and other engagements. It can certainly be fun watching those numbers climb, but have you ever wondered how to make money with your music? If your goal as an independent artist is to actually make a sustainable living, you'd be better off focusing on growing a much smaller sector of your audience.

I’m talking about your superfans – or another way to think about them is your customers.

Every business (including independent music businesses) needs customers to make money.

But how do you make money in an industry that is paying artists so little for the use of their creations?  (Here’s lookin’ at you, Spotify…) 

This is where your superfans come in.

But when I say superfan, I’m not just talking about somebody enthusiastic about the music you make…

To better understand, let’s first examine a few key concepts from Kevin Kelly’s groundbreaking article, 1000 True Fans.  

Applying Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans to Your Music Business

In Kelly’s 2008 article (which is just as relevant today as the day it was written,) he argues that if creators like you have 1000 people who are willing to spend $100 per year on the things you are creating, it amounts to a SIX FIGURE INCOME for the creator.

(I’m gonna let that one marinate for a moment for people stuck in the “starving artist” victim mindset… )

That means that if you can find just 1000 out of the 8.1 billion people currently on this planet willing to spend $100/year on things like:

  • Recordings of your songs (digital and physical)
  • Subscriptions that grant access to exclusive content
  • Merch offerings
  • Live show tickets and other unique fan-experiences 

…that you could be earning a very comfortable living as an indie artist.  

But who are these people?  How do you find them?  How do you keep track of them when you find them?  And how do you know what to say to them?  

Let’s unpack all of these questions by exploring a concept crucial to the bottom line of any successful music business; the fan funnel.  

What is a Fan Funnel?

Since music is a profoundly emotional and moving experience for so many, it’s almost poetic (and entirely appropriate) to think about “courting” your fans the same way you’d woo a romantic interest.  

The fan funnel is the vehicle that drives the relationship between you and your fans.  

Think of the different stages of the funnel as representative of various stages of that relationship.

There are 3 main parts to the funnel:

  • Top of Funnel 
  • Middle of Funnel 
  • Bottom of Funnel 

Now let’s look at each stage, how they function, and most importantly, what the goal is at each stage…

With all of your content, you should ask yourself 2 questions:

  1. Who is it for?
  2. What is its purpose?

All stages share the overarching principle of providing value through consistent content and driving the relationship between artist and fan.

The top of the funnel is where discovery happens, usually by somebody coming across something you posted on social media or being served one of your songs by an algorithmic recommendation in your streaming service of choice.

People in this top-of-funnel audience would be considered “cold” as they are meeting you for the first time. 

The goal at the top of the funnel is to make somebody want to come back and interact with you and your content again—or, in our dating metaphor, to get their number so you can talk to them again.  

The middle of the funnel is where your “warm” audience starts to kick in, as these are people who are already aware of you.

Maybe they saw a TikTok you posted about a new single, or they streamed the song after seeing content that featured it.  They may or may not already follow you on social media.  

The goal at the middle of the funnel is to invite your music fans to deepen their relationship with you by joining a fan list, typically via email or SMS.  

Please think of this as asking them out on that first date.  Once you’re on a date with somebody, you have the chance to get to know each other better than your casual interactions have allowed up to this point.  The same is true when communicating with the members of your fan community.  

The bottom of the funnel is where your most engaged superfans are. These are people who are already subscribed to your community and eagerly consume every song, piece of content, email, or text you release.   

The goal at the bottom of the funnel is to help them make that transition from fan to superfan (IE, paying customer). 

This is where our dating analogy moves into a deeper stage of commitment; only the question we’re popping is:

“Have I provided enough value for you to be willing to pull out your credit card and spend your hard-earned money on what I’m offering?”

Just like you wouldn’t propose to somebody without first going on dates and genuinely getting to know them, it’d be just as inappropriate and off-putting to ask somebody to make that kind of financial commitment by spending money on your offers without developing that relationship with them.   

But why is it essential to develop a genuine relationship with your fans?

Because people do business (AKA spend money) with people they know, like, and trust.  

How to Drive a Meaningful Relationship with Your Superfans

Let’s look at our dating metaphor again… 

It’s common when you first start dating somebody you really like to become consumed by how much you want them. You go out of your way to learn as much as you can about them so you can do things for them that make them feel special and want to keep hanging out with you.  

Since your superfans are the people who are spending money with you in a way that is actually allowing you to make a solid living from your music…

They deserve for you to become just as obsessed with them.  

And just like dating, the best way to get to know somebody is to spend time with them by engaging with their comments on social media or replying to their texts or emails.

While you’re spending time with them, ask them questions.

You can ask them about their passions, fears, hobbies, and dreams - the better you understand who your superfans are, the easier it will be to know what to create for them that they’ll enjoy.  

And if you want to make it easy on yourself – ask them what they want from you. You can do this in an Instagram story or broadcast channel poll, by linking to a survey on your website, or simply by inviting people to reply to your emails or texts with their requests.

The more you make it your mission to serve your audience of superfans, the more they will want to do what they can to support you.  

A Note on Monetizing Your Audience…

I do think it’s important to check in with yourself and make sure your desire to serve your superfans is not because you are trying to extract as much money as possible out of them but because you want to do nice things for them simply because you value them and the relationship you have with them. 

Yes, your superfans are a requirement for a profitable music business, but they are people.

…And people don’t like being treated like ATMs. 

Remember to BE A HUMAN in your interactions with your fan community; 

The goal is a genuine relationship – the revenue is a welcome side-effect.  

But don’t take my word for it…

Case Study: Corey Smith’s Vinyl Presale

A great example of how investing in your superfan community like this can pay off is in our work with long-time independent singer/songwriter Corey Smith.  

Corey worked closely with the Venture team to create an automated email sequence intended to nurture the relationship with new fans joining his community, The Regulars.  

Corey is known for telling incredible stories from the stage, whether within the songs he writes or how he tees them up when he performs them.

We knew that this storytelling was something his fans really enjoyed from him, so we leaned into it hard.  

The sequence delivers never-before-heard songs from Corey’s “vault,” tales from the road, peeks into the writing room, and stories behind what inspired his most popular songs.  

All the time and energy invested into his community developing the nurture sequence paid off in ways that surprised us…  

When he released his record, Suburban Drawl, his team wanted to run a presale for the vinyl.  

We promoted this presale to every possible channel over about a month. There was organic posting to social media (including daily promotion in stories).  We ran paid ad campaigns targeting his warm audience, and lastly, we sent 2 simple emails to his list inviting them to pre-order.  

We were blown away by the results.

77% of total sales were the direct result of the 2 emails we sent out.

In fact, we even shut off the ads after a couple of days because almost all of the sales came from the most engaged members of his superfan community who were already subscribed to his email list.  Since it was evident that the merch promo ads weren’t driving the best ROI (return on investment), we shifted the remainder of the budget earmarked for the vinyl presale into a campaign to drive more signups to the email list.  

Why did we do this?

When you prioritize your marketing budget for fan acquisition strategies that get fans into your funnel, you can market to those subscribers about any future offer as many times as you want to for free.  

Closing Thoughts

If you forge an emotional connection with your superfans by investing in them with time, energy, attention, and genuine caring, they will invest back into you with all of the above.

…Plus their hard-earned cash.  

It’s important to always fill the top of your funnel and drive discovery for new fans by maintaining a consistent presence and strategy on social media…

But when it comes to the most valuable use of your time and attention to drive long-term financial stability in your music business, focus on establishing and nurturing a meaningful relationship with your audience's most engaged members.

When you create offers and experiences for your superfans that are worth talking about, they will spread the word because they are eager to feel like tastemakers and introduce the people they love most to the bands and artists they love most, too.  

And when the magic of word-of-mouth promotion kicks in, all of those vanity metrics that make us feel so good will go up.  

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