The New World of Vocalist Incomes

Woman giving money to singer performing on the street
There are more ways than ever before for vocalists to make an income — and to push their “take” further -says Jonathan Coulton

This excerpt from the break-out book The Ultimate Guide to Singing, features Jonathan Coulton: internet singing star, known for his songs about geek culture

As the music industry crumbles into the dust, I think we all need to remember that if making music is no longer profitable then there will be less music in the world.

This is a transaction that people understand.

When I was experimenting with various ways of trying to connect people to listening to my music and to paying money for it, I tried out the virtual tip jar route — where people are invited to pay what they would like to pay.

However this never worked out well for me. Then, when I did my thing of producing a song a week for a year, I gave people two options:

(i) here is a link where you can download my song for free and
(ii) here is a link where you can download my song for a dollar.

A lot of people chose the free link — but many more than I expected chose to buy my songs for a dollar. That seemed an amount of money that many weren’t going to begrudge me.

Why Making Money Works for Me

The important part of why this works for me is that I have always been straightforward about the idea that what is most important to me is that people hear the music, so I am not going to stress out about the various ways that people get the music for free.

I accept that this is a part of reality that I am not going to fight. At the same time I broadcast this message: “Dear World, I would like for this to be my job and, if you like the music I made and you want me to make more, then the best way is to pay me money.”

Find Your Custom Solution to an Income

There are so many different ways of making money in the music business; each person needs to find their own solution that is customized.

This depends on what you do as an artist, who your fans are, how they listen to their music, how familiar they are with you, how familiar they are with certain kinds of tech and how likely they are to want to give you money.

I recommend that you try everything that seems like it might pay off.

In the context of being a pro musician who performs in public, I’ve discovered that fans want to give you money.

I’m not trying to be crass about this, but a big part of my job as a business person is making sure that I provide as many opportunities as possible for people to give me money.

This means that it is important to have a lot of different products and channels — if they want to buy digital, make it easy.

I sell a USB with my entire collection — that is the perfect item for some people.

Then, there is the idea of multi-tiered editions of my new albums — I experimented with this on my last record: a 10-dollar digital edition, a 20-dollar signed CD version and a deluxe box that costs 150 dollars.

You are making sure that there is something for everybody. If there is a fan out there that would happily pay you $2,000 for your new album, you need to make sure that fan has an option of giving you that $2,000.

Jonathan Coulton is from the internet and known for his songs in the “Portal” games, plus an eclectic catalog of masterful songwriting on subjects from zombies and mad scientists to sad parents and dissatisfied software engineers. He is the house musician for the NPR quiz show “Ask Me Another," and a composer for "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical." www.jonathancoulton.com