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Linear Musician X Residual Musician: Which One Are You?

by Dan Vasc

Unlike the common belief of many misinformed people around us says, the music industry can be one of the most stable and secure industries in the world. Absurd? Of course there are internal aspects of the market that are extremely variant, but do a little thinking. Can you name a single civilization that in a single period of history didn't have music as one of its most important and most present forms of cultural expression and entertainment? I don't think you can. Music has aways been all around and today this is truer than ever. For the "wanna be" musician of the third millennium willing to work hard there are lots of opportunities. There are bands looking for sidemen, producers looking for good session players, schools looking for music teachers, pubs and clubs looking for live artists, performing artists who need someone to write songs for them... The possibilities are endless. But some of the activities of a musician can make of him a professional with LINEAR income, while others can make of him a professional with a RESIDUAL income. Do you know in which of these categories you fit into? Keep reading and you will soon find out.

To explain the difference between linear and residual income clearly I need you to follow me on this analogy. Imagine yourself facing a down escalator that you want to walk up, the wrong way. You take your first step and place your foot on the moving stair. What happens? You will immediately be trown back right where you began or even fall. Unless you quickly take another step, then another, and another, until you are running without really going anywhere. If you try to do this, you will see that it takes a lot of effort to just stay at the same level without going down. And if you want to go up, you will need much more energy, at the risk of falling right on your face and having to start all over again from the bottom.

Read the previous paragraph again if you need. Is that image clear? Good. Because THAT is the life of a musician with linear income. You see, the linear income is the money you earn once for the work you did once. Imagine a hot dog vendor that sold a hot dog for 1 dollar. If he wants another dollar, he will have to make another hot dog and sell it. If he wants to get 50 dollars a day, he will have to make and sell 50 hot dogs a day. And so on.

Now take a look at the list below. See if your activities as a musician can be summarized by one or more of these items:


  • I'm in a cover band.

  • I play/sing live in bars and clubs.

  • I'm a wedding musician.

  • I play/sing in others artists recordings charging one single price.

  • I sell my original compositions to other artists for one single price.

  • I'm a private music teacher.


If that is your case, I'm sorry to inform you... You are a "linear musician" trying to go up on a down escalator. Everytime that you want more money you will have to work more, making great effort just to be able to keep your livelihood. And also, because of something called inflation, you will aways have to work from 3 to 6 percent harder each year if you don't want to lose what you already achieved.

You might be thinking now: "But this is the standard, right? It's the same thing with lawyers, doctors, bakers, butchers, taxi drivers, people on office jobs, factory jobs... No one gets money doing nothing!" And I say: Yes, it's possible to make honest money even while you sleep. That is exactly what a residual income gives you. Residual income is the salary that you get many times for the work you did only once. It can be cumulative and for life. How is that possible? Here is a list with some of the many professionals who work with that residual income:


  • Stock market investor

  • Real state investor

  • Writer

  • Movie actor/director/producer

  • Software programmer

  • Game designer

  • Inventor/scientist/researcher (and everything that has to do with patent royalties)

  • Musician


See the name of your profession up there? MUSICIAN. You can get out of this down escalator that you're trying to climb and go to a different escalator. One that you just need to step on and it will do the rest for you. "But if it's that simple, why there are so many musicians going through hard times with money?" Being simple doesn't make it an easy or fast process. The fact that residual income usually requires initial investments without immediate return (in music and in any other industry) makes many musicians get frustrated with the wait. Many others don't even know where to begin, where to invest. Or worse: Many believe in the absurd mistake that you need to get "lucky" to do it. In their minds the successful musician is almost like a myth, a distant reality.

Is that your case? Despair no more. I sorted 5 steps for you to begin to transform your linear income into residual income and build a music career that sustains itself.

1- Write original music.
Create, create and CREATE! This is the base of everything. You need to have something to sell, you need a product that is yours. On the contrary of many excuses that we hear here and there, composition IS NOT A GIFT. No one is born a composer or songwriter. They LEARN how to do it. There are many good books on the subject, information online, courses and music teachers that can help you with that, but the best way to start is still just doing it, again and again. So, to work!


2- Hire a publishing company.

Recording, promoting and selling your music is very important, but that will do little for your residual income without royalties. A publishing company will be responsible for collecting the royalties owned to you by those who make use of your songs on radio, television, movies, games, internet, music venues, cover bands, etc. They will also assist you with copyright registry and possible disputes. Usually a publishing contract is based on a percentage of your winnings in exchange for the publisher's services and the most common division is 70% for the artist and the rest for the company, but that percentage may vary. Search on the internet for a publishing company that acts in the countries that you find your music more likely to circulate. Depending on the development of your career you may need to hire more than one company.


3- Do not sell your intellectual property for a single price.

Don't hand the game on a plate! You played an instrument on someone else's record? Or maybe sang a song, did a guitar solo or even wrote some of the songs in the album of another band? You may want to charge a smaller first single payment (or even don't charge it at all) and instead ask for a fair percentage of the album sales, specially if you see potential on that artist.


4- Create instructional material.

If you're a music teacher you can easily write a mini-course for beginners on your instrument, an e-book, record audio lessons, video lessons or even an instructional dvd. Once the material is done, you don't need to make it again. It's yours to sell how many times you want, a new source of income for the rest of your life. If you don't have any experience teaching, you really should begin now, even if it's informally among friends. You will benefict greatly with the experience of explaining something you know to someone who doesn't, even if being a teacher is not your goal.


5- Use the internet. A lot!

There are LOTS of musicians who make LOTS of money only with income generated from selling music online and from audio streaming services. Many of them are also on Youtube, with content that can range from the most crazy and creative original materials to simple lessons, equipment reviews, and even covers. You can also make your own professional website to advertise your products and services of course, and as your career and reputation develops you can sell ad space to other music related companies, or even endorse them.

"So, that means I should stop with all my linear income activities?" Absolutely not! At least for now. The idea here is you being able to gradualy phase out from linear to residual income. Remember that this is not immediate and it takes time to build up. But the important thing is that residual income is ACCUMULATIVE. You write a song once and it gives royalties more than once, and meanwhile, you are writing another song, and so on. As you build your residual empire little by little with these steps keep doing your covers, giving your lessons, making your shows. If you're pacient and persistent enough, soon the time will come when you will be able to eliminate all linear income activities, or do them just for fun.

Don't give up! Try to always surround yourself with things and people that motivates you. Have the courage to get out of your confort zone and play to win, don't play not to loose. See you at the top!

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