I really don't need to add to the fray regarding the possible demise of musicians making money by making their music. It's been covered in so many ways: give your music away, piracy killed independent music, no it didn't, and The Trichordist's excellent essay on changes in the structure of payments to musicians for their recordings. Suffice it to say that CD sales appear to be falling and digital music is increasingly expected to be free. Whatever listeners pay for is clearly not padding the pockets of independent musicians.
Here are some suggestions to get the dialogue going — which I am happy to see taken to new heights or torn down because you've already tried them and seen them fail.I'm a musician. And like so many musicians, I'm going to play music no matter what happens. So, if I can't sell my music, how do I pay for groceries? What if I'm really investing my time in my music (and marketing it if I'm an independent) and don't want to take a day job? Well, bad news. I don't have a time-tested path for you to take. All I have are some suggestions and a desire to start a dialogue between independents that will allow us to create a community that can help each other with ideas, cooperation and creating new markets that will buoy up the musicians of the coming decade(s) both artistically and economically. I hope you'll join in the conversation.
As Steve Birkett has already said, add diversity to your musical market. He includes format diversity, build in real world connections, you are more than music, make it community-based, and expand into other audiences. Steve's insights are excellent. Check the comments on his post as he's already started the dialogue that I'm looking for. Think about the other skills you've developed along the way ranging from digital studio recording engineer to blogging chops.
As we know from Amanda Palmer's amazing kickstarter return, it is possible to crowd-fund a number of musical products. Your return may vary from Amanda's, but it's well worth a look. A few services provide crowd-funding that is musician specific (but note as you try to click through that some are out of business).
As has been popularized by services like ReverbNation, musicians can create a number of items on-demand that can be put up for sale on the web or at gigs. Ranging from CD's to T-shirts, these can provide a simple way to have pocket cash … at least.
One income avenue if you write lyrics or songs is to license them to other artists, venues and companies. There are too many companies to list that will provide this service to you, but it's a good idea to be signed up with BMI, ASCAP or another performing rights organization before you start licensing your songs.
Yes, I know it may go without saying for some of you: playing live is still an option and some venues or sorts of gigs still pay a decent night's wages. Weddings, private clubs, etc. almost always pay enough to do more than put strings on your guitar. Build your network in order to get connections at these venues. Don't know how to build your network? Check out my post of networking tips for live gigs.
And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Now, it's your turn? What other ways can independent musicians make a living while maintaining their freelancer approach to livelihood?