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Independent Artists & Songwriters: Here's How You Make Money and Collect

Today’s music landscape is not designed to support independent artists and songwriters. The world of streaming that we live in now makes it harder for these artists and writers to make a living from their art even though these individuals are the backbones of the music industry.

So, here are some tips for all you independent artists and songwriters out there who are sick of not getting paid for your work.

Register with the MLC

First things first, if you are not signed with a publisher who administers your work, make sure you register yourself and your work with the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC). The MLC came out of the Music Modernization Act of 2018 was established to ensure all artists and songwriters are paid their mechanical royalties from Digital Service Providers (DSPs) like Spotify or Apple Music.

The MLC administers blanket licenses to DSPs, collects these royalties, and then pays all interested parties including artists, songwriters, composers, lyricists, and publishers. The main issue with this system is that many people don’t realize that they need to register and claim their work to get these royalties. In the February of 2021, the unmatched royalties exceeded $424M.

To get paid, register with the MLC! All you need to do is become a member of the MLC and then you will be able to claim your works and any of the uncollected $424M that may be yours. This is a simple way to make sure you are getting paid your mechanical royalties from DSPs.

Don’t Rely on Money from Streaming

Unfortunately, even if you are getting paid all your mechanical royalties from DSPs, it may not be enough to sustain a career in the industry. The reality is that very few artists can make a living off streaming revenues.

Because they are two of the most popular streaming services, let’s look at Apple Music and Spotify Premium. To earn $1 of total revenue, a song must be streamed 75 times on Apple Music and 130 times on Spotify Premium.

This $1 is then distributed amongst the Streaming Service who keeps about 30%, the master owner (generally the label or self-released artist) who retains around 60%, and the rest is split between mechanicals and performance royalties. Here is an overview of the breakdown of revenues.

Independent artists and even songwriters would be lucky to be able to pay their monthly car insurance with the royalties received from DSPs. So, if not streaming, then what?

Find Nontraditional Revenue Streams

Okay, so maybe nontraditional isn’t the correct word to use, but it’s important that songwriters and independent artists find new ways to make money while the world still lives in this streaming world.


First, it’s important to note that you are no longer considered a ‘sellout’ if your song is featured in a car commercial. I mean ACDC, one of the most ‘anti-establishment’ bands even featured “Back in Black” in a Walmart commercial.

Synchronization licenses have become a huge source of revenue over the last few years for artists at all levels of their careers and have become very beneficial for songwriters as well.

The main upside of a sync placement and that it is generally a one-time fee that is a 50/50 split between the sound recording (record label or artist) owner and the composition owner (songwriter and publisher). For a singer/songwriter, this can mean big bucks, but can even be a huge chunk of change for a songwriter. Not to mention the free advertising that comes with a sync placement.

TikTok/Social Media

Another increasing space for independent artists and songwriters in TikTok and other social media platforms. TikTok, originally, was developed as a music/video app. Artists and songwriters have continued to harness its features and now, its widespread popularity.

Artists and songwriters are getting massive label and publishing deals from posting their original content on TikTok and are gaining a massive fanbase. Additionally, increasing your popularity of TikTok will get you into the creator fund and create a new source of revenue from this platform. Even if you aren’t interested in signing anywhere and your goal is to stay independent, having a wide internet reach provides many new and unique opportunities, from brand partnerships to collaborations.

Just look at Abigail Barlow, @abigailbarlowww on TikTok, who began posting original songs she wrote based on the Bridgerton series and novels. It gained so much popularity that she teamed up with a friend and they have released The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical and it has been nominated for a Grammy.

The moral of the story is to keep putting yourself on platforms like TikTok or Instagram where there is an endless supply of opportunities. You never know if you are the next Abigail Barlow.


Do everything you can to ensure you receive your royalties from previous or future work put out on DSPs by becoming a member of the MLC. But it is important to remember that unless your song has billions of views on Spotify or Apple Music, this stream of revenue is not sustainable.

It's a harsh reality that the music industry is not kind to independent artists and songwriters, so it's important to create your own opportunities. Look beyond the traditional and find new ways (like pushing for sync placements or creating unique social content) to make money from your art and create a sustainable lifestyle.

If you think you could use help with any of this, Brain Candy can help you. We offer a variety of services from publishing administration, social media support, audio production, and more. If you want to stay independent and need just a little help to take you to the next stage of your career, we are here to help with any of your needs.

Book a consultation here. We look forward to moving beyond the traditional together.

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