Musicians guide to making money on YouTube

Musicians guide to making money on YouTube

YouTube is THE go-to platform for video, so it’s no surprise that it’s enjoyed a whole lot of action during lockdown. Unlike Netflix (the other streaming winner of 2020), YouTube offers creators of all levels of skill the opportunity to be part of the programming.

Getting set up

First, let’s look at setting up your channel. It’s important that you inject as much of your personality and brand into your YouTube channel as possible. Use the same name or brand you use across all your social media.

Now make sure you fill in your about page, add a picture that best represents you, and add some channel keywords to your page to help you pop up in searches.

Once you’ve done that, get ready to create some content. But what kind?

Content creation

This is where you need to play to your strengths. Think about the stuff that does really well on YouTube and gets passed around until it goes viral – it’s almost always something unique and interesting. So while playing your way through your whole back catalogue might be really incredible, any little personal spin you can add to your videos makes them more likely to be shared.

Perhaps you’re playing tunes in an unusual location, doing a cover of a really well known song but with a totally new arrangement, or making a new song up as you go along based on audience interaction. You could be singing about current events, doing a duet with your mum, or making music videos entirely using sock puppets.

Whatever you do, think about the long term plans for your channel, and pick a strategy you think you can stick to. Once people like a couple of your videos, they’re going to stick around for more content like that. So while you can change a lot of details about your content as you go, it’s still wise to keep a consistent overall vibe for all your videos.

Creating a content plan is a good idea, even if it’s only a loose one. For example, perhaps you put out a new pre-recorded video every Friday, do a livestream every Sunday, and a new cover song every Tuesday. Know roughly what you’re going to be doing in advance, and you’re more likely to keep your channel alive. You can also arrange your videos into playlists, and set a main channel video that sits right at the top, so any new visitors see that video first (best make it a good one!).

Optimise and monitor

Next, video optimisation.

Put simply, this is everything you do to make your video stand out to people who are browsing for their next entertainment hit. You need to give each video a title that describes it in an accurate and exciting way, and a thumbnail image that makes people want to click through and watch. This is more of an art than a science, but you can always edit your uploads and play around with changing titles, hashtags and thumbnails to see what difference it makes. Keeping an eye on your analytics will help you see what’s working.

Promote promote promote

All done? Time for some content promotion. Add links between your YouTube account and your social media or any other accounts you have online that are associated with you as a musician. This means more people can find your videos, which can ultimately lead to you increasing your earnings on YouTube. So use all your social media powers to ask your fans and followers to look at your channel and subscribe, subscribe, subscribe.

Promoting your content might feel a bit repetitive but it’s got to be done. Every time you post a new video, make sure every single person who follows you across any platform knows about it. And you don’t just have to say it once; if you have a video that’s been particularly popular, you can promote it every few weeks.

Making money

And some creators make a decent amount of money from their video content, all without the need for special filming equipment or training. So how do they do it?

There are a couple of ways you can make money on YouTube – there’s a direct way, and a more indirect way.

First, the direct way: ads. By allowing YouTube to place ads before (and sometimes in the middle of) your videos, you can get a little bit of cash every time that ad plays. The more views your video gets, the more the ads are seen, and the more money you make.

YouTube take care of this once you join what they call their Partner Programme. To be part of the YouTube Partner Programme you need to have more than 4000 valid public watch hours in the last 12 months (that’s the number of hours of your videos people have watched in total). You also need to have more than 1,000 subscribers on your YouTube channel.

Next you’ll need to have a Google AdSense account (Google own YouTube so it’s all part of the same system), which allows YouTube to pay your earnings into your account. The exact amount you can earn depends on loads of factors, but just know that you get 55% of the earnings from all the ads.

Now for a more indirect way: tips. If you set up an account with PayPal you can get your link, or sign up for an account with something like Once you have a link you can share publicly, you can make that visible in your YouTube videos so that anyone who’s enjoying your content can send you a tip.

This is a great way to make money on YouTube, especially if you’re a DIY musician, because it reminds people you’re a professional who’s entertaining them essentially for free, and if they like what you’re doing they’re going to feel like they want to reward you directly.

If in doubt…

You don’t need to look too far to see people who are making bank from their YouTube channel, so while you shouldn’t copy them completely, you can certainly pick up some tips. Are you seeing other musicians’ content getting loads of views and shares?

So next time something goes semi-viral and a friend sends it to you for a laugh, go ahead and enjoy it by all means, but have some extra fun working out what the production process was, how it was optimised, and why people like it so much. This sort of scientific scrutiny won’t make you more fun at parties, but it could help you make money on YouTube.

About the Author

Kate WellhamKate Wellham

Kate is a music journalist who has written for zines, national and international publications. She’s produced video content for festivals and has travelled around the world reporting on music, tech and culture events. Alongside covering music and culture, Kate also produces live digital events and researches new technology for live performance.
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