How musicians make money

Ben Dinsdale
by Ben Dinsdale August 25, 2020 / No Comments

In this episode of Ratehub’s Real Money Talk Podcast, Tyler and Zack Fenech, sit down with Mike Evin, a talented Canadian musician, to learn more about money and the music industry. The trio chat about the Canadian music scene, money-saving tips for artists, and if musicians really get paid in beer.

The Mike Evin story

Mike started playing piano as a young kid, moving into jazz and forming his own band in his teen years. As he moved into his 20s, songwriting became more of a passion, and he began performing and recording his own work. “I was really hooked on this whole process of performing and communicating with an audience and telling stories.

After deciding to pursue a music career, Mike had his time playing club gigs for beer and getting into arguments with bouncers over proper payment. After opening for Sarah Harmer on CBC, though, with the big audience and healthy paycheck, did he believe he could make it as a musician.

Hitting all the right (bank) notes

The new world of streams and downloads is forcing musicians to find new ways to earn a living. Streaming service revenue is minimal. “For one million streams on a streaming service, you get $4,000, and that’s if there are very little hands in the pie. But the more hands you have – if you have a label, if you have publishing if you have this and that manager – than you’re going to get less than that.”

Even with these small streaming fees, Mike still feels that many believe musicians don’t need to get paid a lot. “For musicians, our whole lives, our whole careers, we’re made to feel... ‘oh you’re so lucky you get to do what you love for a living, and you’re just having fun up there and get to drink and this or that.’ But no, we’ve worked really hard, we’ve tried really hard, and we’ve put a lot of work in it, and we deserve to get paid fairly.”

Mike looks to songwriting and neighbouring rights to earn money from his work on top of traditional revenue streams like touring, teaching, and merchandise. Songwriters get paid by a federal body called SOCAN. Musicians earn SOCAN fees when their songs play on the radio, in coffee shops, TV shows, or when they play a live show. Mike talks about discovering Neighbouring rights, which are similar, covering things like satellite radio, and go a big way to help musicians like Mike earn a living.

The double-edged sword of CANCON

Canada content laws (or CanCon) are rules that help Canadian artists get on radio, tv, and record their music. Mike benefits from this support for Canadian music, getting a grant from the government to cover many of the costs related to his album Life as a Lover.

However, he feels that support can hinder Canadian artists from breaking into the US market and allowing Canadian labels to be lazy. “All of the Canadian record labels, if you took all of the grant funding that they get tomorrow, they would all go bankrupt.” Mike thinks that supporting Canadian artists is a good thing. Still, it can breed mediocrity and makes Canadian labels less aggressive in their pursuit of new talent.

The bottom line

Although it is fun to be a professional musician, Mike still faces his challenges. “There’s always a point in each where I say this is too hard this is not working, and I have to kinda work through that and give myself a pep talk… But then I do what I love, and I’m able to do a gig, or write a song, or play for a half-hour in my apartment, I feel so much better, and it makes the struggle worth it.”

Hear the full conversation with Tyler, Zach, and Mike on your trusted Canadian personal finance podcast, Real Money Talk. Also, make sure to give Mike’s music a listen.

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