When the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown started, many of the working musicians I know were immediately out of work. These were the folks who made their livings playing in bars and clubs, singing for corporate events, playing on cruise ships, or even doing concerts.
When you’re self-employed and work in a business where you accumulate next month’s rent over a couple weeks’ performances, the screeching halt of your job can be pretty painful.
While some of the musicians have found other employment and ways to earn money — one friend is now installing stair lifts for veterans — some are sticking to what they know best: making music.
6 ways to get paid for online concerts
If you’re looking to share your music with, and hold virtual concerts for, your friends and fans, as well as get paid for it, there are a few ways you can do this. Here are six tools to help your fans support you with tips and payments. (I’m skipping the crowdfunding sites on purpose, because crowdfunding campaigns typically last a month and don’t give you an immediate payout.)
We’re taking a look at the following apps:
Editor’s note: The platform fees below were current at the time of writing, but are subject to change. Please check each individual platform for the most up-to-date information.
At 21 years old, PayPal is positively ancient in terms of money transfer apps. It started in 1998, was purchased by eBay in 2002, and then spun off into its own entity in 2015.
The payment platform is used for anything from transferring money to friends to using it to pay for goods or services.
You can connect credit cards, debit cards, and bank accounts to the service, and use it to buy stuff or just send money.
You can use PayPal either as a business or as an individual; your supporters will most likely use it as individuals. PayPal only makes money on business transactions, and they usually charge 2.9% + $.30 for that, so to avoid getting hit with any fees, make sure your fans do “Friends & Family” transactions, which are free.
You can also transfer your money to your bank account for free, which takes one business day (that also means no weekend transfers, so Friday transfers mean Monday deposits). But you can get an immediate transfer for 1% of the total transfer, up to $10.
Venmo, which is owned by PayPal, is a money transfer app that lets friends send money either through the app or through a connected bank account.
You can keep money in your Venmo account and use it to pay someone else, or you can transfer it to and from your bank account.
You can send money based on a person’s name, email, or Venmo username, so be sure to pick an easy-to-spell-and-say username when you sign up.
If you send money with your Venmo balance, bank account, or debit or prepaid card, there are no fees applied. They do apply a 3% fee for payments you make with credit cards, but receiving money is always free.
This is another Venmo-like money transfer app, this time developed by the makers of Square, the credit card-reading app/device you find at most coffee shops.
Cash will let you tie in bank cards and bank accounts, as well as buy and sell stocks, and even buy and sell Bitcoin. Plus, you can pay people in Bitcoin if you’re so inclined.
Basically, if you understand how Venmo and PayPal work, you understand how Cash works. One difference is that most standard deposits from Cash to your bank account are free and take one to three days, but instant deposits take a 1.5% fee.
You can also get a personalized URL for your CashTag profile to make it easier for people to send money.
This is for anyone who creates recurring content on a regular basis: the comic artist who produces a new strip every week, the podcaster who produces twice-a-month episodes, or the musician who releases one new performance per month.
Patreon is based on the old, old idea of artists who had rich and wealthy patrons funding their art: Baron Gottfried van Swieten was a patron of not only Mozart, but Beethoven and Haydn.
The idea is that, rather than finding one wealthy patron to support you and your lifestyle, you get a few dozen, if not a few hundred, friends, fans and supporters kicking in a few bucks each month to help you pursue your art.
Patreon lets supporters provide recurring monthly payments, rather than one large payment up front.
As a thank you, you can then give your supporters special access to supporters-only pieces of content — whether it’s an early listen to your latest work, or an extra song or episode that never gets released to the public, or even a special thank you gift.
Pronounced “coffee,” this is another tip jar service where your fans can “buy you a coffee.” You can earn some income without resorting to a schedule like you would with Patreon. Best of all, Ko-fi doesn’t charge any fees for receiving your donations.
Ko-fi makes their money with their Gold premium level. At that level, you can set up recurring monthly payments, like Patreon, create posts that are only available to subscribers, and set your unit price of a minimum “payment.”
You can even change the “buy me a _____” label to anything you’d like: beer, tea, cheeseburger.
If you’ve ever played shows for tips, you know the importance of the tip jar.
The virtual tip jar is just that, but unlike these other services, the tip jar lives on your website rather than as a standalone app.
It’s a great way to monetize your performances while also encouraging people to visit your website and buy some of your music and merchandise.
You don’t need to be a programmer, but you do need to have full access to your website (or have someone who knows how to do that).
VTJ is just a piece of code that gets dropped into any page on your site where you want it to appear. If you have a WordPress site, you could drop it into a widget in the sidebar so it appears on every page. But don’t forget to create a special Support page so people know what they should do.
Musicians and artists are certainly feeling the pinch with the COVID-19 shutdown, so it’s important that you find a way to make up what you’ve lost.
While there are plenty of resources out there in terms of loans and grants, this is one way you can continue to support yourself through your music, living room concerts, and special events.
Create one or more profiles on the apps we’ve just discussed, and be sure to plug it during your performances. Add a little caption every so often to your video, or make up a little sign that gets fastened to your microphone as you play.