With record sales dwindling and streaming only bringing in tiny amounts of cash, it might seem near impossible to make any money in the world of music.

Lyttelton-based singer-songwriter Mel Parsons made a conscious choice to remain an independent musician. She’s her own manager and set up her own record label to record and release music.

When it comes to the business side of being a full-time musician, she does all of that herself, too.

“I had no idea that more than half, even three-quarters of what I would spend my time on throughout my career would be the admin and business side of things,” she says. 

“On the one hand you’ve got to be savvy and you’ve got to have a bit of a business brain, or potential to understand or interest in that side, but it can’t be the focus.

“You’ve got to be quite purist about the creative – the music or the art. If money is your focus then right from the get-go I think you’re better off down a different path. Get into finance.” 

For Parsons, live touring is her biggest income-earner. She also gets money from streaming, royalties and sync licensing, which is when one of her songs is used in something like a movie or television show.

But what she earns can vary from year to year, depending on whether she’s releasing a new album, recording, or touring.

Mel Parsons is her own manager and set up her own record label to record and release music. Photo: Andre Upston/RNZ

She describes it as “a rollercoaster”.

“There’s heaps of potential in music, but there’s also heaps of slog and a lot of people that aren’t lucky enough to string it all together.”

Matt Harvey was one half of drum and bass duo Concord Dawn, but has moved into music management in more recent years.

On his roster are artists like Shapeshifter, Kora, Flaxxies and Nick Dow.

When he was making music in the early 2000s, about half his income came from playing live, while the rest came from record sales. 

But that’s changed a lot. For the artists he represents, about 80 percent comes from touring, and the rest is from record sales and streaming.

Like Parsons, he says the irregular nature of the music industry is tough.

“You’re waiting for grants to come through, you’re waiting for gigs to come through, there are often gaps between releases of singles and albums.” 

Musicians can get funding from New Zealand on Air or the Music Commission.

But Harvey says musicians shouldn’t have to rely on this.

“There needs to be more discussion around fair pay and remuneration and how musicians make a living,” he says.

“It’s great to have funding from the government, but you need to be able to stand on your own two feet… you need to be able to make minimum wage.”

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