I am proud to be a member, a full member indeed, of the UK's Performing Right Society. This means two things - Firstly I receive royalty payments four times a year. Secondly I am not invited to Slashdot conventions ;-)
Every civilized country has its equivalent of the PRS so, wherever you live, there is a good chance your music could be earning royalties too. So how can you do it?
Firstly, you have to identify an area where music is in demand and is being paid for. The obvious place is in sales of physical products and downloads. If you can get your song recorded by -- insert the name of your favorite artist -- then you will be able to earn royalties, both on sales and performances of your song.
Unfortunately this is probably the most competitive area of the industry and it is fantastically difficult to get in. The best chances are in the smaller niches, but the money is of course less.
But there is a huge market that is overlooked by many - broadcasting. TV and radio stations use massive quantities of music, much of it not sourced from commercial releases. And all of this music, well almost all, is paid for. So there's money on the table and you could get some of it.
Some of this music is quite high profile and even the average TV viewer will have noticed it - theme tunes and background music. It's a rare program that doesn't have any music at all, even news. Much of it goes unnoticed however. It's just background and the viewer isn't meant to pick up on it.
High profile music is generally commissioned. This means that the producer of a new game show, for instance, will go to some composers he or she already knows and ask them to submit demos. The winner gets the commission, writes and records the music, then settles back to collect the royalties. (Well, it's not quite as easy as that in the details, but in overview that's how it works.)
Low profile music is generally sourced from production music libraries. These are publishers who get composers to write and record music for them, probably for no upfront payment, and then try and get that music placed as often as possible. (In some localities, the music is sold as licences for unlimited use. In the UK, royalty payments generally prevail.)
If you can therefore persuade a TV or radio producer to commission you, or a production music company to take on your music, you will become eligible to receive royalties.
At this point you can sign up with the equivalent of the PRS in your country, sit back and watch the money roll in!
I first had my music published in 1985 and many of my tracks are earning regular royalty payments even now!
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