What Next For The "Side-Hustle"?
In recent years, the term "side-hustle" has become commonplace, as evermore people are utilising Internet marketplace platforms to earn incomes (in addition to their "normal" jobs). Typically people are capitalising on their niche talents, craftsmanships, creative endeavours, and so on.
I like this independently-minded, entrepreneurial culture, and believe that it's potentially the grassroots of a wider cultural shift, meaning decades from now we could see societies much less reliant on large corporations, and more supportive of independent tradespeople. Anyway...
I don't consider OSC to be my "side-hustle" per se (I won't bore you with the semantic reasons why), however if we look at OSC in strictly monetary terms, it would be seen by many as a "side-hustle" and I'll talk about OSC in the context of a "side-hustle" in this article.
Four days a week I teach contemporary-music and music production at a secondary school (ages 13-18). This is my primary job and what keeps a roof over my head and food on my table.
OSC started out as a fun, little, creative outlet; a hobby, for lack of better words. It was never conceived as a "side-hustle" or any way to earn money, but rather an outlet for my musical ideas. However, OSC has grown into something that now provides a notable portion my annual income (approx. 30% of my annual income).
OSC has amassed a modest, but nice social-network following, I've collaborated with some lovely people, landed some cool video-game commissions, sold some merchandise, written articles for mainstream publications, and more. OSC appears to have gradually grown into something that actually resembles a business venture (of sorts).
Given the gradual growth of OSC's popularity (and earnings) over the last eight years, I've started pondering some hypotheticals about what the future of OSC looks like.
I've found myself seriously (albeit tentatively) thinking about the potential for OSC to actually become a full-time endeavour. For this to happen though, OSC needs to become much more stable and sure-footed (financially speaking), and this train of thought is what forms the basis of the following discussion.
Assessing The "Side-Hustle's" Growth
The "growth" of OSC's following has been consistently linear, as best evidenced by my Spotify follower statistics (pictured on the right). There are literally no spikes whatsoever. I.e. I've never had anything blow-up, catch on, or switch a large swathe of people onto my music in a short space of time. "Slow and steady" appears to have been the name of the game.
My presumption would be that with every new album or EP, there should be a visible step-up in followers. The lack of such steps in my growth suggests that new releases don't bring in new listeners, and instead, people have continued to find me gradually; organically.
I don't have a problem with this, as I've never aggressively marketed myself and generally don't do the whole "self-promotion" thing very well. Nevertheless, this raises the question of if I focus my attentions on marketing and promotion, making more people aware of OSC, could the trajectory of my followers steepen, leading to an increase in streams and sales?
Below I will outline some of the ideas I've had for ways to expand OSC's reach, scope and business potential. I must stress however, I'm no industry expert and can only gauge my options based on what I see other musicians (similar to me in style and resources) doing.
The Options Before Me (as I see it)
Get Lucky - Have a tune blow up and become hugely popular, gaining tens of thousands of streams every day across multiple streaming platforms, maybe finding its way into a hit TV show, etc...
Shyeah! Like that's going to happen! (although it's nice to dream)
Licensing - I've begun dabbling in some music licensing for TV and video-games, however this is still an avenue that's largely dependent on luck and chance, with too-little control over outcome and revenues. It feels like a lot of "wait and see". I.e, if something gets used, great! But don't get your hopes up.
Getting Featured on Popular Genre-Specific YouTube Channels - In the early days of OSC, I tried this several times and failed. Upon reflection, the music I was putting forward wasn't deserving of being selected for the channels in question, and their rejections were fair enough. This is perhaps something I should revisit. It's by no means a "cure-all" solution, but it might form part of a wider campaign when promoting future releases.
More Live Shows - I've discussed this in my YouTube Q&A, and typically rule it out on account of not being comfortable playing "keyboard-karaoke" to backing tracks; I feel like I'm short-changing the audience and would rather take to the stage with at least a 3-piece band (except I don't have a band or the means to pay session musicians!).
On the other hand, I know the one-man-show format is something that works well for many Retrowave musicians, and perhaps I should set aside my artistic hang-ups in this regard, and explore live shows as an option.
However, there is the bigger problem of logistics. Put simply, the cost of travelling, hotels, and manufacturing merchandise to sell at gigs, would almost definitely outweigh the profits from performing live. Furthermore, it would be near impossible to fit a meaningful gigging schedule around my day-job and family commitments.
There's an argument that it could be a loss-leader, as it would raise my profile and long-term, result in increased sales and streams. I get this, and can see it potentially working, however, I have crunched the numbers on this matter in the past and I simply can't see any way to make regular live performances work for me until OSC becomes a full-time occupation.
There is the option of streamed, online live performances, which I'll discuss in more detail below.
YouTube? - I could devote more time to my YouTube channel, creating content, such as more mix-breakdowns and tutorial-style videos.
Points to consider are:
My current mix-breakdown and creative process videos are some of my least watched content, yet were very labour intensive to create 🤷🏻♂️
I could focus on short-format videos about music theory and production, however there are already excellent (and popular) content creators doing exactly this, and I wouldn't be adding anything new to the format
The bulk of my YouTube followers are there for Adventure Time related ambient music. However, despite releasing five Ambient Time albums, it's primarily the first Ambient Time album that gets all the attention, with the follow up albums garnishing far fewer streams. Furthermore, a great deal of the Ambient Time streams are repeat listens (according to my stats). I.e. my subscribers listen to one of my albums regularly, but don't explore much beyond that. I'm a bit stuck for therefore for ideas on hot to meaningfully capitalise on YouTube as a revenue source.
Patreon? - I don't believe in putting my music behind a Patreon style pay-wall, however I could offer other things through Patreon, such as:
Streams of my production process
Previews of works in progress
One-to-one consultations for aspiring producers, such as mix-feedback, critique, etc
However, as interesting and inspiring an idea as this is, there are some concerns:
Initial expenditure required for the technical infrastructure for streaming (audio-visual equipment, probably a second computer from which to stream, etc)
Ties me down to producing weekly/monthly content, which, if I receive a commission with a tight deadline, could prove problematic
It's recommended that, to make a successful music Patreon page, one needs a following of over 11,000 people on either YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or TikTok. I'm nowhere near that on any platform, so... 🤷🏻♂️
Twitch? - Twitch is somewhere I could offer most of the things listed above (for Patreon), albeit not behind a paywall.
It would mean relying on donations as opposed to the pay-to-access model. Whilst this has no guarantee of up-front investment from followers, there's an argument that that this model has a broader scope, reaches more people (more potential donors), and is a strong way to support other areas of a business model. I.e: on top of donations, it could lead to more music streams, sales, etc.
I know several producers who spend a lot of time on Twitch and also utilise a Discord community to reinforce their Twitch following.
Upping My Social Media Game
In many respects, this one could be the most obvious way to increase people's awareness of OSC. Of the Retrowave musicians that I see doing very well on social media, they output a lot of short-format 1-minute videos of live or partly live music performances and jam sessions (recorded in their home-studio set-ups), often with a slight tutorial slant.
Perhaps an amalgamation of several of the above ideas, such as live performances streamed on twitch, which later get uploaded to YouTube, and which can be cut up into small video-reels to add to Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Facebook. 🤔
Just To Clarify (and also get your opinion)
I wish to stress that, this is in no way a shameless attempt at "cashing in" or "selling out". First and foremost, I simply love creating music, collaborating, and interacting with musicians and fans online and wish to do more. I don't have the wherewithal or inclination to change the kind of music I make, or to pander to trends, etc. Moreover, I believe there is untapped potential in OSC, and that if I focus my efforts correctly, I can attract larger audiences, enabling me to do more of what I love, and to a higher quality; potentially even leading OSC to become a full-time, "primary-hustle".
I'm also mindful of overreaching, both in terms of time and financial commitments, and so I need to weigh-up in more detail the logistics of these ideas before I hatch a plan for how to bring more regular OSC content to the Internet.
In the meantime, I'm very keen to hear from you, the reader, as you might have ideas, insights and/or suggestions based on this discussion. If there's anything you think I'm overlooking and/or something you'd like to see me do in the future, please do get in touch here with your thoughts and ideas (or hit me up on social media). I will greatly appreciate any and all input you might have on this matter.
Perhaps this is all just the frustrated musings of a burgeoning midlife crisis, but I'm fast approaching 40, I've been working in education in some capacity or other for most of my adult life, and I keep feeling that somewhere within the thousands of people subscribed to me across various social network platforms, there's surely a way to bring about some positive steps that could move OSC towards full-time viability. I just need to find it and unlock its potential.
Thanks for listening to my musings,