Using Royalty Free Music and Stock Photos to Create Passive Income

When you take photos, what do you do with all of them? Do you keep them on your hard drive never to be seen? What about if you’re a guitar player? What do you do with all those chord progressions you put together? If either of either of these two questions is “nothing”, then you might be missing out on a chance at passive income through licensing your royalty free music and stock photos.

Even if neither of these two things applies to you, please scroll down to the end of this post to enjoy some of my guitar-playing recordings!


What Is Royalty Free Music and Stock Photos:

You know when you hear a song on the radio or in a commercial? Usually the artist of that song is paid a “royalty” or a small, ongoing payment EACH TIME the song is used. In contrast, the terms royalty free music or stock music implies that instead of a reoccurring royalty payment the artist is paid a one-time licensing fee.

Photos work the same way. Usually the photographer is paid a small fee for each use or publication of the work. To go royalty free or make your photos available as stock photos means you would simply receive a one-time fee.


Why Would People Prefer Royalty Free Music or Stock Photos?

In the old days, if you wanted a photo or song for your product or commercial, your options would be to pay royalties to an already established artist for use of the photo or song (cumbersome and expensive), or to hire a free-lance artist for a custom photo or song (also cumbersome and expensive).

If you’re an advertiser, would you rather pay a one-time fee or an agonizing, ongoing series of royalty payments? Royalty free music and stock photos just make it quicker and easier for marketers and advertisers to get access to a large selection of options.


Where to Sell Your Royalty Free Music and Stock Photos:

If this sounds like something you’d like to do, then you have a lot of resources to use on the Internet. Probably one of the most popular sites for royalty free music and stock photos is iStockphoto.

What they do is act as a platform for artists to upload their work. The people who need royalty free music and stock photos can then download them for a small fee. iStockphoto keeps a percentage of the earnings and rest goes to the artist.

This is a win-win for everyone! You get paid for the creative works that would never otherwise be found. iStockphoto gets a commission for brokering the deal. And the consumer easily gets exactly what they were looking for. Anyone from a true advertising professional to a college student looking for a quick photo for their PowerPoint presentation is a potential candidate to purchase from this site (and you)!

Signing up for an account is free. You begin by auditioning some samples of your work to make sure you meet their standards! Once you’re been accepted, you submit your songs and photos for review and voila! They are up on display for the world to purchase.

But don’t be afraid – your art remains yours. The license is simply iStockphoto (and you) giving the consumer legal permission to use the work for a small fee. You will always remain the owner.

I’ve been a member for a few years now.  All it took to get started was buying some inexpensive recording equipment and a decent starter guitar (click here to check out a few good ones to try).   Although I don’t make an incredible amount of money using iStockphoto, I have made a small passive income from my small assortment of recordings. It doesn’t take long to notice that other members of the site are really using it to the full extent with enormous portfolios and hundreds of downloads logged into their history – meaning they are likely seeing a pretty decent return!  If I was really ambitious, I could probably really rev up my musical selection and generate even more passive income from my craft.


Check It Out – Listen to Me Play the Guitar!

Okay, so you got me – perhaps I actually wrote this post to share with you some of my musical talent! As many of you know, I’ve been a guitarist for many years.  Here is a short selection of songs that I’ve written, recorded, and am currently licensing on iStockPhoto. I hope you love them!

Song 1:

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Song 2:

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Song 3:

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Related Posts:

1) What is Passive Income?

2) Passive Income Ideas

3) Book Review: “The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated” by Timothy Ferriss

Photo Credit: MMD


  1. says

    Your music is very calming! BTW, as an editor, I use singer/songwriter acoustic guitar stuff all the time. Good to know I know another possible resource for music! I’ve never posted anything myself to these sites, but I don’t know what I would do if stock music/video sites didn’t exist. I rely on them a lot!
    Budget & the Beach recently posted..Week in Review-7/29/12My Profile

    • MMD says

      Thanks! I hear that a lot – both about my music and when people talk to me :) I agree that stock sites have been invaluable. We use them all the time at work for brochures and media. They certainly have their place and for the ambitious there is money to be made!

    • MMD says

      Thanks Jeremy! Something tells me you’d probably be pretty awesome with photography – especially when it came to post processing in Photoshop and those finishing touches like that!

      It’s not a lot of money, but it is pretty cool to still be making a few bucks off of songs I posed two years ago. I’d call that passive!

    • MMD says

      I think it would be a good idea! Unless you’ve got other plans for your pictures or want to “keep” them to yourself, what’s wrong with possibly making a few bucks on the side?

    • MMD says

      Thanks Nell! I appreciate that. I’d love to upload more to iStock, but this darn blog consumes too much of my time :)

  2. Justin @ The Family Finances says

    Very nice guitar playing, and an interesting idea about earning royalty income from it. I don’t play instruments or take pictures, but I would definitely look into this if I did.
    Justin @ The Family Finances recently posted..Retirement Planning at a New JobMy Profile

    • MMD says

      Thanks Justin! It’s just another idea for making money with a side hustle. We (PF bloggers) always tend to think of money in terms of investing, rental properties, etc. One of my motivations for doing this post was because it was a nice showcase of making money doing something “different” ….

  3. says

    That’s cool, nice guitar work there 😉 I’m no photographer and only a passing good musician, but I think those sites are a good way to make passive income, especially if you’re going to be making music/photos for fun anyways.
    CF recently posted..Is Netflix worth it?My Profile

    • MMD says

      Thanks CF and welcome to the side! I agree. I was recording even before I joined iStock. So when I found out about it, my attitude was pretty much “why not”. What instruments do you play?

    • MMD says

      Thanks! Yes, that’s me! Guitar, bass, drums, etc. It’s a lot of fun! The Internet has really changed the playing field for musicians. In the 90’s, the best I could hope for was to record a crappy cassette tape and pass it around school. Now a kid today can digitally record a decent multi-layered track and upload it to MySpace, iTunes, his own personal blog, etc. The potential is completely unlimited!

  4. Earth and Money says

    I’m an hobbyist photographer, and have specifically decided not to go the royalty-free (i.e. microstock) route after trying it out for a while. I don’t want to dump on your post, because its a good post!, but I think its important to know some of the downsides to the industry.

    – Its actually very difficult to get through the ‘audition’ phase for the microstock agencies (at least for photography). They are incredibly picky about what they will accept, and often it has nothing to do with composition or the photo itself. The shots have to have earnings potential and you have to be a good technical photographer to get in – that is, at the pixel level, your shots have no noise, are tack sharp, etc.
    – Its not passive income, per se. The earning potential of a shot starts decreasing as soon as it gets posted. The freshest photos usually generate the most income, which means you constantly have to be adding to your portfolio to ensure it continues to generate income. Why is this the case? Well, as a buyer using an image for business purposes, do you want to buy the photo that 1000 other people have bought and used in some way or another, or do you want to buy the photo that no one else has used? Some photos will sell really well, but often the resale value of photos is limited once its sold a few times.
    – What you like is not what sells. Sure there will always be a market for landscape shots, etc. but its a very saturated market. What sells is shots that people can use in the business world. Often these shots require models, and model releases, etc. and they aren’t the most creatively pleasing shots. If you really love taking pictures of objects against flat backgrounds, then microstock is for you!
    – The royalties are generally pretty pathetic and they hurt the photography industry as a whole. Professional photographers are a dying breed on the verge of extinction in a world where anyone can sell their stuff online for a pittance.
    – If you ever want to move up and sell your photos through a more exclusive stock agency (like Getty Images), they look down on microstock and in many cases, will not accept any image that has previously been sold through a microstock agency.
    – And the biggest downside for me – you have no control over how your photo gets used. I read a story once about a mother who put a photo of her son on one of the microstock agencies. About a year later, she was walking through a bookstore and saw a book about violent and murderous youths with the picture of her son as the cover. Needless to say she wasn’t pleased…

    Personally, I have found much more success by publishing my own portfolio on the web and earning freelance work where I can control what gets used, where and how. If anyone is really interested in selling photos on microstock to make passive income, I highly recommend reading through a blog called Microstock Diaries –
    Its written by a guy named Lee Torrens, who has held a portfolio of about 500-1000 images at nearly every major agency over the last 5 years. He used to post his income every month (though he stopped at the end of 2009). It took him 3 years of portfolio building to get to the point where he could reliably make $500-1000/month. He’s pretty candid about the industry, and if you are trying to get into it, there is a lot of good advice on his blog.
    Earth and Money recently posted..Are We Funding Our Own Demise?My Profile

    • MMD says

      Earth and Money – Thanks for this very insightful comment! I’ve got to start off by saying I can completely identify with each one of your points. There was a while there where I was against the idea of licensing my work. I think its natural for a lot of artists to feel this way.

      The main thing for people to do here is to keep things in perspective. If you plan on being a rock star, than this isn’t for you. If you’re a semi-professional photographer, than this may not be for you. I’ve got a friend that is more talented than I am at recording and he really looks down upon using stock sites because he has had success in freelancing. His music has appeared in commercials and he has made way more money at this than I have. However, he also has several contacts, people, professional recording equipment, and puts tons of time into it. He also struggles with how competitive a field it is.

      Because I am not a professional and don’t have any of these above things, this is a win for me. I don’t record professionally. I don’t have contacts. I’m not going to be a rock star. In fact, my recordings wouldn’t do much of anything if I didn’t license them. So for regular Joes like myself, this can be a decent outlet and opportunity for some pocket cash.

      I do agree that the application process can be strict, but it is certainly not impenetrable. Of course there have to be standards! They are a business and cannot make money off of junk. So if I were them, I would also be cautious about what I allow on my site.

      I would certainly argue that the income IS passive. I am still making money off of songs I posted two years ago. How much “less” effort could I put into it? You are correct that the earnings do dissipate with time. The trick is to change your keywords and titles so that your opportunity for exposure shifts. Banding together with other artists and setting up “lightboxes” (i.e. specialized collections) are also other tricks I’ve seen people use.

      You are correct that what you’re into may not be what the site accepts. Again, they’re not your best friend. They are a business that wants to make money, and they’re only letting you play along because you’re going to help them. As long as you understand that going in, then you’ll be fine. Basically that’s life…

      There are no royalties on these sites (hence royalty-free) – you get paid a percentage of the licensing fee. I admit they are lower than I’d like to see, but what am I going to do – market my own material to those who need stock music? If I was ambitious enough, I suppose I could setup my own site and try to market them myself? I could be like my friend I mentioned above who has had some moderate success with it. But then we’d have to have a separate debate over the time vs return that would be involved. As you can guess from my decision to use iStockphoto, I don’t think it would be worth it.

      IStockphoto and Getty are partners, so I don’t think you’d have anything to worry about:

      I agree that the loss of control is a downside. I have no idea what the songs get used for, which as an artist is a bit strange. But then to some degree I don’t really care. I have made sure to only license work that was not necessarily near and dear to my heart.

      I am happy for you that you have enough ambition to go at this yourself and freelance. I am 100% confident that there is probably more money to be made and the control is certainly better. And to anyone who is passionate about their craft, then I encourage them to give it a shot on their own. But if you’re just a small-time hobbyist looking to make a few dollars on the side, then a stock site like this will do just fine.

    • MMD says

      Thanks! I’m glad to shed some light on this subject. And I hope you like what you hear when you check back later to listen to the mp3’s …

  5. Michelle @ overcome approach anxiety says

    Thanks, great insight. I presume you will need to be a professional with a studio set up, models to sign release forms etc to make sure your pics are actually bought so you can get the passive income stream. Passive income is the way to go though! Tune number 2 is my favorite! Great beats :)
    Michelle @ overcome approach anxiety recently posted..How to Attract Younger WomenMy Profile

    • MMD says

      Actually, you don’t need much to get going! My studio is a computer and microphone in my basement. The pictures can be just regular shots with minor touch ups in Photoshop. You’d be surprised at how easy it has become to pass yourself as a professional! You do have to sign “release forms” to make sure you can legally release the material. This is easy if you are the only one playing the music and your photos are of things other than people.

      Number 2 was a lot of fun to create. The beats are all samples of me playing drums, and then looped with different effects to achieve the different layers.

  6. says

    Thanks for the info. I have a brother who could actually make some good money doing this. I have never thought of this as a way for him to make money, and I know he has never looked into it. I hope he tries this out.

    • MMD says

      That’s the beautiful part of this service. Anyone can make some extra cash if you can write some good tunes!

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