Independent artists can make more money than ever before. The walls of major label distribution have crumbled, and have been down for a decade. Social networks make promotion to fans easier and cheaper. Add in home recording, crowd-sourced artwork, and other cost cutting maneuvers and DIY musicians can be financially successful.
Or so goes the myth.
Reality is far murkier. Yes, it is possible to make money as a DIY artist and many are doing it. However, they are not making it from selling recorded music. That can certainly bring in money, but even modestly successful DIY artists generally gross $20,000 to $50,000 from sound recordings annually. These are artists who have many songs in their catalog with some momentum. After you take into account recording costs and splitting revenue amongst band members and the producer, there’s not a lot left. Even those with a big enough fan base to do deluxe packages get a decent gross, but profits can be elusive.
Yet, DIY artists living below stardom are consistently finding profitable careers. How are they achieving this if iTunes and Spotify revenues aren’t paying the bills? The ones who are making a profit mostly fall into one of these three buckets:
Complain all you want about musicians making YouTube covers and goofy videos instead of being “serious”. The reality is many of them make a good living from this. Costs are minimal compared to professional studio time. Distribution costs are near zero. The casualness of the content also allows for more rapid creation than one might find for “official” recorded work.
Companies such as Maker Studios and Big Fra.me have grown to help these artists monetize their music with better-leveraged ad rates, production assistance, and channel cross-promotion. Once ramped up with a lot of content, successful artists in this area can clear mid-to-high five figures in revenue. Since they are often solo artists, they also don’t have to split it up much.
2) LIVE TOURING
It’s a rough life trudging from city to city, especially with gas over $3 a gallon. Yet many artists have figured out a way to make this work. The rise of house concerts has allowed some to make thousands per night when a club in town might have previously paid them hundreds.
Social networking has made promotion in new cities cheaper and easier to find the dozen “super fans” that might bring friends to a show. Smart artists also tour in areas where they know a fan base exists from mailing list and social network data points.
Once at the show, with an audience primed to like the band (instead of grumpy locals), these artists sell more merchandise. Easier access to creative items like sunglasses, jewelry, and handbags also leads to increased sales. Add this up, and musicians who aggressively work these approaches take in mid-to-high five figures in profit. As tough as touring can be, artists focused on this are clearly leveraging it into a career.
3) SYNC PLACEMENTS
The proliferation of cable channels and niche online audiences has meant more content and advertising that needs to be created professionally. This has also led to more needs for music around the world. Creators also can’t settle for mediocre library music. They need professional, contemporary songs that fit the mood of the creative.
Artists who fit the sound requirements and have a certain buzz amongst music supervisors are often rewarded with multiple placement opportunities for their music. Rates can be as lower than $100 (on sites like Audiosocket, The Music Bed, and Cuesongs), but they can also be upwards of $100,000 for a worldwide television spot. Even after paying a placement company, an artist can still end up with a mid-to-high five figures in profit. This is also before they may get lucky with the “magic sync” that results in larger sales and popularity.
There are multiple examples of DIY artists who could fit into each of these buckets, but there are very few that were actually succeeding in multiple buckets.
YouTube artists don’t get enough road experience to draw well and their music lacks the “cred” music supervisors want. Touring artists mostly have “road” content to post on YouTube (which doesn’t perform as well), and they are in the studio less often to make tracks for sync placements. Meanwhile, sync artists tend to avoid YouTube for fear of diminishing their brand with covers, and don’t get much name recognition for their sync placements to draw on the road.
While success in multiple categories is elusive for most, success comes to those who focus on one revenue stream. By putting their energy in growing that one element, a musician quickly learns what works for that bucket. Then they refine their trade to fit the medium and achieve greater success. Laser-sharp vision allows them the financial resources to make a living at what they love.
The disadvantage is that this singular focus makes it difficult to get the career momentum most artists desire. Those that want to be rich and famous in music need to be succeeding on radio, the Internet, press, TV, and touring. For the DIY musician, much of that is cost prohibitive anyway, so a focus on what you can achieve makes smart business sense. However, it also explains why most major labels continue to dominate the biggest selling artists. Even when the artist comes from an indie, they usually have a partnership with a major label to generate success.
If you are truly DIY and don’t have a team, focusing on one area to succeed is a wise business plan. If you achieve a lot of success in that bucket, then you can evaluate how to grow on your terms. The new music business may look different, but it’s clear that a focus allows a greater chance towards DIY success.
Source: MTT (by Jay Frank)
Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’ had been streamed nearly 25.5m times on Spotify by the end of last week, with its weekly streams increasing over the previous four weeks as the song gathered momentum.
How do we know? Late last week, Spotify launched its new weekly charts, the Spotify 50 and Social 50, with the former ranking the 50 most-streamed songs in each of the 28 countries that Spotify is available in.
The chart shows weekly play-counts for each track, and is backdated to the week ending 28 April for every country. In other words, spend a bit of time digging into the Spotify 50 widget (as we have done today) and you can get national and global Spotify streaming counts for popular tracks.
‘Get Lucky’ is a good subject, because it was released on Spotify during that first week – meaning the four weekly charts available through the widget account for all its streams so far on the service. It’s also good, because the song has been such a hit, it appears in the Spotify 50 for every single country for each of those four weeks. There are no holes in the data.
Having typed all the figures in to a spreadsheet (here’s a public version for you to see the raw data), here’s what we’ve found:
‘Get Lucky’ was streamed 25,467,772m times in its first four weeks on Spotify. What’s more, its momentum built over time: 6m streams in week one, 6.3m in week two, 6.5m in week three and 6.7m in week four. Note, if you’re one of the early users who can see play-counts in Spotify’s desktop app, it’s currently showing nearly 29m plays for ‘Get Lucky’, meaning another 3.5m-odd plays so far since the 28 April (the last published chart).
The US, UK and Sweden were the three biggest countries for the track. The US accounted for 6.4m of ‘Get Lucky’ streams on Spotify for the four-week period as a whole – 25.3% of the total. That’s ahead of the UK’s 3.8m (15%) and Sweden’s 3m (11.9%). That means that together, these three countries accounted for 52.1% of ‘Get Lucky’s Spotify streams.
Other notable markets: Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway and Spain. This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise: key European countries where Spotify has been available for a while. Norway accounted for 1.7m streams over the four weeks, just ahead of the Netherlands (also 1.7m rounded up), Germany (1.6m), Denmark (1.4m), France (1.2m) and Spain (1m).
It’s very early days for Spotify in the Baltics. Last week, ‘Get Lucky’ was only streamed 5,657 times in Lithuania, but was still top of the Spotify 50 chart there. Streams are also counted in the thousands in Estonia and Latvia.
Using very rough calculations, all these streams may have generated $127k in payouts. We’re always wary of simple per-stream = X thus artist makes Y calculations, not least because we have no idea what the deal is between Daft Punk and label Colombia Records when it comes to streaming revenues. But if you take the $0.005-per-stream average that’s often cited (for example here) about Spotify, 25.5m plays generates around $127k of payouts.
We can see the negative headlines now: 25.5m plays for the biggest song in the world right now only makes $127k? Streaming sucks!
One, because as a single-track, ‘Get Lucky’ has sold like the clappers. In the same four-week period in the UK alone, it sold 606k units according to the Official Charts Company, alongside those 3.8m Spotify streams.
Two, because the ‘Random Access Memories’ album appears to have been pre-selling extremely strongly too. In the US alone, it’s expected to sell more than 250k copies in its first week – again, despite the album being available to stream on Spotify and other services.
Three, because the figures above are only for Spotify. They don’t include payouts from Rhapsody, Deezer, Rdio and other streaming services, nor do they include YouTube (34m plays so far for the official audio there).
Four, because people are going to keep playing ‘Get Lucky’ for the rest of 2013 and beyond. It has ‘summer hit’ written all over it. If summer ever deigns to arrive, that is. Spotify and its peers will keep paying out as long as people keep playing the song.
We’re not blinkered evangelists for streaming music – there is still too much murk around how streaming payouts make their way to artists, and reasons for concern about whether streaming services can find a sustainable business model for the long term.
What’s more, all the data in this blog post relates to one of the biggest hits of 2013 so far from a well-established artist: it doesn’t say much about what Spotify and streaming in general means for emerging artists, which is another point of contention within the industry.
But the really vital thing when talking about streaming music and how it’s paying off or not paying off for artists and music rightsholders is to look for accurate data, and start to draw conclusions based on that, rather than prejudice for or against the streaming model.
In short: here are some hard numbers….
Source: Musically (by Stuart Dredge)
A record company’s value used to be measured by the acquisition, protection, and exploitation of copyrights. Exploiting those copyrights by selling songs is an easy business model to understand and used to be the foundation of a very healthy global industry. Historically, the record business was the heart of the music industry. Sell a lot of records and you were a successful business. And artists also succeeded through record sales: they became household names when they had sold a lot of records.
From the business perspective, artists and songs could be viewed as interchangeable commodities. If any given artist failed to deliver hits, another waited in the wings to take their place. This impersonal approach allowed the music industry to grow extremely profitable by simply selling “product.”
But the sale of recorded music has taken a battering over the last decade, and it’s no longer smart to judge an artist’s commercial viability on record sales alone — not least when there is a new generation who questions the need to pay for recorded music at all. For many artists and their managers, record sales are now just one of many revenue streams and one of a number of factors with which to judge success.
Despite this dramatic change in the marketplace, many struggle with the concept of uncoupling success from record sales. It doesn’t help that most measures — the charts by which many fans learn about new music — are still based on this notion. For emerging artists this is particularly precarious, since careers are too often ended early if a first set of recordings fail to sell.
So how should a “content producer” behave in this new environment? And what lessons can we learn from this new model of value? Here are the two keys:
- Do not treat artists as commodities
- Value the artist-fan relationship as highly as traditional rights
Smart managers realize every artist is a standalone business that generates income from multiple revenue streams. A manager’s job is to create those businesses and run them well. This requires thinking globally and being agnostic about which revenue stream or territory is the most important. As long as those channels can deliver the aesthetic the artist wants and make a profit, the business is a success.
But the business of relationship building is not a quick one. Artists have to earn the respect of fans, convert that respect into trust, and, eventually, convert that trust into faith. Building communities takes time, and it can only be achieved over the long-term. In this model, artists can no longer be treated as interchangeable hit makers.
The key to artist-management success is identifying talent early and developing it cost-effectively over a long period of time. Artists — and their art — are the only real assets. The systems and structures that surround them should be treated as a means to maximize the commercial value of each artist. As such, the traditional music industry — be that companies that make and distribute records, publishers who collect performance royalties and create sync opportunities, concert promoters, or merchandisers — should be regarded primarily as service providers to artists.
As the digital age gathers pace, managers must engage in the shaping of the music landscape. That landscape is still plagued by a mindset that regards copyright as an instrument of control (which further limits commercial exploitation to traditional models) rather than as a remuneration right that can generate revenue wherever a market may be. The future is about accepting consumer behavior and looking for as many ways as possible to monetize it.
In addition, managers must also simplify the complex structures of the industry and create healthy businesses based on monetizing the behavior of consumers and those businesses that wish to use creators’ works for their own profit. Without a simpler, better structured digital market, the direct artist-to-fan business will struggle to grow. Moreover, it will undermine the modern-day manager’s opportunities to improve their artists’ business.
Managers must also figure out alternative investment for artist businesses. Traditionally, it was the record business that invested in new talent. Restricting investment to direct rights exploitation keeps the emphasis on making money from record sales, which keeps the “investment risk” for would-be investors high. A viable alternative would be a market for investors to put their money into artists’ whole businesses, where artists retain rights and investors participate in all the profits.
The music industry was the first of the creative industries to be affected by the disruptive nature of the internet. But it’s not all bad news. Disintermediation has forced a focus on talented individuals who produce great art. One of the jobs of their managers is to create an environment that allows them to do so. Ways of collecting fans and connecting them to artists are ever changing, but by embracing new technology opportunities, creative businesses will flourish. Other content producers take note.
Article originally appeared on Harvard Business Review (http://www.hbr.org) and was written by James Barton and Brian Message.