I hear you wanna be a Rock Star? Congrats but may I suggest that you take up digging holes, prostitution, being a mercenary or even a crash test dummy. These are professions in which you will get paid.
I would like to look at a few of the issues around making money as a modern musician. No, I don’t mean one of those people who makes deliberately terrible “modern” music but as a musician living in 2018.
People assume basically one of two things about a musician (or any kind of artist really):
- We are making a killing (and wasting it all on drugs) or
- We are tortured and love being that way. Cutting an ear off is our aim in life.
Bollocks and Bollocks.
Let me tell you that (despite being just a wee bit odder than your local plumber) musos are just like anyone else. We have houses, kids, partners, mortgages, a need to eat and put petrol in the car to take the kids to school.
So why is it that people assume that we don’t need, or deserve to get paid when they consume what we produce?
Loan Me a Dime
Let me show you what I have earned from music over the last 8 1/2 years. These pics are straight screen grabs of my Bandcamp stats page. This is real life kiddies.
The graph looks pretty impressive as it is showing downloads. If each record has 12 tracks then one of those big spikes really = 1 album sale.
You can see that in 8.5 years I have made 62 sales. Effectively all will be full album sales. I made $373.50.
$373.5 / 62 = $6.02 per album. Now that is a great thing about being Indi. The per album cut is super. I understand most bands used to struggle to get $1 per record in the 80’s (but their management & record company did and paid for everything).
Now, this is over 8.5 years so $373.50 / 8.5 = $43.94.
Oh sorry, I forgot my royalty payment from the last 5 years that APRA paid to clear their books.
Also, I did make a few coins over at CD Baby
So that makes it about $46.24 per year to compose, record, release and otherwise manage a musical career that is supposed to somehow pay for a normal lifestyle. I am not even attempting to account for computers, electricity, software and other necessities of working my craft like Bandcamp & Pay Pal fees.
If I work (a conservative) 25 hours a week on music that equates to 100 hours a month ~1,200 hours a year at $46.24 = $0.0385 cents per hour! Of course, I have a day job too (part time now) so I easily work 55 hours a week which is middle management hours for an extra 38 cents an hour.
I couldn’t even buy decent drugs, let alone antibiotics for when I hack my ear off on that income. But lucky I have a small car so that almost covers one tank of 91 octane fuel (yeah we run that crud here in Oz).
Yep, I’m a killin’ it.
Modern Love Is Automatic
If you look at that graph (which compresses in a lot of time) do you notice anything? Look at the albums and number of sales below. A few albums have sold a stunning 5 copies. Most sold less. Many sold 0 copies. That is a whole lotta love right there.
What you probably don’t see so clearly is (because the graph is pretty compressed) is how well I am doing in the last few years. Here are sales in the last 60 days.
“Run From The Sun” came out March 13. It would be great to make a few sales as people are excited about my new record. This graph cuts off the first few days but let me tell you, you missed nothing.
The last album of mine to sell in anything approaching volume (5 copies) was “Berlin To Dusseldorf”. That’s February 2012. I pushed that record some with getting it on CD Baby so they could get it on iTunes, Spotify etc. Over at CD Baby I sold 2 copies. iTunes etc I sold nothing.
Since 2012, my music has improved, I have gotten better at writing music. I have gotten better at mixing and yet my sales have died.
So they tell me that sales are dead and it is all about Streaming and especially Spotify. Ok. Let’s look at how well that works out.
In the 6 years “Berlin To Dusseldorf” was aggregated to Spotify etc. I made under $15 back on the $59 it cost me to get it there. I got a freebie (for helping CD Baby) to get “Run From The Sun” aggregated but it still cost me $20 to get the process completed and as of yet I don’t see a single micro-cent (all I get for a Spotify play) from Run.
Let’s clarify the maths for Streaming $79 to not quite make $15.
People are no longer paying for the music they still say they want to consume. It smells like Karl Marx’s “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” crap. I make music and get nothing and they get to hear my music not only for free but AT MY COST.
What’s wrong with this picture?
My Shadow In Vain
Let me sidestep for a moment before I come back to you with some more on Spotify. Here are views on YouTube. Unlike Bandcamp, I can’t seem to see how much of the video people watched (if they bailed or not). See anything interesting just looking at the official “Run From The Sun” album compared to “Making Metal Guitars in Reason using Synths”.
The album got 48 views and the “How To” video got 173 views in less time. I have heard someone else say the same:
People want the inside track on how to make themselves sound cool or be famous but have no interest whatsoever in something of actual merit that someone made from the sweat of their soul.
Look at how effectively NONE of the people who wanted to know about Making Metal Guitars even went over to check the record. Sad, sad, sad. Not just for me personally but for music in general and humanity at large.
My most played video was a piece of mine but the draw was that I was showing off a Novation Bass Station II. That video is sitting at 7,886 views. My highest viewed content video is 845 views for “Methone” from Cassini. But… that also served as a product demo so we have to drop to 605 views for “The Clipper Ship” from “Sea Changes” in 2015 as my most highly played pure music video.
No surprise really then that my next album “Space Case” is actually product demo for a collection of musical instruments. I will sell the instruments and force people to get the music. Cruel & sad? Maybe. But practical.
Trouble Spot Rock
Spotifry. Everyone sees them as the future of Rock, the conduit to fame and fortune for every kid with a stolen copy of Ableton Live.
I’m now really coming to see them as a very bad thing indeed for music in general and for Indi acts in particular. I get now why Trailer Swift had her wobbly, why Lars Ulrich did the same over Napster.
Spotifry & YouTube are making money off our work and we are not getting anything back. Ok, sure you say we can get royalties but remember that to get to those royalty payments you have to pay someone first. Not from the income raised but before, in the fantasy that money will arrive because you bought the “Pro” package.
Pros don’t “Pay to Play”. Pay to play was considered an abomination in the 80’s but now we all sit back and let ourselves get raped. At least a band like Divinyls who paid to get to play on a certain bill had the genuine ability to present to fans in the flesh and did go on to have a stellar career. On Spotifry you really aren’t getting that opportunity despite paying. You burn your coin whilst Spotify, the listeners and the aggregator get the benefits of your work.
I focus mostly on Spotifry because they deliberately DON’T have a Buy Now button for any of the music they stream or any way to move a “fan” to your website or anywhere where you may have the opportunity to make a return on your investment. At least on YouTube you can ask people to pop over to your site to engage directly. Spotifry deliberately doesn’t want you doing that. They only want you to pay $10 per month so you can avoid adverts.
Spotifry are there using your music to raise money from getting people to listen to adverts or pay $10 per month to avoid those adverts. They effectively get all that music for free.
This is not like radio where as a kid I had FM-104 on all my waking hours, hearing Dire Straits, Springsteen, Screaming Blue Messiahs, ELP, Moody Blues, Shreikback and the Venetians. Both old and new songs. It was never free because I heard adverts but if I wanted to be in control of hearing any of those songs I had to run down la dolce vita and pony up for the platter. I paid the piper when I got my Jethro Tull records. Records got purchased back then and the music was pretty darned vital as a result. It wasn’t a perfect system for sure but it worked more than it didn’t.
Count Three & Prey
Spotifry (and YouTube, and Play, and any other streaming abomination out there) don’t care how poor the content they get is, only that it keeps arriving (for free) so that they keep getting their income. I don’t blame them as they are a business. Maybe not such an honorable one.
The aggregators are also businesses and generally, you get what it says on the tin as your music gets on all the outlets. But not really. Sure anyone can hear your choonz but they won’t. Or if they do they won’t know or care that it is you. You will get paid a useless statistic. Then some other grafter will slide on in and offer you snake oil that gives you the inside track on making bulk coin by using their system for only $37 (down from a real value of $988). I call BS because if MC Godpants can make as much money as he claims from the great Satanify then what’s he doing running long-letters at people like me? Happy to be proven wrong on all of his points as then I could buy decent petrol for my wee car.
I do blame us for letting all this happen both as fans and as the makers of the content. If we withheld then the system would change. Look at how Trailer & Lars’ hissy fits did effect change already.
We need to get paid our due. Or at least have the opportunity for that to happen. As an Indi artist I have to pay before I can get my music on Spotifry, maybe they should be paying us before we put our material on their carousel? A record label normally gives an advance so why not a streaming company?
The streaming industry keeps us focused on play counts and the like. They don’t want us looking at cost vs income or anything like that. They see (along with the modern “music fan”) us as being obliged to give them a free ride. Remember “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”. Sounds more like Orwell’s warning “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”
Play counts and numbers of fans are so much unicorn poop. They don’t even pay for half a tank of poor quality fuel every 6 years for a 3-door car with a 1.4l engine. Don’t fall for the ego game. Money talks, BS walks.
I thought about putting my next album “Space Case” on Spotify but I’m not paying another wasted cent to an aggregator. Nor do I feel like using a free one as all I am doing is letting Spotifry get my tracks free and I still make no money from the pleasure of letting them rape me and play it out to people who have no interest or even a real opportunity to buy it if they were.
Me & My Monkey
I can just hear some troll in the cheap seats saying; “well sure because your tunez is crap”.
No they aren’t. I may not be [insert fave Top 40 or underground act here] but I know that I do decent work. Definitely good enough for an unsigned act with no recording budget. Good enough even for other artists to want my services to help them make better mixes or sounds for their upcoming instruments.
I have been told by some pretty darned decent musicians that I am a bit brilliant. Now I don’t take that too seriously but I do know that I don’t suck so if people bought Tesla records (watching a 2008 concert right now and they ain’t Journey or Bon Jovi but it is a fun enough ride not to hit eject) then they could/should buy mine if they like my style.
If you want to pass this whole article off as garbage then feel free but also perhaps see if it holds some ideas that need a bit of considering. Being an Indi artist means really having the courage to be independent.
I know now that chasing after “fans” (the ones in quotes don’t pay for music in any way – even with pleasing comments of thanks) is not a working solution so I’m letting them come to me. I’ll be here because I love music and I make music every week (almost every day I don’t have to work that day job to cover petrol those other 155 fortnights that music doesn’t quite support).
I see that I am not the only person with some hard Q for the Spotifolks to A with other content owners suggesting over 20% of what they play isn’t properly licensed. That sounds like another way of saying unplaid. Or should that be stolen.
BTW I can’t access any of my $19.27 from Spotifry as CD Baby don’t pay out anything under $50 so right now they have my money on the short-term money market making interest. Bandcamp pay me immediately for each and every sale.
MC Godpants isn’t his name but I don’t want him to feel like this is a personal attack. Still delighted to see if he can verify his assertions and claims so if you happen to know him, let him know.
The Berlin record is actually “Count Three & Pray” but the misspelling seemed apt here.