06 Apr Song Sales Might Not Pay Your Bills Anymore, But That’s Okay…
I used LimeWire. It was awful. I used to download Iron Maiden songs and end up with an advert for penis enlargement on my iTunes. But as I took the time and learnt the turns and started to understand the language of file sharing, I would at last, finally have what I wanted. Getting music this way wasn’t fun, nor the fastest, but it was at the tip of my fingers, and it worked (eventually). It’s determination like this which is still apparent today. No matter what precautions, provisions and powers they put on Pirate Bay, there will always be people persistent enough to find ways under the radar and beneath the barriers whilst still keeping their beloved anonymity. It’s clear to see people aren’t listening to music the way they used to, and it’s this perseverance for ‘free stuff’ which in turn brought down the pillars of the music industry as we knew it. File sharing was to blame – and apparently so was I. But where does this leave the artist today?
The music industry tackled it like a baby kicking off a nappy. The RIAA started suing music fans left and right, record labels and musicians chastised their fans for downloading their music and the BPI issued letters of “education” to people illegally downloading. This attempt to scare and deter people from using networks like Napster and LimeWire was met with more and more people downloading and even more ways to do it. The nappy was off, but the shit was everywhere. The word torrent soon became a verb and people were “torrenting” their entire music libraries, it became less of a covert operation and became a casual part of every young person’s lifestyle. The problem was, the music industry was not taking notice of what was actually happening. Providing seamless distribution worldwide at the click of a button was a massive step forward in media distribution, and whilst the music industry was busy burning witches, technology kept advancing, making it easier and easier for a younger and younger audience to download their favourite songs with no thought and no guilt and good taste.
When companies like Apple embraced the mp3 with the iPod and iTunes, the music industry started to take notice, but it wasn’t till later when companies built on the popular streaming technology where things really transformed. Now, music was instant. There was no time spent finding torrent hosts or proxies which weren’t “down”, for £9.99 a month I had 99% of the music I wanted, instantly, and artists got paid, right?
Making the most of advertising revenue (like radio), services like Spotify were ushered in as some sort of messiah, saving the music industry; putting paychecks and power back into the artist’s hands. But when the numbers came out, this wasn’t the case. Streaming revenue required massive amounts of plays to see significant income, and massive plays were reserved for artists with the muscle of a major behind them. Certainly not good for any small to medium artist trying to stand independently or climb up to the level where a major label would even consider signing them.
For one play, Spotify claims to pay rights holders between $0.006 and $0.0084. In context, during a 12 week period between June and August of 2013, ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk was streamed an immense 78.6 million times, but just made $900,000 in comparison, which was then split further by their record company in various directions.[ref]
So, If Not From Song Sales, Where?
Today, we effortlessly sweep through decades of music; genre to genre and artist to artist with upward swipes and downward glares. The majority of music libraries today are built from binary and code and music streaming now earns more money than music downloaded (but clearly not for artists). It’s plain to see people aren’t listening or paying for music the way they used to. But does this make them any less a fan? If people listening to your music this way truly enjoy it, I’m sure they’d love to experience it live, and that would require buying a ticket. Once there, they could buy one of your lovely t-shirts to show their adulation and if they’re still listening to you in a month, they’ve probably bought the signed limited edition gatefold vinyl and have the poster plastered on their wall to match. It’s these fans that will happily donate to your cause. Not the fans who just want to listen to you on their morning commute. But the ones who will ring their local radio station and request your song. These fans are of a specific type, these are your hard fans. Give them the opportunity to give you money, and they gladly will. You can’t torrent a t-shirt and you can’t download a vinyl and you certainly can’t pirate a meet and greet. Where the soft fan used to have to pay for that morning commute listen, they now don’t. But that’s okay; because you’ll have your hard fans. Utilise what technology is giving us, a network where you can connect with your fans worldwide, set up online stores, organise tours, attract crowdfunding (investment) and get to know your audience instantly; all from the comfort of a Costa.
For the artist, the album is no longer the end game – for the fan, it has never been. Now, the album is purely there just to reel them in, to convert the curious music listener into one of your soft fans, and from there into one of your hard fans. At the start of The Weeknd’s rise to fame, he gave away three high-quality mixtapes within a year for free. This investment established his initial audience which then generated a hard fan base prior to any album release. Labels have also started to realise this modern economy, posting full album streams on YouTube the day of official release – if not for the minimal advertising revenue – creating a hard fanbase for the artist who will then go on to purchase peripheral products and go and see them live. And it doesn’t have to be as boring as posters and t-shirts, artists are becoming increasingly creative, putting out products which complement their brand, from photo books and beard oil all the way to cider and dildos. And just think, if you garnered just 1,000 of these hard fans – in a now worldwide market – and they were all spending an average of £100 a year on you, that would make you £10,000 (not bad). Hiding your music away behind a price tag in an industry where the majority expect to listen to music for free, only hurts you. So make your music available; make it easily accessible; reel them in, then give them the opportunity to contribute, you’ll soon see your hard fans show their faces. But you can’t win them all, If they like the bait, they’ll take the bite. And If they don’t, who cares, they can go listen to Coldplay or something.
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