With almost 200 shows and multiple music conferences in the past two years, Maddy and I have learned a ton about the current music industry. For those wanting a career as singer-songwriters, here are a two things we think are worth keeping in mind…
PART 1: Making an album is no longer profitable, but we still need to record and release music.
We all know that while royalties and music sales have virtually disappeared, the costs of making a studio album has not. However, the industry still expects us to have a competitive album or demo before taking us seriously. Everyone is presumed capable of recording a high-quality production in their tablets nowadays, and many do. So albums and EPs have become a business card of sorts – a very expensive business card. What’s more, in today’s oversaturated market, fans expect to hear something new from you every 6 months or less. Otherwise, they may forget you exist.
I told someone earlier this week, if I was starting over right now, I would not do a full-length album like we did initially. I would put all my money in a high-quality EP (3 songs) and release them throughout the year as video singles. And then I would use the rest of my money to market those singles. An album no one hears may not actually exist. Concentrate on quality over quantity, and space it out properly.
If you don’t have the patience to release only 3 songs per year (which Maddy and I don’t), then you have to get more creative. Maddy and I write enough material for a new album yearly, and we want our fans to have it. One of the ways we’re tackling this issue is by doing live albums with lots of new material.
Last year we did a live EP at SugarHill Studios with an in-studio audience of friends and family. The response we received was well worth the experiment – especially to the live video footage.
This year, we recorded our first full-length live album at Lucky Run Studios on Feb. 27th, which we are currently mixing. We sold tickets for two separate performances which funded a large chunk of the project, and gave fans a very unique behind-the-scenes look at our work. And after it’s all said and done, we’ll end up with a lot of new material to release as singles every month or so. So far, the project seems like a winner for everyone involved.
PART 2: Most of the money in the industry is being made through licenses and merchandise.
If you want or need to make money making music, you should focus a big part of your efforts (if not all) on getting your music licensed and/or selling merchandise at live shows. For Maddy and I the goal is to become full-time performing artists, so we spend the time we have performing, and learning how to create a live music experience that results in the sale of a CD, t-shirt, etc.
If it sounds like we care more about making money than making music, consider we can’t make as much music if we don’t make money in the process. We work hard at creating a true musical experience for our audiences – which everyone reading this article understands has a huge personal value. If audiences find value in what they experienced, they’ll want to leave our show with something to remember it by. In our case, we keep our profit margins low in the hope that more people take our music home with them.
For those who are not interested in performing as much as we do, our advice would be to focus their efforts on writing, recording, and releasing music for placement in TV shows, movies, video games, apps, etc. With the plethora of media available in today’s market, one can make a reasonable income from this avenue, and the resulting exposure is often better than radio because people are actually watching these shows, playing the games, etc.
I spoke with Jonny Rodgers of the indie band Cincertalk. He has successfully licensed music for films as well as commercials, non-profits, live theater, and dance. He says artists can expect anything from $150 to $50K for a song placement depending on the use.
For example Broadcast or film tends to pay higher fees, but there’s a greater demand for web use or other lesser-paying media. There are a number of large stock music licensing companies like The Music Bed, Marmoset, and Brash Tracks, as well as boutiques music houses like the one Jonny works with thanks to a personal connection. He says if he was starting out in this industry he would join a performance rights organization like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC, learn how to run a digital audio workstation, and get a couple of great mics ASAP.
“Take ownership of the recording process and get into situations where you are constantly creating great work, for yourself, or others, or both.”
He also cautioned that some of the larger stock licensing companies signs artists and not songs, “so you should make sure your ‘footprint’ as an artist is strong online; good website, Facebook artist page with fans, possibly videos, and just generally compelling work”.
Of course, there are other ways you can make money with your music, but if you want to make a career out of it, it is important to know that these are sustainable options the industry currently affords us.
Both take a lot of work, but for those who take this career choice seriously that won’t be a problem. The days of someone paying for you to make records are almost gone because the sales of records are almost gone. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that if we can figure out how to be artists and entrepreneurs at the same time, we will be the decision-makers of the industry, and we may be entering an unprecedented era of unbridled artistic integrity. People will always need new music. Our hope is that today’s musicians will re-claim the industry and make it their own.