One of the things I’ve noticed while researching various topics for articles and blog posts is the lack of reliable statistics relating to independent musicians. It’s easy enough to pull up statistics from the Recording Industry Association of America but their data is largely related to what is happening in the main stream of the music business. But what about the average musician who is out there in the trenches every day, performing live and releasing albums but not necessarily achieving rock star status? I thought it was worth knowing what was normal and what wasn’t. How many albums the average musician is selling, where the sales are coming from, and what the average musician is doing to promote their albums in the first place?
I sent out a survey to my subscriber base (which is currently made up of over 10,000 musicians) and these are the results that came back from those of you who completed the survey.
Some of the results were surprising, and some not so much. Below I’ll share the results with you and offer a little analysis of what the statics suggest, and how they might be relevant to your music career.
Where do the majority of your album sales come from?
While it’s a bit disheartening to hear, it’s not all that surprising that the most significant source of album sales is “friends and family”. It seems the average musician is simply paralyzed when it comes to applying a marketing strategy that can expand their reach beyond their own personal network. This really needs to change folks. In line with that is the fact that the second richest source of sales is “live shows”. Live shows certainly are a great way to sell albums but the problem there is simply that your reach is limited to the amount of available time and energy that you, the artist, has at your disposal. In short, it’s not easily scalable, nor is it often even feasible.
What WAS a bit of a surprise, a shocker really, is that a mere 1% of sales are coming from people’s mailing lists. This is HUGE missed opportunity folks. Especially given that “the internet” is nearly on par with “live shows” as a source for generating album sales. A mailing list and a little knowledge of copywriting is your best chance and generating sales. It’s more powerful than shows, it’s more powerful than press, it’s more powerful than any marketing strategy out there. More importantly, expansion is possible without a significant increase in your expenditure of time, energy or resources.
Honest answer… On average, how many albums do you sell per year?
These numbers are just straight up devastating. Don’t let the breakdown fool you you either. 57% Percent of musicians are selling less than 50 albums a year. Yeesh.
More shocking… We’ve all heard about the 1000 fan model that suggests (I think very wisely), that an artist can flourish with only 1000 true fans. Well… gulp… 93% of artists are selling less than 1000 albums a year. Imagine those kind of statistics in any other industry. What would we also say if we learned that 93% of carpenters were not making a basic subsistence level salary? No wonder our parents tried to talk us out of becoming musicians.
It seems obvious already that there is a real disconnect with independent musicians when it comes to developing a methodical sales strategy. As unromantic as it is, if we are going to succeed in the music business we need to act like a business. That simply means following a strategy that produces more output than it requires input. We can do this folks.
Have you ever signed a record deal?
These numbers sound right to me. I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that the percentage of signed artists who took this survey is higher than average given that my subscribers are a much more proactive group of musicians than the norm (good on you guys). The one thing that does stand out is the fact that 16% percent of artists have had record deals but only 7% of artists are selling more than 1000 albums per year. This suggests that the marketing strategy failure spans more than just the DIY crowd.
Do you regularly perform live shows?
There are a number of ways you could slice these statistics. On the one hand this is an indicator of how many musicians are leaving potential sales on the table by not performing live. On the other hand I’m a passionate believer in developing direct response marketing strategies that work regardless of whether or not you perform. At any rate, it’s interesting to learn that almost half of the musicians out there are not performing regularly.
Approximately how many albums do you usually sell at shows in relation to the audience size?
This was really interesting to me. 33% of musicians “never sell ANYTHING” at live shows. And yet live shows are the greatest source of album sales beyond friends and family.
One of the primary mantras of marketing and sales is that you always need to ask for the sale. This DOES NOT mean simply spamming people and saying BUY MY S@*T. But it does mean requesting that people take a specific action at the right time. This is true whether you are selling on your website, via an email blast, or even at a live show. A live show is one of the best opportunities a musician has to land sales. The fact that so few are selling ANYTHING from their shows suggest a fairly deep rooted ignorance, or possibly resistance, to marketing in general. Another thing that I hope we can change here.
Another thing that stands out is that the conversion rates at live shows are on par with those we see with good email marketing. In fact I’d say email marketing yields better results on average. With the average email marketing campaign I am seeing a conversion rate between 1% and 10%. 14% was the best I have personally ever experienced and I’d say that 4% is about average. That simply means that of 100 people to sign up for my list about 4% eventually purchase. Judging by the results of this survey it appears that the average show is converting at only 2%. And email marketing doesn’t require gas money
How big is your mailing list?
Well, the reason so few of you are seeing sales via your mailing lists becomes immediately apparent. Most of you don’t have one… doh!
With any form of email marketing your sales are going to be in direct correlation to the size of your list. As I mentioned above… An extraordinarily good conversion rate would be in the 10% range. So a list of 172 people just isn’t going to cut it. Increase your mailing list size and you will increase your sales. The most common mistake I see when it comes to building your mailing list is not having a clear and direct reason for people to opt in to your list. That tiny little opt in box on the corner of your site that says “join my mailing list” just isn’t going to do it.
If you’re one of my subscribers than you know I recommend the use of what are called “squeeze pages”. To give you an example of how much a squeeze page can help… I have a very pronounced opt in form on my blog. It currently converts visitors into subscribers at a mere 4%. My Squeeze page, by comparison, is currently converting at over 25%.
It seems that a conscious change in the way many musicians are going about building there mailing list is needed. Build your mailing list and you will increase your sales. It’s that simple.
Have you ever personally spent money on advertising to promote your music?
This one somewhat surprised me. I expected to hear that only a tiny fraction of musicians had actually spent their own money on advertising. Good on you on guys for proving me wrong. That shows the kind of proactivity that is needed to succeed as an independent musician. The only disconnect here is that the number of artists selling a significant volume of albums is much MUCH less than the percentage of artists who have spent money on advertising. It makes me wonder how that money has been spent.
I know from speaking with musicians each day that most artists are still following the old branding strategies that the major record labels have been using for decades. Vague ads in the back of the LA Weekly just aren’t gonna cut it when it comes to direct response marketing. Instead of spending money on advertising that generates “exposure” to you as an artist, I suggest looking into much less wasteful advertising such as ultra-targeted Pay Per Click. Better yet, use geo targeting and advertise to only those along your tour route. You can potentially make album sales on the front end and ticket sales on the back.
Music Industry Statistics Concluded…
Hopefully these stats can serve two purposes. One, to show you that you are not alone if you are still struggling to sell albums as an independent artist. And two, to point out a few potential disconnects between what musicians are doing, and what actually works.
Needless to say, some of these statistics make things seem pretty bleak. But take solace in the fact that it doesn’t have to be that way. There ARE strategies that work out there. Most musicians are just making music, sticking their heads in the sand, and hoping that it just all works out. In my opinion that is what has been leading to such dismal results for most musicians.
But in reality selling music is no different than selling anything else. Drive traffic, generate leads, build a GENUINE relationship, tap into what music lovers ACTUALLY want (which by the way is an experience, NOT just another download), and ASK for the sale.
If you’re interested in learning how to avoid becoming “just another statistic” and take the art of selling music into your own hands, you might consider taking a look at Music Marketing Manifesto. You can learn more here. <== One question I wish I had elaborated on more was the one regarding Advertising... For those of you who have spent money on advertising, what kind of advertising did you use? And what kind of offer did you promote? Did you send your traffic directly to itunes? To your website? Or did you promote a show? What kind of results did you see? Do me a favor and share your experiences via a comment below.