As a guy who’s built a substantial business around the basic claim that I can teach you how to ACTUALLY sell music, it’s a rare day in which I don’t receive at least one snarky email/blog/Facebook comment from someone claiming that my entire premise is baseless because… wait for it… NO ONE BUYS MUSIC ANYMORE!
Insert me pulling my hair out of my head in frustration…
Don’t get me wrong… As industries go, the music business is real mother f@#ker. The vast majority of musicians out there are putting their hearts and souls on the line, but struggling to even see triple digit album sales, let alone make a living. I’ve been there, and I know what that’s like.
However, if I might just call a spade a spade for a moment, I fear that there are many who protest purely because the alternative is to admit that their situation is a result of their own actions, or worse, the lack there of. For many, it would seem that having a problem is easier than having a solution. (Click to go directly to the comment section to tell me what an asshole I am for suggesting such a thing)
While I do feel the sentiment “nobody buys music anymore” is largely being thrown around as a way for many musicians to feel better about their lack of sales, there are some truths wrapped up in the claims.
It is a fact that as a whole, album sales are down. They are way down. In fact 2014 was the first year in history with ZERO platinum-certified records by the RIAA. And album sales have been in steady decline for a number of years now.
However, there is another side to these statistics…
First, while the recording industry has been on the decline, the music industry as a whole has been experiencing considerable growth in many areas.
According to Forbes.com, “While the ‘big four’ record labels have seen their revenue plummet during the last decade, the music industry more broadly—encompassing independent labels, live performances, merchandise, music lessons, and the like—did extremely well. “
Statistics from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry indicates that the “broader music industry,” has grown by billions of dollars, with live music seeing particularly dramatic growth. PWC.com predicts that between 2015 and 2019 the decline in album sales will continue to converge with the growth rate of live music revenue. The result being a total industry “growth of 0.8% compounded annual growth over the forecast period”. So while album sales may be down, revenue has not necessarily been as dramatically affected.
But the real takeaway here is not that “people don’t buy music anymore”, it’s that the way music is consumed has changed.
We used to live in a world in which music distribution channels were extremely clogged. The primary ways that music made it’s way into our lives was through radio and music videos (remember those?). The major labels spent millions of dollars fighting for those few coveted spots, and when an artist finally broke through and reached that “tipping point” of awareness, it wasn’t uncommon that millions of albums were soon sold. This failed more than it succeeded, but when it worked, it made so much money as to cover the losses of the failures and still leave many millions of dollars of profit in the record labels hands.
If we heard a song, liked it, and wanted to hear it on demand, we had to go down to the record store and buy the album. That is how main stream music was consumed. There were many things both good and bad about those times, but needless to say, those days are gone.
Digital distribution, piracy, and now streaming services have created a world in which listening to a song on demand is as simple as clicking a button on our phone. For the price of one album a month (or less), we can have access to what would have been an unthinkably vast record collection just a decade ago. I have my opinions about the negative impact on music as a craft, but like it or not, the way we consume mainstream music has changed, and there is no turning back.
But there is an important distinction to be made here…
People have always purchased mainstream music and independent music for very different reasons. In the past, mainstream music was purchased as a result of market saturation (for the reasons stated above). However, independent music was generally purchased as more of a “logical conclusion” to an interaction between artist and fan.
For example we might hang out at the local rock club because we are a fan of rock music and the associated lifestyle. We see a band that we like and notice that the band has a pretty decent following. We start going to more performances and telling our friends to do the same. Early supporters of the band would likely have personal interactions with it’s members, and truly feel as if they were a part of the bands success. In one form or another, the artist would directly ask fans to show their support by buying an album. For fans of the band, this is a no brainer; they would.
In this scenario the artist is the distributor and the sale is a result of the artist building a bond, social proof, and a certain amount of reciprocity with each new fan. More importantly, it’s a result of the band ASKING their hard-won fans for support. The connection is made on an individual level and is not the result of some broad and expensive branding strategy.
That hasn’t changed very much over the last few decades. If anything those same technological developments that have decimated the mainstream recording industry, have given independent artists more opportunities to connect with fans and sell albums.
This is evident in the fact that while major label sales continue to plummet, independent sales are on the rise. According to Billboard Magazine, 2014’s year-end Nielsen Music statistics reveal that Independent labels were 35.1% of the overall U.S. recorded music industry. This marks yet another increase in what has been a steady rise in independent album sales.
And let’s not forget about the resurgence of vinyl, which recently hit an 18 year high. Yet another sign that there is still a healthy sub-set of the market that is not only willing to spend money on albums, but which would prefer to, especially if doing so promises a richer, deeper, experience.
The point to all of this is simply to say that mainstream music sales have plummeted because the way we consume mainstream music has changed. But the way we consume independent music has not. We often get exposed to independent music differently (through the internet), but the reason’s we buy music are largely the same; because we have an authentic relationship with that artist and as a result of that relationship we are happy to show financial support when asked to by the artist.
Because of this, and because of the many new tools the internet offers, independent album sales and related revenue streams are growing, and we have no excuse for hiding behind the many doomsday headlines which state that “no one is buying music anymore”. Those statistics simply don’t apply to us.
In short: Metallica may have something to bitch about, but we (as independent musicians) do not.
Don’t get me wrong, no matter how you slice it, it’s not easy. We’ve picked an incredibly hard industry to try and thrive in. But if we fail it’s because we sell an inexpensive product in an incredibly competitive market, and because more-often-than-not we fail to create significant demand for our music. But I feel like it’s important to avoid taking part in the “music industry is dead” pity-parties that so many musicians engage in.
The days of being discovered by an A&R rep and then elevated to stardom overnight may be gone. But the opportunities to live a life as a professional musician are still all around us, as are our opportunities to sell albums.
In other news…
Remember that artist (Janiva Magness) that I did an interview with on the MMM Podcast a while back? As the marketing director for her album “Original” I helped the album debut at #5 on Billboard’s Blues Chart and climb to #1 at blues radio for much of last summer.
Well, here’s what’s going on with that…
I don’t take on many individual clients. One-on-one campaigns like that are very time consuming, and I’m not very comfortable charging independent musicians thousands of dollars for my services when I know in my heart they would be better served applying that already limited budget to something like advertising.
The main reason I do campaigns like this is because from time to time I think it’s important to apply all my “marketing theory” to the real world. In fact when I did Janiva’s campaign I didn’t charge a dime. I did everything “gratis” because I liked Janiva, the team she had in place, and because I believed in her as an artist. The only caveat was that I asked that she let me share the experience we had working on the album in a workshop or course somewhere down the line.
Well, that time has come. Over the last few months I have been taking everything that we did on that campaign and distilling it down into a step-by-step blueprint for releasing an independent album. On November 17th I will be opening the doors on a workshop called “The Record Release Formula”.
In the workshop you’ll hear from all of the major players involved with the release. That includes the minds behind production, marketing, radio, press, and management of the project; not to mention the artist herself.
My goal is to walk you through each and every step of releasing an album using a proven direct-to-fan marketing strategy, like the one we used with Janiva. I’ll be covering everything from branding to radio and press, and all of the many steps in between. You’ll also get an itemized time-line so that you have a real plan in place before you start spending time, money, and resources on the release of your album.
Much of the workshop will be taught via LIVE webinars, so that you can ask questions along the way. But everything will also be pre-recorded and hosted in a private members area for those of you who can’t make the live sessions or would like to ask questions after the fact. I’ve never done a workshop as involved as this. The workload is fairly exceptional and it’s a small miracle that it’s all actually coming together. But I’m really excited about it and wanted to give everyone a heads up.
Because so much of it will be live, it will be limited to only a certain number of participants. So if this is something you want to take part in, be sure to keep an eye on your inbox. The registration form is currently scheduled to go live on Novemeber 17th, so keep an eye on your inbox for more information.
The workshop will give you a real bird’s eye view, of a REAL WORLD campaign that ACTUALLY TURNED A PROFIT. Something you don’t hear often these days 🙂
If you have any questions about The Record Release Formula, or if you just want to tell me what a tool I am for suggesting that independent musicians still have a shot at selling music, leave a comment below 🙂