Friday, July 2, 2010

Making a living as a recording artist

Every week I talk to artists and every week when I ask individuals what they are interested in doing for a "living" they say "I am going to sell cd's!" or "I'm going to tour-

When pressed to see how they will pay for the tour, or simply pay the day to day bills
most reply that they will:

-Get signed to a major lable- who will finance my next cd

- Make money on tour PLUS sell cd's.

It must be hard for artists to realize that the old way of making music and MONEY has changed, I'm not going to discuss touring in this post, but talk about Selling CD's and how you make a living as a signed or unsigned artist.

At this writing there are only 4 major labels left - Each of them have MANY MANY MANY "boutique" labels under their "umbrella"

Sony Music Entertainment
EMI Group
Warner Music Group
Universal Music Group

With the precipedous decline in record sales, the "majors" do not write deals the way they used to. They will sign artists with a "360 deal".

I often joke that the 360 deal means that the label gets a piece of EVERYTHING within 360 degree's of YOU: Merchandise- Touring-Publishing-Songwriting shares- even entities you may create with your name and image etc.... These deals if your a major act like U2 and Madonna mean millions-
For a non established act they mean your chances of ever seeing a penny are slim to none!

ALL of the indy labels are also cash strapped, and will also want to have a large percentage of a NEW or emerging artists Merchandising, Touring, Publishing etc.
So why the big rush to be signed?

I know "back in the day" you lived and breathed to be signed since that was the only path to success.

So what are your options?

Educate yourself- Learn EVERYTHING about what is going on in the industry- Learn what the key points in deals are, (contracts have NEVER been written with the artist's interest in mind- There is a ton of information out there via, books, the web, recording industry organizations. This is the #1 way to help you hold on to what little money you may have and any of your future earnings.
*Madonna- from day one sat in meetings, read,questioned, talked and PARTNERED with collegues that helped her grow her "business" into the empire it is today- Jay Z- P-Diddy Beyonce- all corporate CEO's.

Are you Ready for the big time?
Do you have a strong foundation and a strong business plan? Do you have a big and growning fan base, and your shows are packed to attract the attention of the BIG GUYS?

1st honestly ask yourself these questions:

1)Is your craft the very best it can be?

2) Are you presenting something that is totally unique to the masses?

3) Are you working as hard and smart as you can to establish & grow your "business"?

I promise this work is on-going- you need to dedicate a part of EVERY DAY to being the BEST at what EVER your good at and answering YES to these questions above.

DONT RUSH to sign a contract!! *DON"T SIGN ANYTHING unless you have a entertainment attorney review and negotiate on your behalf. The lable's ALL have legal teams that have constructed a contract that FAVORS THEM, you need indivduals on YOUR TEAM to protect YOUR interest and favor YOU). You can't afford an attorney? Can you afford to sign away all of your future earnings? You wouldn't do this with a 9-5 corporate job why would you do that with your PASSION?


If you agree that you still need to educate yourself and get ready for the big time so you can make the best informed decisions about YOUR career and earnings.
You 1st establish a strong foundation then build upon it.

Do you still have your heart set on recording your cd and make a living from the sales of it?

Awesome, Let's take a look at the numbers from 2009:

Soundscan 2009 numbers (soundscan tracks records sold)

in 2009 there were around 98,000 US releases
out of those releases only around 700 of them sold over 5,000 units
and only 12 of them sold over a million copies! Wow! one dozen sold over a million.

What does this mean to YOU?
Let's do musicians math.

You make a cd-
Let's say your CD cost $15,000 to make (a conservative estimate to record, master, & duplicate a full length cd)

If sell your cd for $10 a piece on your website, & at your shows.

You need to sell 1500 cd's to break even on your recording and mastering!!!

What about digital download sales? in 2009 they represented 40% of the total market- so digital downloads are increasing and physical sales are decreasing. You still have to sell 1500 units in physical or digital sales, The sad reality is most new artists NEVER sell 1500 copies, the RIAA doesnt even start "counting" you in their statistics until you sell 1000 units. It's simply the reality of the market today!


If you want to get your cd reviewed and played you need to send out several hundred reviewers and promo people you hope will actually play your cd- (add the cost of mailing these cd's to the costs you will need to "re-coop".
Without adding in costs, like digital distribution, promotions, marketing, etc You still have to sell 1500 cd's to break even! Add to this equasion that on the internet there are 1000's of internet radio stations playing music for free (and the artist never get paid a cent) not a fast track way to make "a living".

Your CD in today's market is really nothing more than your "business card" you give them to potential investors and business partners to share your work, you sell them to fans to keep them coming to your shows, with digital press kits- having a EP or demo disc is perfectly fine and may make more sense- you still have something to sell, but consider the SINGLE mentality- many folks simply will not buy a full length cd, and now many emerging and established artists release singles all the time.

Fan's at shows will buy a disc but the sales numbers show that a majority of the record buying public download a favorite song or two- Record reviewers, booking agents, listen to Part of your song to see if they like you... so singles and short play discs are often less expensive options for new artists to consider-

If your like many of us, this doesn't change the fact that you live to play and create music!
and you may STILL want to do a full length CD maybe it is only for personal fulfillment reasons.

Indy artists CAN make a living- you simply have to be creative and play to YOUR strengths, and put together a plan that will allow you to organize your time, identify the things you are really good at, and the area's you need help with- THEN building that into a your plan to create MULTIPLE revenue streams- It doesn't change the fact that you must stick to the plan and work hard to educate yourself about HOW the music / entertainment business works. (so it can work for YOU). * I can help you do this!!!

For a New UN-established artist you have to prove that you have "earning potential" and to demonstrate WHY others should join your team to HELP you succeed. (this includes FANS, voluteers to help you at shows, investors in YOU)

You may think to yourself, I haven't done any of that & I have people ready to sign me today!

Imagine you are a a A&R person your job is to look for talent (NOTE A&R folks do not sign acts they only scout the talent) Which of these bands would you be interested in pitching to your boss (who is the person offering the contract).

BAND 1- Updated press kit, Fan outreach, catalog of material, packing shows consistantly selling lots of merch- growing fan base, opening for popular regional acts.

BAND 2- Debut artist a few demo's on myspace inconsistantly playing coffee shops and local gigs
Has had no touring or recording experience-

If you fall into the BAND 2 catagory- do you think the person begging you to sign a "exclusive" agreement is interested or have connections to make you a star? do they have a history of working with artists JUST LIKE YOU to help them be successful?
If they have never worked with an artist like you, how are they going to be able to properly promote and grow your career?
More often it is a situation where a artist or band inexperience leading them to losing what little money they are making.

Look at the super successful major acts, and even the emerging artists that are on your iPod-
They ALL have "other businesses" that allows them options to creating a "living". (see the Diddy's Madonna's, Beyonce's listed above).

Don't be in such a hurry to sign away your earnings- As with any "job" the entertainment industry is a WONDERFUL place to create, learn and grow- It IS however a business and right now a UPSIDE DOWN business trying to figure out how to survive in a world where music is free and plentiful!

If you have questions about your career, are interested in putting together a success plan, or figuring out what else you need to do to "make a living" doing what you love- let's talk!


Free downloads up cd sells down:

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