EDIT July 2016: Since writing this blog in 2015 , I HAVE put my music on Streaming services. See why at the end of the article:
I quit my job to go into music full time 2 years ago. In the meantime, I’ve done a European Tour with GB3 and now make my living from music. People from all over the world crowdfunded the album and raised £6000 ($9000) and I put out in July 2015. At the time of writing, (one month after release) subsequent album sales have paid for a family holiday and this months mortgage payment.
Paying musicians, getting it professionally mixed, mastered and manufactured meant I spent pretty much all the crowdfunding budget. The reviews seem to confirm my view that investing into making the best album possible has paid off.
Why am I telling you this? I want you to know that music is not an expensive hobby, but it is how I earn my living. This means that I have spent hours and hours researching and thinking about the streaming/ music for free issue.
And so, people have started asking, me: Why aren’t you putting it on streaming sites like Spotify or Apple Music?
Reasons range from the well intentioned: “it will give you more exposure”, “it will make it easier for people to discover your music” to the less generous: “nobody buys albums anymore, you just might as well give it away for free”.
Firstly, I’ll say that I love CD’s. I still buy them. I also buy downloads and use streaming sites. I do believe that streaming is the inevitable future of the music industry. I want music streaming sites to do things better for independent musicians like me.
I actually love Spotify and listen to music on there fairly regularly. Admittedly, most of music I listen to are albums I have already bought, (so the artist gets paid twice, sorta) but its the convenience of streaming that wins me over as a consumer. I mean, as a kid I could have only dreamt of having so much amazing music all in one place and just a click away!
For me, It’s not about the poor pay! But the pay really IS poor!
Music streaming services’ low pay rate is well documented, but as you will see later in this blog, it’s not the poor pay that is the main issue of contention for me.
Having said that; the figures are so bad that it is borderline comedic. (Well it would be if making music wasn’t my job!)
Spotify pays $0.008 per play or 0.005 GBP . My album has 9 tracks on it. So each time you listen I earn 0.045 pence . If you play the album on Spotify 100 times, I will earn £0.45 . If you play it 1.000 times I will earn £4.50. So for me to earn back the price of a CD on Spotify you would have to play the album between 2.000 and 3.000 times.
The album is almost 1 hour long, so if you played it non stop 12 hours a day on Spotify, it would take almost a year to recoup the cost of the CD.
Even a hardcore fan isn’t really gonna listen to the album more than once a day. This means it will take 8 years of daily playing my album on Spotify to recoup the cost of ONE CD!
It will take 8 years of daily playing my album on Spotify to recoup the cost of ONE CD!
However this ISN’T the reason I’m not putting it on streaming sites.
As you can see. Spotify is not really designed or set up to benefit independent musicians like me. It is a reaction by record companies panicked by plummeting sales due to rampant music piracy. The theory is that if people are stealing music, make it streamable for free and piracy will decline.
Here is the thing however:
If you are a record company, you don’t care if each play only makes 0.008 dollars per play. Why? Because record companies don’t have just 9 songs to sell like I do; they have over 50 years of back-catalog of timeless popular songs streamed by millions of people. Basically all those $0.008 add up to a lot of money at very little cost to them.
Here is the deal breaker for me: Sites like Spotify, Apple Music and even iTunes make the relationship with fans impossible.
You see, the poor pay is not the reason my music will not appear on Spotify or Apple music.
The fact is that any of you reading this could buy my album and upload it to Youtube or a pirate site (please don’t, ha ha!) and make it available for free to the whole world. However, as a small independent musician, most people buying my album are people that know me, friends of people that know me or people that have met me at a gig or online. YOU know that buying my CD enables me to make more music and provide for my family.
This is why relationship is key. In fact it is more than key, it is everything! Services like Spotify and Apple Music and even iTunes divorcee the fans from artists.
Currently Spotify and Apple music do not allow me to put links to my website, upload a bio or give me any information about who is listening to my music. My closest friends could buy my album on iTunes/Amazon, or stream it on Spotify/Apple Music and I’d never know. I suspect these companies like it that way, as they don’t want you to be able to buy direct from me. They want to control our relationship so that they can get their cut now and in the future.
Relationship is everything! When you buy my album, I want to say hi and thank you.
Relationship is key. When you buy my album, I want to say hi and thank you. I want to email you to tell you that when you buy my CD you are helping me pay the mortgage and enabling me to continue making music. The hope is that by making friends not ‘fans’, you will want hear more of my music and hopefully buy the next album too!
After thinking long and hard about this I decided that relationship is worth more to me than a quick sale on iTunes or making it easily available on streaming sites.
Does this mean that I’m hoping people will buy my album without ever having listened to it?
No, in fact, I believe that the days of 90 second music snippets selling albums are long gone.
I’m so proud of my music: it is epic and yet intricate, melodic and yet full of complexity. A 90 second clip wouldn’t even start to give you a flavour of the songs! I want people to be able to listen to the music and buy it if they like it.
The irony, is that you can stream my my album for free from my website and I don’t get paid a penny!
So I’m not against streaming. In fact, the irony is, that you can stream my my album for free from my website and I don’t get paid a penny! But the difference is that by going on my website you can get to know me. You find out the inspiration for the songs and when I’m playing a gig you might come to see me.
Sure, you might just come to my webpage and listen to the album and never buy it. You might not even like it! But at least if you listen to it on my site you have the option of hearing it all an hopefully buying it if you want to.
This is why I decided to go with Bandcamp (although CD baby are good too, I just prefer Bandcamp’s vibe) for the digital downloads and sell the CD direct myself. Because, relationship is the key to this thing working.
Streaming might be the future of music, but it needs to improve…
I hope that Spotify, Apple music and iTunes make it easier for independent musicians to connect with the people buying their music… and when they do, I might just put my albums there. But for now, I’m gonna be brave enough to try to do things a bit differently.
At the moment, if people didn’t buy my CD’s or downloads and only streamed my album, I would not be able to pay the bills. I would have to stop making music.
Maybe in future all our music will be made by robots who don’t have bills to pay or families to support… but if we want real music made by real musicians: Streaming companies needs to change.
And to you who have bought the CD, I’m so so grateful! And to those who haven’t yet heard my album…stream it free at www.davebrons.com/merch
UPDATE JULY 2016
EDIT: I wrote this article a month after the album came out. I write this update one year on.
Windows to the Soul
I’m putting my album on Spotify, one year after it was released. The music industry has a term for this, it is called ‘windowing’. The idea is to maximise physical CD sales and downloads before making it available ‘free’ on streaming services. (Yes I know its not really free, but it almost is!!!) Some people say that windowing is at best; a bit stupid, as most people stream these days, at worst; a bit greedy because you are ‘forcing’ fans to buy the CD.
I actually think windowing is really sensible. There is NO way that a little guy like me could have made the same from streaming last year as I did from album sales. (See stats in article above). I can’t say for sure if this is true if you are Adele, Taylor Swift or maybe even Steven Wilson…but for me, windowing is a no brainer.
For the first 3 months after the album came out, I paid the mortgage on my house exclusively with album sales. It was an amazing feeling to be able to do this after taking such a risk in quitting my job to go into music full time. In the year since the release I have sold about 1000 CD’s. (Curiously, I haven’t sold anywhere near as many downloads though).
Those who are in this game will tell you that 1000 CD’s is a really good number for an independent, newly established artist with a ‘face for radio’. I have posted them to Japan, USA, Australia, New Zealand, South America, China, and all over Europe.
The reality is that now sales have slowed down almost to a standstill (I sell about 1 CD a week now, maybe less). You could argue that it is because everybody who was going to buy the album on CD has done so… i.e. market saturation. I think the real reason is that it takes a huge amount of energy to promote an album. An album launch and campaign kind of does that for you. The anticipation of the public combined with my own excitement about getting my music out there, kicks off a cycle.
Inevitably that level of promotion and energy is hard to sustain, especially for a one man operation like myself. I am now half way though writing and recording the ‘difficult second album’. This album is taking all my focus, energy and enthusiasm now. This is normal.
So… what do I do about streaming? Of course I can make more money by selling CD’s and downloads, but I just can’t physically promote it.
Getting control of my Spotify Artist Page
My main gripe about streaming is that it divorces me from my listeners and fans. Since writing that, Spotify have made it easier (allegedly) to connect with my fans, put a bio on my page and link to my website. Here is the link: https://www.spotifyartists.com/verification/
I say, ‘allegedly’ because I need 250 followers, before they will let me control my own artist page.
Please click here to help me get control of my Spotify Artist page https://open.spotify.com/artist/6OZRrXZ8EsRDOY8IjOUYPz
Also, the bio and pictures can’t be uploaded by me, they have to be supplied via a third party: All Music / Rovi. I can’t just give Rovi my bio either, they have to write it for me… right…seriously? So I have to wait for somebody who has never heard of me to write something about someone they know nothing about?… doesn’t look promising! See for yourself: http://www.allmusic.com/product-submissions
Another thing Spotify say I can use is https://www.bandpage.com/ I have found Bandpage to not work at all for me on Facebook. (Admittedly this is more likely to be Facebook’s fault but…if it doesn’t work: it doesn’t work).
However, I am going to try to make this work. Why?
1: Because I want to see how much I can earn from streaming by existing owners of the album who will opt for the convenience of listening . (This is a way to continue monetising my music after I have sold it)
2: I want to see if new listeners, who wouldn’t buy a CD, start listening to the album on streaming services. (Admittedly this is not going to be easy to prove statistically…)
3: I want to see if putting it on streaming services leads to a bump in CD sales again. (The streaming as ‘music discovery argument’) Seems a bit optimistic, but we will see.
4: To be a human guinea pig for all those other independent artists like me who are very apprehensive about streaming. I will report back here with my findings.
This is not a decision I have taken lightly. I definitely feel like I’m in between a rock and a hard place. There is one thing for sure though: Streaming may or may not be good for artists, but its isn’t going away. I’m going to find out first hand if it works for me or not.
To get me started on this mission, please help me get the 250 followers I need to get control of my Spotify Artists page: https://open.spotify.com/artist/6OZRrXZ8EsRDOY8IjOUYPz
Any questions, comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org