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April 13, 2010 3:29 PM   Subscribe

How much do music artsts earn online? A rather attractive yet sobering infographic showing how many units an artiste has to shift physically or online to earn the US monthly minimum wage.
posted by peterkins (83 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
So I'm trying to read that infographic and have the data make sense -- are they saying if you were played 4.5 million times per month, you'd be making $0.00043 per play? So that times 4.5mil gives you roughly two thousands bucks. Is that right?
posted by mathowie at 3:36 PM on April 13, 2010


Well, I already was aware of this, but it's still really upsetting to see it laid out like that.
posted by MexicanYenta at 3:37 PM on April 13, 2010


Not much...has changed in the last 13 years:

"The band members have each earned about 1/3 as much as they would working at a 7-11, but they got to ride in a tour bus for a month."
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:41 PM on April 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


This is great, thanks. It brings into sharp focus how heavily dependant music is on patronage, governmental, philanthropic, or commercial in nature. You really have to want to do it and/or have huge hit potential to make a reasonable wage, especially since it requires such a huge upfront investment to manufacture new product. It's heartening to see that the self-pressed CD actually gives the most bang for the buck.
posted by eeeeeez at 3:41 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, here's the thing: All of those avenues exist AT THE SAME TIME. So, like, what the fuck.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:43 PM on April 13, 2010 [8 favorites]


Also they could busk.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:48 PM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


The great thing about this is you don't actually have to, you know, work. If you're at 7-11 you're getting up day after day, from 9-5. Write an album in a couple of weeks and there you have it.

Plus, the local bands I know tend to have really profitable periods and really fallow periods. One I knew made bank when one of their songs appeared on Gossip Girl. Not only did they get royalties from CW or whoever, but they saw a real serious, huge bump in iTunes sales. I'm pretty sure several mortgages were paid down with that.

Artists have optionality, some schmuck at 7-11 isn't going to cash in when someone at Paramount wants to use them in a trailer.
posted by geoff. at 3:48 PM on April 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's heartening to see that the self-pressed CD actually gives the most bang for the buck.

There's also the Internet equivalent of this, in the form of self-publishing online, which isn't really included. You don't even have to pay for hosting as long as free services like Band Camp exist.
posted by burnmp3s at 3:49 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank you for blowing my mind with the sobering reality that a career path as "rock star" is unlikely to pan out.
posted by bunnycup at 3:50 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Keep in mind those numbers are for the minimum wage for 1 person. Multiply as needed to account for your entire band, and don't forget the complete lack of benefits including health insurance.

The people I know making a living at being in a band that hasn't made super-stardom tend to use the Internet as a marketing platform. They maybe make some money through the Internet, but really it's a way to promote themselves and their live shows - where you may also buy a CD or a t-shirt beyond whatever they get for playing the gig. That's why a lot of these bands effectively give away their music online. What this infographic says to me is that if you're an artist that doesn't play a live show and instead depends on record sales, you had better hope a studio has your back because it's going to be a hard road to make a living wage in the online world.
posted by Muddler at 3:52 PM on April 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


I have a feeling that a band has a much better chance of having their track downloaded 12,399 times via iTunes and Amazon than selling 143 self-pressed CDs.

Are there any artists out there that can give anecdotal evidence regarding sales of records?
posted by jabberjaw at 3:52 PM on April 13, 2010


ARISTS IN IT FOR THE MONEY KINDA DUMB, FILM AT 11
posted by DU at 3:57 PM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


This infographic makes me feel much better about my impulse to always buy from CD Baby over Amazon or iTunes if an album is available through CD Baby. That is, if I'm not seeing the band at a show, which is first choice.
posted by immlass at 3:59 PM on April 13, 2010


Thank you for blowing my mind with the sobering reality that a career path as "rock star" is unlikely to pan out.

You just have to think BIG. Don't strive to be the next local guy to sign up with CDBaby, aim to be like U2.

See also: David Byrne's Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists — and Megastars (Wired Mag, 12.18.07)
posted by filthy light thief at 3:59 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I find missleading about that graphic is album sales lumped in with individual download.

For instance, cdbaby takes $2.50 dollars for each cd, and takes $0.26 per mp3 download. So it takes more downloads to meet the minimum wage target, right?

Well sure, techincaly, but the profit PER SONG is the same. If each CD is an album, and albums contain around 10 songs, then it's a wash. Maybe I'm wrong, but I'd think it would be easier to get people to pony up to buying a song then a whole album.
posted by The Power Nap at 4:01 PM on April 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


So I'm trying to read that infographic and have the data make sense -- are they saying if you were played 4.5 million times per month, you'd be making $0.00043 per play? So that times 4.5mil gives you roughly two thousands bucks. Is that right?

Well, if you're lucky. In a five-month period on Spotify, one million plays of Poker Face earned Lady Gaga approximately $167. Which isn't going to let Lord GooGoo retire anytime soon.
posted by Hartster at 4:04 PM on April 13, 2010


The great thing about this is you don't actually have to, you know, work. If you're at 7-11 you're getting up day after day, from 9-5. Write an album in a couple of weeks and there you have it.

I'm guessing you've never worked as a musician. Or "written an album."

Artists have optionality, some schmuck at 7-11 isn't going to cash in when someone at Paramount wants to use them in a trailer.

I'm guessing you've never dealt directly with music publishing, either. You might want to read up a bit on recoupment. Even if the song makes the trailer, you're unlikely to see a dime of actual royalties unless you already sold millions of units anyway.
posted by el_lupino at 4:07 PM on April 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


After posting about the Banjo Ninja, Phillip Roebuck and I corresponded and in response he made his albums available by download for those outside the U.S., which made me happy because I was finally able to purchase a couple of them. I ended up enjoying several more tracks than just the Summons Song.

I was glad that I could directly support Roebuck instead of going through Amazon, which I knew would pay him just pennies.
posted by bwg at 4:07 PM on April 13, 2010


ARISTS IN IT FOR THE MONEY KINDA DUMB, FILM AT 11

I can't really tell who's being sarcastic anymore, but I love that you've defined earning a minimum wage that falls well below the poverty line as "in it for the money." Stupid "arists" wanting to entertain us and eat food too.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:09 PM on April 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


Fixed link for Hartster, which calls out Spotify for being a shady service.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:09 PM on April 13, 2010


Stupid "arists" wanting to entertain us and eat food too.

Don't even open that can of worms, whether paid for with food stamps or not.
posted by bunnycup at 4:16 PM on April 13, 2010


I can't really tell who's being sarcastic anymore, but I love that you've defined earning a minimum wage that falls well below the poverty line as "in it for the money."

And I love how you've described 99.9% of the people selling shit on iTunes "musicians."
posted by coolguymichael at 4:17 PM on April 13, 2010


I have a feeling that a band has a much better chance of having their track downloaded 12,399 times via iTunes and Amazon than selling 143 self-pressed CDs.

My experience was the exact opposite. My last band recorded our debut album and got some very nice reviews in the kind of niche blogs and magazines our audience would be into. Result was virtually no sales on itunes, but a lot of CDs shiffted at gigs. I got the feeling that good press would lead people to the live experience first then to buy the music if they enjoyed that rather than go straight for the music. Others may have had different results but that was certainly the case with us.

Or maybe that's just the world of sad, bearded post rock enthusiasts with too much of a fondness for neu.
posted by ciderwoman at 4:17 PM on April 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


On a more serious note, thank you for that comment and link on recoupement, el_lupino. I had no idea that a system like that existed in the music industry, although I had plenty of reasons for putting music industry recording companies et al in their own particularly burny level of hell. I can't believe that is permissible. I take the corollary point on bargaining power, etc.
posted by bunnycup at 4:19 PM on April 13, 2010


ARISTS IN IT FOR THE MONEY KINDA DUMB, FILM AT 11

GUY ON INTERNET WHO TYPES IN CAPITAL LETTERS DOESN'T REALLY GET IT, MORE LATER ON MAURY.
posted by eyeballkid at 4:23 PM on April 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Problem With Music by Steve Albini is a nice read that comes to mind.
posted by elmono at 4:24 PM on April 13, 2010


So the publishers and labels are still slurping up an enormous slice of the revenue from the most popular on-line sales systems. I half-expected that the availability of viable alternative arrangements (like CD Baby, Band Camp, Radiohead's In Rainbows experiment, etc.) would have put more pressure on those sorts of fees.
posted by Western Infidels at 4:31 PM on April 13, 2010


bunnycup: No problem. It's why no band I've ever played in even bothered considering imagining thinking about talking to a record label. Well, that and the fact that the last band I was in sounded like the love child of Ornette Coleman and Mogwai, which for some reason the kids at the mall just don't dig.
posted by el_lupino at 4:36 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


My fear is that if artists, whether musicians or writers or whatever other form you may prefer, can't make a living, they will be forced into some mindless mid-level management job, which in turn prevents them from creating. Then we will have lost something that could have been precious. This whole story makes me sad.
posted by chatongriffes at 4:37 PM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


> One I knew made bank when one of their songs appeared on Gossip Girl. Not only did they get royalties from CW or whoever, but they saw a real serious, huge bump in iTunes sales. I'm pretty sure several mortgages were paid down with that.

The brother of a friend of mine - a fairly obscure artist - landed one track on an OC soundtrack compilation a few years ago. I don't know exactly how much he received, but his brother told me it was enough for him to live on for a year.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:37 PM on April 13, 2010


I love that you've defined earning a minimum wage that falls well below the poverty line as "in it for the money."

Love it all you want, but that's not what I said.

If you are a musician, you will make music. If you are lucky, other people will like it well enough to pay you something for it. If you are really really lucky, enough other people will like it to allow you to spend more time on it than you otherwise could.

If you try to do it the other way around, you are almost certain to fail.
posted by DU at 4:40 PM on April 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


A tiny plea in a tiny font for letting go of the "film at..." trope.

* single tear *
posted by everichon at 4:41 PM on April 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm reminded of this WSJ article I just bumped into: The Most Corporate Band In America. Even the big-time artists are chasing revenue that doesn't come (directly) from sales of music. And although the article doesn't point this out explicitly, it does illustrate a familiar phenomenon: musical performers with a little business acumen always seem really eager to get into the label business themselves.
posted by Western Infidels at 4:43 PM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Card cheat - no idea on tv monies but a while back a friends band got a track on an Adam Sandler film, the waterboy I think, and, for worldwide rights got 25k (and that's sterling so about 35k in dollars). Take off their managers fee (he negotiated the deal) and split it between the band and they got about four grand each. Not to be sniffed at but very far from enough to live on for the year, and this was for a number one box office cinema release.
posted by ciderwoman at 4:47 PM on April 13, 2010


I've played in half-a-dozen bands over the years, In every case, the band consisted of two or three members who were in it for the fun, wanted to play some music, drink some beer, do a few recordings, take some pride in one of the songs getting played on the little local community radio station, plus one guy who was in it for the long haul, man, this is what I'm doing with my life! We're going to make it fucking huge, you know that? I think I'm gonna drop out of college at the end of semester so I can focus on this and push us forward, because that record deal is just around the corner, I can fucking feel it! And I met this guy who says he can get one of our songs on this compilation if we pay him $5,000 so I'm thinking of selling my car, what are you guys going to contribute?

That guy was usually the talentless hanger-on who destroyed every band he passed through on the way to his hypothetical stardom.

So you'll excuse me if my ultimate measure of a band's worth is how much money they can make on the internet. It's a lottery.
posted by Jimbob at 4:58 PM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


isn't
posted by Jimbob at 4:59 PM on April 13, 2010


> The Most Corporate Band In America

Everything about The Black-Eyed Peas makes me want to vomit. I have this book (published in 2002), and the author holds them up as an admirable example of old-school bohemian hip-hop amidst the bling-bling hordes. How times change.

That said, that article does a good job of pointing out how plummeting music sales have more or less forced bands to explore alternate sources of revenue. And it's not like, say, The Beatles were above making a few bucks ("OK! Today, let's write a swimming pool"). You certainly can't begrudge musicians for wanting to make a living or get rich (there's a great quote from Bill Withers in the recent documentary Still Bill - which is fantastic - to the effect that no-one would get upset about him about selling a lot of paint if he were a paint store owner). They aren't obliged to starve for their art to uphold anyone's definition of artistic purity.

But when you get to the point where you're making statements like this, where you're giving shout-outs to "brands," well...it's a bridge too far for this old-fashioned hippie:

"I get the credit from the brands. They know. I used to work with the marketing people and the agencies, now I work with the CEOs of these companies."
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:09 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Not to be sniffed at but very far from enough to live on for the year, and this was for a number one box office cinema release.

Well, this was a solo artist, so he didn't have to split the proceeds amongst other band members, but this is just an anecdote based upon no solid proof at all (aside from the existence of the CD itself).
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:12 PM on April 13, 2010


My fear is that if artists, whether musicians or writers or whatever other form you may prefer, can't make a living, they will be forced into some mindless mid-level management job, which in turn prevents them from creating. Then we will have lost something that could have been precious.

Artists have been driven to create in the most poor and wretched, sad, lonely, miserable times of the entire human race. Bubonic plague is way worse than mid-level management. Like then as now, the ones that are good and have something to say that connects to others… they'll find their patrons. But woe be to those without talent.

I have a few friends that perform in the area. They all have day jobs (/night). They share practice spaces or use friend's basements. They rehearse when they can. And every few months they go out and perform. But while I'm sure they would love to become rich and famous, none of them are under any delusions. They do what they do because it's just in them. Like some people like going to the beach, and some people like playing video games. Some people love to make music or write stories or paint pictures and will find a way to do it whether there's money and fame to be had or not.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:24 PM on April 13, 2010


It's really hard to answer if musicians are worse or better off post internet. Having known a few musicians, I think as a whole that musicians of all sorts are better off. This is something that my dad and I got into a surprisingly heated argument about talking about everything from the methods of the "main stream record industry" to the "anti-copyright pro-pirate music should be free stance."

So, it's hard to truly answer this question because it's hard to define "musician" in the first place. Does it mean everyone who claims "I make music" from the complete amateur who happens to have a few tracks posted online to ultra platinum pop stars? Does it mean classically or formally trained? Does it mean any musician who has been paid or aspires to be paid from their music?

To properly answer the question we need more data then just "You can make this much money selling your own CD-Rs pet unit" or "You make this much with a contract and distribution deal with a major per unit". We need to know how much money in total is actually being spent on music past and present, how many people are buying, how many units total, through what media or channels and much more - and we can't get an exact value for a lot of this because there's a lot of gray market stuff that goes on in the music industry at all levels. From direct CD sales and unpermitted renegade parties and DIY tours to full on grafting and corruption at the highest levels of the record/music industry.

But we can barely define the term "musician", much less count all of them to analyze all of this data properly, further less being able to count and add up all the active musicians making any profit at all, past or present.

Assuming we could get a decent snap shot of these values, then we could do some proper health of the music industry analysis. You could compare the number of artists then and now, signed or self published, how much each average artist made, how much this amount was weighted between various kinds of artists, how individual, similar classes of artists selling similar numbers compared to then and now.

And then you would have to compare all of this with the past and present earning potential of a cross section of different fields of employment to get a value index to also process with some inflation compensation. Are graphic designers getting paid less on average? (Uh, yes.) Architects? Dentists? Janitors? Writers? (Yes, of course.)

It's not just the music industry that's "in trouble", so to speak. It's a lot of industries. But I think we also have to look at the overall picture and ask how many more people are employed - or even better, active and self enabled - because of digital technology.

And maybe even how much more free time some people have, even at work. How many people here read and browse the web at work? More then an hour throughout the day? Two hours? More? How much more time and energy during the day would people be pushing pencils and paper? How many adult artists and kids wouldn't have been equipped with (even pirated) free artistic tools, software? Access to wikipedia? Access to YouTube?

I think we forget what it was like before, when you couldn't do many of these things ourselves with many times more money in pre-inflation dollars. How expensive film was. How long it took to get back pictures. How money it took to have a stereo, typewriter, TV, phone, record shelves, cassette tapes, mixers, recording gear, photocopiers, fax machines and so much more that the computer has replaced, augmented or supplanted. How much effort and luck it was to have to find information about a certain movie, or a book, or a piece of music new or old, or a recipe, or how to build a deck or fix your car?

Computers and the internet is a huge equalizer, a ground leveler. It's more than either pen or sword, it's also ears and eyes and hands.

So, no matter how much data we can collect about things like money and how they pertain to art and music to be able to truly answer the question "Are we now better off, musically speaking, after the internet?"

My factless anecdotal opinion is yes, we are. There is so much more music now, so many more artist, so many more independent labels, so much more creativity and experimentation, so much more craft and love that it makes my head swim. I have to limit myself, put myself on media diets, schedule time to purposefully catch up on new music and explore new things. Instead of listening to the same record or cassette over and over or the same songs on the same radio, I have choice. I could never, ever listen to all of the music I would like to listen to.

Already as we speak great minds and artists are being empowered and lifted by computers and the internet. People that never would have had the chance to learn how to program or get into school or make anything at all are now designing your buildings, your computers and your cars. They're cooking your food. They're making your music and art.

What kind of price do you put on that?
posted by loquacious at 5:30 PM on April 13, 2010 [7 favorites]



What kind of price do you put on that?


99 cents a track.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:06 PM on April 13, 2010


Is it already time for another thread where various MeFites scoff and sneer at the idea that anyone would be arrogant and delusional enough to strive to be a professional musician? Guess this has to happen every few weeks or so, but it gets a little more depressing every time.
posted by chaff at 6:10 PM on April 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


And it's not like, say, The Beatles were above making a few bucks ("OK! Today, let's write a swimming pool").

I once met a guy who had worked at various major labels. He was on his third or so major-label gig (he was about 26 years old), and had already absorbed the habit of equating musical worth with commercial success.

A quote: "Coldplay make house music. You write a song like that, you can buy a house with the proceeds."
posted by acb at 6:10 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seems to me that a decent streetcorner busker would make more than this, working a regular workweek at it, maybe with selling CDs out of his/her guitar case.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 6:11 PM on April 13, 2010


I'm guessing you've never worked as a musician. Or "written an album."

Yeah, I was going to say the same thing, but sometimes it works out very easy. IIRC, Willie Nelson wrote "On the Road Again" in about 10 minutes (not a complex song, but still). Of course, to get to the point where songs sometimes just happen like that, you typically have to do a lot of writing in the first place, and most of the time it's not that easy at all. But it sure beats working at 7-11, and I can say this from direct experience.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:59 PM on April 13, 2010


By the way, the best industry to be involved in if you're a musician who would have been doing studio work 20 years ago is the game industry, particularly if you can compose electronic music, but it's becoming less about techno and more about scoring and a vehicle for some singles, depending on the game. In fact, they hire writers, actors, musicians, producers ... I'm not sure how the union thing works with them, however, so not sure of the relative pay, but it's big and getting bigger all the time.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:03 PM on April 13, 2010


That ain't working. That's the way you do it.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:33 PM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, they seem to be assuming that an album of 10 songs will take 160 hours to write and record. That seems a bit low to me, but I guess it's possible.

On the other hand, I wonder what a similar graphic would look like for a small store owner or a small restaurant owner or just about any other small business, particularly if you factor in the amount of capital you'd need to invest in most of those industries compared to music creation and promotion.
posted by willnot at 8:18 PM on April 13, 2010


I'm all for supporting good music, but why should you get paid anything to do what you love if you're not very good at it? Selling 150 CDs a month is hardly a ridiculous number if music is your full time job. 15 CDs at 10 gigs a month doesn't see a particularly impossible goal.
If you're full time and you're not earning any income from gigs etc. as well, I'd suggest its because you're not very good.
I think the complaint is that a lot of musicians would like to earn lots from not working much because it is a great lifestyle. In most other industries you have to work long hours to earn much, but the rare superstars in the music biz set expectations for the bulk of artists unreasonably high.
posted by bystander at 8:23 PM on April 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


So, they seem to be assuming that an album of 10 songs will take 160 hours to write and record.

Yeah, that's definitely low. The estimate used in the audio world is that every minute of a record has had 4 hours of work put into it, just by engineers - so that's 4 hours/minute split among tracking, mixing, and mastering. For a 40 minute disc, that's your 160 hours right there. I'd guess it's more in the range of 250-300 hours.
posted by god hates math at 8:59 PM on April 13, 2010


I'd suggest its because you're not very good

Don't confuse popularity with quality. Lots of artists now considered great were miserable failures in their lifetimes.

I think the complaint is that a lot of musicians would like to earn lots from not working much because it is a great lifestyle.

I don't think it's that at all. If there is a complaint, I think it's that the artists don't get their fair share of online sales from the main distributors (Apple/Amazon). Or that the current online business models aren't sustainable for artists.

That's my takeaway from the chart. Don't buy MP3s from Apple or Amazon and don't buy retail CDs. Buy music directly from artists whenever possible. The problem is what to do about mainstream music you enjoy ... I still buy it via LP/CD, but I don't feel too happy about it.

It's hard for me to put the streaming revenue in perspective, particularly in regard to AM/FM radio.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:31 PM on April 13, 2010


They aren't obliged to starve for their art to uphold anyone's definition of artistic purity.

Nor are they obliged to rely solely on their art for sustenance. Nor am I obliged to sustain them.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:38 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


god hates math: Yeah, that's definitely low. The estimate used in the audio world is that every minute of a record has had 4 hours of work put into it, just by engineers - so that's 4 hours/minute split among tracking, mixing, and mastering. For a 40 minute disc, that's your 160 hours right there. I'd guess it's more in the range of 250-300 hours.

Mastering is certainly important, but I can't imagine this hasn't changed significantly in the past decade or so; so many people compose, record and mix all on a PC nowadays, I have a hard time imagining they are sending that off for thousands of dollars of mastering and not just adjusting the levels themselves or something.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:41 PM on April 13, 2010


paisley henosis:

Mastering = buying a 200 dollar mastering compressor software (example), loading audio file you exported from Logic or whatever, choosing preset, hitting "process", done. There are probably cheaper ways even, but likely no less easier for the quality you get.
posted by thedaniel at 11:33 PM on April 13, 2010


less easier = easier, where's my edit window pony
posted by thedaniel at 11:34 PM on April 13, 2010


maybe get a blister on your little finger...

maybe get a blister on your thumb.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:58 PM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Clicking through to the source of data for the info graphic, the original poster was figuring 160 hours in a typical work month, and determining how much you'd have to sell in a month to earn the equivalent of somebody working full time and making minimum wage for a month. They aren't looking at time invested in producing the record at all.

Unless you're spending 40 hours/week promoting your music to drive sales, that seems like kind of a weird way to approach this kind of calculation to me. Once the work is created, it becomes a recurring revenue stream, so comparing that to minimum wage where somebody has to continue working to continue earning seems like a bit of a disconnect to me.

I get that the broader question is can this replace a minimum wage job, but this is nothing at all like how much do you have to sell to make minimum wage.
posted by willnot at 12:08 AM on April 14, 2010


the last band I was in sounded like the love child of Ornette Coleman and Mogwai

I could totally dig that.

Bubonic plague is way worse than mid-level management

A bold claim indeed.
posted by kersplunk at 12:56 AM on April 14, 2010


iTunes album: artist revenue - $0.94
iTunes album: labels revenue - $6.29

Amazon/iTunes track: artist revenue - $0.09
Amazon/iTunes track: labels revenue - $0.63

retail CD: artist revenue - $0.30
retail CD: labels revenue - $2.00

Yes, clearly the problem is the new digital marketplace and piracy.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:11 AM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mastering = buying a 200 dollar mastering compressor software (example), loading audio file you exported from Logic or whatever, choosing preset, hitting "process", done. There are probably cheaper ways even, but likely no less easier for the quality you get.

there's a little more to it than that. particularly if you're working with real, acoustic instruments, and it's the same with recording. that stuff still costs money if you want to do it properly. a couple of VST plug ins are no substitute for a human with ears and some decent hardware.
posted by peterkins at 3:02 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


everichon: "A tiny plea in a tiny font for letting go of the "film at..." trope.

* single tear *
"

Yes, it's a new age after all.

Should be "digital video at 11".
posted by bwg at 3:06 AM on April 14, 2010


time for another thread where various MeFites scoff and sneer at the idea that anyone would be arrogant and delusional enough to strive to be a professional musician? Guess this has to happen every few weeks or so, but it gets a little more depressing every time.

I didn't see this thread that way, chaff, but maybe because I'm just a lifetime listener and not a musician. However, "some of my best friends" etc., and I've been involved in starting a jazz club from ground zero.

I see the current marketplace as one of thousands of micromarkets, which means to me fewer highs, lots more lows, but a very enjoyable and wide, wide stream of middle. I buy most of my music on eMusic, which I didn't see in the overview chart (maybe I just missed it), but I buy from CD Baby, Dusty Grooves, artists at shows, and artists websites. I've bought exactly 2 albums on iTunes--I found it cumbersome and not at all user-friendly.

At heart, I hope everyone makes a living at what they love to do (insert disclaimers about the legality of what they love to do). But I hve to confess that when I buy something, I don't do the math about how much the artist gets from my purchase. That's their business. Because, while I really respect that you should make a good living from what you love to do, I am usually struggling to get by doing what I love to do (running a nonprofit that helps lower income children do better in school) and with only one exception, there are no musicians coming forward who give a shit whether I make it or not. Of course, no one is trying to pirate what I do, either.
posted by beelzbubba at 6:09 AM on April 14, 2010


Two things.

1. As ArkhanJG pointed out - the labels make WAY more money with retail CDs and iTunes downloads than the artists do, what's up with that?

2. In theory at least, plays on last.fm and other streaming services promote purchases through other means. Last.fm has a "buy MP3 from amazon" button on every track page. I know I've clicked it from time to time.
posted by Vorteks at 7:54 AM on April 14, 2010


Well, that's just an anecdote. So is "'Born To Run' (the song) took six months to record.'
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:07 AM on April 14, 2010


addressing krinklyfig, sorry
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:08 AM on April 14, 2010


thedaniel: "Mastering = buying a 200 dollar mastering compressor software (example), loading audio file you exported from Logic or whatever, choosing preset, hitting "process", done."

Seriously, that's akin to saying "Flying = settling into pilot seat, pushing the throttle, dialling altitude into autopilot, done." If you honestly believe what you said, let me send you a raw mix of some of my stuff, and I'd like to see you turn that into something that:

-Has an RMS level comparable to contemporary commercial successes in the same genre (sorry, I hate the Loudness Wars as much as anyone, but this is still a market requirement);
-At the same time, won't sound sucky-pumpy over the radio;
-Is mono-compatible (this, too, is still important: you'd be amazed at the number of endpoints that are still mono) and vinyl-compatible (i.e. won't make the needle jump the groove);
-Has a frequency profile that sounds good on club, bar, festival and theatre PAs, on old kitchen-corner TVs, on iPod earbuds, on car radios and on curve-hyped dorm-room stereo systems;
-Is clear enough to make out the vocal in minimally audible circumstances (passing by a store, whatever) but not so brash that you get listening fatigue after listening to an album's worth.

I love T-Racks, incidentally, but you seriously underestimate the time and experience required to do this *well*. Your approach will probably get the plane into the sky on a clear day, but that's about it.

Should you take me up on my challenge, I'm going to have to expect the final product to be finished and available to me within an hour. After all, you only have to hit "process"... *done*!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:24 AM on April 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


peterkins: "a couple of VST plug ins are no substitute for a human with ears and some decent hardware."

Actually, there is an emerging consensus that plug-ins can be valid substitutes (or if not, at least enhancements) for hardware. Sometimes the plug-ins live inside the hardware, go figure! Recording, mixing and mastering pros have been using them for years, and some of them rely largely if not (almost) totally on software, with great results that you hear every day. Go read a couple of interviews in Sound on Sound, it's not that much of a controversial subject anymore.

It's the ears part where I agree with you.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:28 AM on April 14, 2010


chatongriffes: “My fear is that if artists, whether musicians or writers or whatever other form you may prefer, can't make a living, they will be forced into some mindless mid-level management job, which in turn prevents them from creating. Then we will have lost something that could have been precious. This whole story makes me sad.

Everyone has their own personal hell, but I've run across a fair number of people who manage to hold down day jobs and still find the time to be creative. In fact — and this jives with my personal experience, although I'm not a musician — it's sometimes easier to have a 9-5 job that pays the bills and leaves you the other 75% of your week (well, minus however much time you want to sleep) free to do as you please, than it is to try and make your creative interest pay the rent.

If you are trying to make music (or photography, or writing, or painting...) pay, then you're going to have to produce what the market demands and will pay for. But if you have at least some base level of financial security from a day job, you can do whatever the hell you want. Who cares if only five people buy your Experimental Techno-Industrial Harpsichord/Bongo/Yodeling Edwardian drinking song remixes? You'll be doing what you love, and to those five people you'll be a god among men.

Or, to put it another way, for 40 hours/week (or less, if you can find someone who'll give you benefits on part-time work) — which is less than some struggling artists I've met spend on soul-sucking "sellout" work that they hate — you can do whatever the hell you want, without regard for its commercial viability.

Sure, it means that you'll take flak from 'true artiste' types who think that if you're not starving for your art then your art can't be any good, but these people are assholes; it's what happens when you subsist for too long on a diet of sour grapes.

There is perhaps some legitimacy to the criticism that people who hold down day jobs and pursue their creative interests despite their unprofitability — essentially subsidizing their art with their day-job's salary — make it harder for people to make a living at that art. There is a kernel of truth to this, but it's never struck me as particularly compelling. TWDNOYAL, etc.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:24 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


2. In theory at least, plays on last.fm and other streaming services promote purchases through other means. Last.fm has a "buy MP3 from amazon" button on every track page. I know I've clicked it from time to time.

So does Spotify. I'd also suggest that the benefit of streaming services might be marketing and raising an artist's profile, more than hard cash. [Anecdata: a Facebook friend has been raving about Murder by Death, so I streamed a couple of albums, now I'll be seeing them when they tour the UK. They might not make anything much from the streaming, but they just sold a couple of concert tickets. Most of the albums I've bought recently have been bands that I've got into via Spotify].

The other thing to consider: it sounds terrible that Lady Gaga only made £167 pounds off a million plays on Spotify. But remember each of those plays is probably to an audience of one or two people. Say it's a total audience of 5 million, which seems generous to me. That's the same audience she'd get from five plays on the Capital Radio breakfast show. Would she make £167 from that airplay? (Honest question: I don't know - it seems difficult to determine from the PPL website). [In the US, she'd make nothing as a performer, only as a composer. In the UK, performers get paid for having their music played on radio]

And that's not even considering that fans can stream songs from Lady Gaga's MySpace page - which doesn't make her any money whatsoever....
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:48 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, there is an emerging consensus that plug-ins can be valid substitutes (or if not, at least enhancements) for hardware.

yeah, you're right. brain not quite engaged there. as you said, the ears are the most important bit (plus the speakers, amp and the room they're in). anyways, you made the point much better than i did!
posted by peterkins at 10:05 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


"don't expect to get paid more than you can bring in. if you draw ten people, and the cover is ten bucks a head, you gross one hundred dollars. not five hundred. don't get mad at the agent, club owner or whatever because of simple math. you drew ten folks. guess what? that's better than nine. if you want a raise, figure out how to draw more folks. this is not as mysterious as some would suggest. but you can't ask for more than you bring in the door.
if you don't believe this, try producing some concerts of your own. "
-Danny Barnes

The same is true for music sales. If you aren't making a living selling CDs for pennies on the dollar online, make your own CDs for pennies on the dollar and sell them out of the back of your van at shows. The better the shows, the more fans show up, the more fans show up, the more CDs they buy. It's simple. The secret is, you have to work for it just like any other job. Playing in a financially successful band also means operating your own small business. Running your own business is a lot of work, but it's good work, and if you care about your music, it's worth doing.
There is no free lunch kids!
posted by TheCoug at 10:46 AM on April 14, 2010


Amazon/iTunes track: artist revenue - $0.09
Amazon/iTunes track: labels revenue - $0.63


What's also interesting to me here is that the revenue model for apps in the iTunes Store is completely reversed. I think the publishers get $.70 and Apple gets $.30.

Ah, I'm guessing that .63 doesn't all go to Apple, but goes to the label that owns the musicians? I'm not sure why CD Baby is different then ... so confusing.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:55 AM on April 14, 2010


I'm not sure why CD Baby is different then

CD Baby's whole schtick is that they're an artist-friendly distributor for independent musicians. They keep costs down and return more profit per unit to the artists than the artist would get through label distribution.

I'm not affiliated with CD Baby, just a satisfied customer with musician friends.
posted by immlass at 12:50 PM on April 14, 2010


"The better the shows, the more fans show up, the more fans show up, the more CDs they buy." - TheCoug

Seriously? How do you mean "better"?

Wouldn't someone have to be there in the first place to hear the music? Wouldn't the music need to be created first? Or do we simply need advertising and Facebook profiles to know what to become fans of?

Also please reference the studies that prove that, across the board, more fans = more CD sales.
posted by mondaygreens at 1:43 PM on April 14, 2010


...the label that owns the musicians...

um. ouch.
posted by peterkins at 3:53 PM on April 14, 2010


a while back a friends band got a track on an Adam Sandler film, the waterboy I think, and, for worldwide rights got 25k (and that's sterling so about 35k in dollars).

That's quite surprising for a mainstream film.

I think I remember hearing that Papua New Guinea on the Cool World soundtrack got FSOL a few hundred grand each and there's the (Urban?) legend* of Aphex Twin Pirelli track.

*woken by a knock at the door, Mr James finds a motorcycle courier requesting the tapes of the music he has promised, our intrepid hero asks for a moment to retrieve said tapes, runs to his studio, knocks up a track and presents it to the courier.

650 Grand and a Carl Lewis later the Twin has got a new house

posted by fullerine at 4:09 PM on April 14, 2010


The fact to keep in mind here is not the bottom, but the top. If it becomes impossible for the best of the best to earn a sustainable, upper middle class living with enough left over for a comfortable retirement, then we really have a lot to think about. Why must our society be built such that the best artists among us must live in relative poverty? Isn't there something wrong with that? Don't we, as a society, VALUE their art more then that?

Stop justifying by saying "they do what they love." There are other things in life then art, even for the best artists. Raising a family. Putting kids through college. REAL expenses.

Artists who make it big enough to quit their day job for a while - say, perhaps, for a 10 year window- will still need a way to keep earning money once they hit their 40s, their 50s. They should be allowed to work their but off and make good art, knowing that they are not destined to work construction the rest of their lives. Royalty streams make that kind of longevity possible.

The payment schemes on the internet are pathetic. The only force able to rectify it is the government, via a reform of the copyright act such that royalties for internet streams yield an equivalent amount of royalty payments that artists get for radio and television broadcast.

Help promote a society where artists can survive - not just for the short term, but for the long haul.
posted by The3rdMan at 11:06 PM on April 14, 2010


It does seem based upon this evidence that payment schemes on the internet are pathetic, but I don't think copyright reform by the government is a solution. This is not a question of copyright but of contracts that seem to screw over the artists by paying them a tiny percentage of the income their work generates.

Even if we do end up with a society in which artists can make no money at all from selling recordings there will still be plenty of ways (i.e. live shows and licensing of their work) for the most popular to make enough to live comfortably without having to get a day job.
posted by electricinca at 5:15 AM on April 15, 2010


That's quite surprising for a mainstream film.

I think I remember hearing that Papua New Guinea on the Cool World soundtrack got FSOL a few hundred grand each and there's the (Urban?) legend* of Aphex Twin Pirelli track.

*woken by a knock at the door, Mr James finds a motorcycle courier requesting the tapes of the music he has promised, our intrepid hero asks for a moment to retrieve said tapes, runs to his studio, knocks up a track and presents it to the courier.


Actually, fullerine, it's not that surprising an amount. There's a general belief that a movie will get you a whole ton of cash, but it's not usually the case. For instance, in a film I worked on last year they used a couple of stooges tracks, 4k a piece worldwide. Producers are well aware of how much good publicity you can get by having your track on a film, and also know that the musician needs the film as much, and often more, than the film needs that track, and so pay accordingly. There are some people who really don't care about being on a soundtrack and so their price is huge (Leonard Cohen is one I think) but for most bands it's never going to be a major earner. The film I'm working on now has a TOTAL music budget of 15K (sterling).

One point though, with all these figures I know they're for sync and mechanical rights, no idea if there's any extra deal for points on any soundtrack albums.
posted by ciderwoman at 5:21 AM on April 15, 2010


It does seem based upon this evidence that payment schemes on the internet are pathetic, but I don't think copyright reform by the government is a solution. This is not a question of copyright but of contracts that seem to screw over the artists by paying them a tiny percentage of the income their work generates.

This is a big mis-conception about the scope of the system. It copyright law which defines the performance of a song on the radio as such - a PERFORMANCE worthy of being paid via the artists performing rights organization (ASCAP or BMI). Think of the PRO's as unions for musicians, that maintain a baseline of minimum rights and payments for us and PREVENT other people from creating a contract that takes advantage of us.

As of now current copyright law does not define the streaming of a song over the internet as a PERFORMANCE, which means musicians are not eligible to be paid a fair rate by their union, their PRO. The unions (PROs) can not protect us on the internet. And because of that, everyone and their mom will do their best to take advantage of musicians and pay them as little as possible, hiding behind the regular stream of BS such as "it's good exposure" as the managers of Pandora and Last.FM rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars of ad revenue and live the good life.

So yes, it's about reform of the copyright law so that the existing PRO's can enforce the existing rules and force "internet venues" to pay for the right to make money of streaming musicians music online.
posted by The3rdMan at 8:43 AM on April 15, 2010


I'm always very wary of arguments that are made about reforming copyright law so as to protect the interests of artists when the reforms turn out to benefit the corporations and the artists still end up getting screwed.

But I concede the point that in the case of streaming music services that it is because of definitions laid down in copyright law that musicians are getting paid a pittance.
posted by electricinca at 10:39 AM on April 15, 2010


I'm always very wary of arguments that are made about reforming copyright law so as to protect the interests of artists when the reforms turn out to benefit the corporations and the artists still end up getting screwed.

Have there been any reforms? To my knowledge, our system hasn't changed much in 30 years...but I always want to learn more!

and now for one more soapbox rant...

I know "copyright" has a bad rep these days, what with everyone freaking out over having their right to illegally download music taken away from them. I mean, everyone thought that what was bad for corporate labels was good for indie artists. But the joke is on us indie artists; what's bad for corporate labels is ALSO bad for us. Yes, we won some freedom from a broken system; yes, perhaps the only way to "reform" the big labels was to let them die. Great, they're basically dead or dying...but ASCAP and BMI are (relatively) blind when it comes to paying out royalty payments. They get vilified for "bullying" the venues into paying "unreasonable" license fees for the right to have bands pay on their stage (fees that get paid back to the artists), yet no one seems to bat an eye when a band walks away with $100 a person for a packed room.
posted by The3rdMan at 10:49 AM on April 15, 2010


If it becomes impossible for the best of the best to earn a sustainable, upper middle class living with enough left over for a comfortable retirement, then we really have a lot to think about.

Think about what? Why do artistes think they are owed a higher debt by society than, say, the people who build infrastructure? Because they're more invaluable? 'Cause you can't find anyone to play in a band?

Get over your bad selves, if you're not making money (or 'enough' money) as an artist, it's your own damn fault. Not the government's.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:39 AM on April 16, 2010


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