Time To Pay The Bills

Monetizing Your Music

So you’ve created your gameplan.  You’ve created accounts on all the popular social networking sites, music sharing sites, and forums.  You’ve been playing tons of shows and even done a little “touring”.  You’ve saved up all the money you’ve made from performing and you spent it to make an EP or album.  You’ve used that album to send emails to various review sites and blogs, newspapers, radio stations, and local TV.  You’re still giving away your music online to increase your fanbase.  You’re still playing shows like crazy, selling t-shirts and stickers and giving away CDs of your music.  Inevitably, you’ll want to start selling your music online.  And that’s fine – just don’t do it before you’re ready.  Life Lesson #5 – There is a time and place for everything.  Know them. 

How do you know if you’re ready to start monetizing your music?  Well, hopefully by this time you have a good fanbase.  But what is “good”?  It’s a relative term, that’s for certain.  It can’t really be defined by a certain number.  It’s not necessarily about the number of Facebook fans you have, or Twitter followers, or YouTube subscribers.  It’s not about how many times your music has been played on SoundCloud or ReverbNation.  It’s not even about how many downloads your music has gotten.  It’s about how many people are coming to your shows.  It’s about how many people are coming to your shows when you’re playing away from your hometown.

If you’re playing shows in your hometown and you’re not bringing in a decent number of fans, you are not ready to sell your music online with iTunes and Amazon.  What’s a decent number of fans?  Again, it’s a relative term, and there’s no specific number.  I can tell you that if you’re playing a venue that holds 200 people and you have 20 people there to see you… you’re not ready.  My theory on when to sell your music with the “big boys” is when you are regularly bringing in half the attendance for any given show.  If you’re doing that, you should be making decent money from venues and you should be the headline for most shows.  Again, these aren’t huge concerts you’re playing, they are local venues who have gotten to know you and want you back.

So, you want to sell your music?  Great.  So you want to sell it on iTunes, Amazon, Google, Spotify and those other big name sites?  Well, if that’s what you really want, OK.  Welcome to the world of getting used and abused.  You’ll more than likely want to use a 3rd party site.  It’s easier than going to each individual online retail store.  If this is really what you want to do, you should familiarize yourself with sites like CD Baby, SongCast and Tunecore.  I’d also suggest some anal lube.

A distributor is going to get you on iTunes, Amazon, Google, Spotify and others.  But here’s the thing – some distributors are going to charge you yearly fees, some are going to charge you monthly fees, some are going to charge you by the album or song, and some are going to nickel and dime you every chance they can.  They all have fine print they hope you don’t read.  Some will take away your rights to your music, some will use your music in ways you will never know about and in ways you don’t want.

Let’s say your music actually sells, iTunes wants their cut, so does Amazon and so does Spotify.  You finally end up with maybe 50 or 60% of the list price of your music and where’s that money going to?  PayPal, more than likely.  And how do you think PayPal stays in business?  Yup, you guessed it.  They make money off your money.  You will quickly discover in the music world that there are millions of people out there who will promise you the world while taking everything they can from you.

Here’s something else to think about: OK, your music is on iTunes and the other big stores.  Great.  That doesn’t mean squat.  Just because you’re there doesn’t mean people are going to buy your music.  You have to market your music.  iTunes and Amazon sure as hell aren’t going to do it for you.  They are too busy catering to the super-stars.  You are competing with millions upon millions of songs.  You’re still going to have to tell people on Facebook, Twitter, and all your other social networking sites where to find your music.  And you’re not just advertising your music anymore – noooo – now you’re iTunes’ and Amazon’s bitch.  You’re marketing for them.

I was going to put a step by step guide here on how to get your music on the big sites, but honestly, I don’t want to.  I don’t endorse it.  I don’t like it.  I don’t like how these sites use bands and artists.  I recommend selling your music on your own site using PayPal.  You won’t get to tell people you’re on the big fancy music stores, but you’ll end up making more money in the long run.  You get to charge your own prices.  Yes, you’ll have to give some of your profits to PayPal, but it’s better than giving it to iTunes or Amazon.

With PayPal there’s no monthly, yearly, or hidden fees.  No fees per album or per song.  These big online stores will tell you people won’t buy your music because nobody will buy music if you’re not iTunes, Amazon, etc.  They’ll try to convince you that people won’t take you seriously.  They’ll try to convince you that people will think you are untrustworthy.  I am here to tell you that is complete and total bullshit.  They tell you that to discourage you from going rouge.  If you have done your job of creating a fanbase and marketing your name and music, and if your fans really want your music, they’ll come to your site and buy it.  THAT’S why I stressed the importance of really building up your fanbase prior to monetizing your music.

Now I know what you’re thinking.  I can read your mind.  “How do I get signed by a label?”  I will answer your question with a question.

Why would you want to?  Think about it.  Making money selling your music is like winning the lottery.  When you win the lottery and the jackpot is $300 million, you have the option of getting all $300 million over something like 30 or 40 years.  Not bad, eh?  Now I’m not saying you’re going to make $300 million selling your music.  But it will be life-long income.  There are some people, however, who rather than take money over a life-time, they’d rather take $150 million upfront.  They’ll give up half of what they could have had just to get that big payday.  That. Is. Moronic.  And that is a big record label.  They’ll give you a cool million bucks because they know over time they’ll end up making 10 or 20 times what they paid you.  AND they now own you and your music.

In today’s world there is no need for a label, there’s no need for a manager, there’s no need for an agent.  You can do nearly everything on your own if you just put in the time and effort.  The internet can be your manager, distributor, publicist, and marketing team if you know where to look.  In this age of DIY, being a musician may require a little help, a little luck, a ton of patience and a ton of hard work, but it certainly can be an achievable goal.  


You are on Page 7 – Time To Pay The Bills

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