I have an inquiry that I’d like to open up for discussion because it’s something I struggle to understand. I know that I am privy to an extreme bias on the subject matter, so I hope that my inquiry will stir a constructive dialogue around the topic that might bring clarity or insight that I haven’t considered.
I have made a living in the music industry for the last 8 years. That’s something I’m really proud of, because it’s something that I’ve wanted since the day I chose to embark on this career path. A sustainable business doing soothing that I love.
I just released an album in Feb 2020. And a single accompanied by a video in January. The last time I released music was nearly 7 years ago.
When I released my album 7 years ago, I did so with all the business-know-how, and music industry knowledge that I had at that time (yes, that was a solid zero). I received tremendous support from my family, community, and a humble network of supporters and fans. My success was modest from a numbers perspective. In hindsight I actually should’ve bragged myself up a bit more. I had an independently released single that broke top 50 on Canadian Country radio (might’ve even broke top 40, but my memory fails me) – which as an independent, female artist – I now understand is quite an accomplishment. (Huge thank you to The Bull 92.9 in Saskatoon because they were hugely impactful on that number.) Alas, at that time – if my single wasn’t top 10, it wasn’t worth my time mentioning where it actually landed. (I was rolling those big dreams y’all).
Now, enter the year 2020 (pre-pandemic of course). I have a plethora of knowledge, training, experience, and know-how under my belt. I have strategy, confidence, an understanding of who I am as an artist (that’s a huge deal btw) and I released this project.
*Please also take time to note that when I released my previous album, streaming was not yet a thing.*
I did not release this song to radio – so I can’t give comparable charting on that front. But the video was viewed over 15,000 times. The single was pre-ordered and purchased so much that I stayed at number one on the iTunes Singer-Songwriter chart for 3 days, and stayed in the top 10 for over a week.
This is of course all thanks to my community, family and inner-network of supports stayed incredibly strong over the years, and even flourished to a broader range. (Yay us!)
I’m not telling you all this so you’ll high five me and give me a cookie (but also I wouldn’t say no ‘kay so don’t rule it out.) – I want to give you context for what I’m about to offer.
With my first release, I had about 60 people at my album release show. And sold a CD to each and every person there. Some even bought two!
With my second release, I held 3 shows, two of which were sold out, to an approximate total of 250 people. I sold about 30 CDs total.
I get it, technology is advancing, CDs are becoming irrelevant. I knew that going in. All good.
I was however, really impressed by the difference in the backend numbers on my online sales…
That first album. That one that like… what, maybe 100-200 people purchased online? I probably made… $800-1000 in online sales from that album. (This was of course a time when people were paying approx $1 per song – and also over the duration of a year or so).
Cut to now. I charted on iTunes with this single (this did not happen before, and the algorithm has not shifted dramatically from that point to this) – I did not have a video with 16k hits…
I currently have $52 sitting in my online account from the online sales of my music for the first quarter of this year.
This is incredible to me. I knew that there would be impact adjusting to streaming – but this drastic of a difference came as a bit of a blow. Especially considering the broader reach I’ve been able to achieve with this release.
So enter, my topic of discussion. Where I would like you to weigh in…
In all other forms of subscriptions, streaming services etc in other industries (ex: Netflix, Audible, Amazon Prime, Crave etc) – each of these there is a monthly charge that allows you unlimited access to the content on the platform. The difference I have noted between these services – and music services… is that you don’t pay Netflix a one-month fee and receive access to ALL movies, TV programs, and documentaries. There’s limitations.
If a brand new movie comes out – it’s exclusively released to theatres where you pay a premium to see it. If you don’t wanna pay, you wait. No biggie. It’s the way it’s always been done. You also might not find the movie you want to watch at all – whether is a licensing issue or whatever else prevents Netflix from having classics like Wayne’s World and The Princess Bride (bastards…).
My audible subscription gets me ONE book a month. Beyond that it offers me a discount for other books that I pay additionally for.
If I want to watch a Disney movie… I have to subscribe to Disney AND Netflix. I want to watch HBO – no problem, I have to get a Crave subscription. [How many subscriptions do I have now?]
So, this is what I can’t figure out. Why is it that we get to have unlimited access to ALL music, ALL the time, with no limitations, exclusivity, or premiums… for one monthly payment? Why did music get the short end of the financial stick as technology has advanced?
I love that we have this immediate availability of content. I love that my music can be accessed by someone in Okotoks and just as easily someone in Malaysia, Miami, and Australia… that’s amazing! But also kinda, what’s the point if I’m not able to recoup any of the financial investment I made in creating that work. Not to mention the tremendous investment of energy, love, and time.
What if when an album was released initially, it was released at a cost – you actually had to pay a bit up front to enjoy it immediately – or you could opt to wait until a later date to listen to it as a part of your streaming.
T Swift drops her latest album: you can download the whole album immediately, listen as much as you want for the low price of $10 (in addition to your monthly subscription fee) – or opt to wait two months, and eventually it’s included in your streaming package.
Sure, a lot of people would opt to include it in the streaming cost – but the fans wouldn’t. Fans want to hear the album NOW. And come on. You can’t afford a measly $10 for an album? It’s less than a movie ticket. And you don’t put the movie on repeat in your car 30 times over.
Help me understand this peeps. Help me to get why it’s acceptable for music to be essentially free while we pay for all other forms of entertainment.
This COVID epidemic has wounded my industry peers dramatically. Because they can’t. Play. Live.
This is now the only way we survive as full-time artists. We rely on the income drawn from live shows, ticket sales, merch sales. We rely on events and large gathers of people. And with the way music subscriptions are operating – we can’t fall back on income created by sales of our work.
I’m scared for my friends guys. And my industry. I believe and always have believed in the ability to sustain a thriving economy in music; though these days it’s looking a little bleak. I think this is something that needs to be readdressed. There’s another solution available here. There has to be.
In the mean time. Please consider helping out musicians, artists, and people that are making a living in this business. Buy their merch, donate to their GoFundMe accounts, buy a CD even if it’s just for the cover art, or consider donating to Unison Benevolent Fund.
There will be a tremendous amount of economic impact felt in all industries; and with us, being considered a ‘non-essential’ doesn’t help our cause. Which is unfortunate … because we are so essential. How many days have you gone without listening to music? How many times have you turned on your favourite album to lift the spirit of your 4th day in isolation at home?
We do need music. There is tremendous value in it. We need to treat it that way.