The truth about music sales

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Is it possible to make a living on music sales?

Daniel

TL;DR version: you certainly can make some money on music sales, but most likely it won’t be a substantial amount to make a living just from the sales alone. Here is why.

Producers have false expectations

I would like to go a little bit deeper because many producers have false expectations on that matter. A typical story looks like this:

A young and talented producer submits his tracks to a decent record label, and the label accepts it. The producer is very thrilled about this because it’s all he was dreaming about. Afters months of excitement and waiting, it’s finally out. The release climbed up in Beatport’s Top-10. Wow, what a success!

Half year later the artist receives a royalty statement with a total payable amount of $50. “What, just fifty bucks? No way, my release was in top charts! The label screwed me!” — the artist thinks. So he starts to blame label that this statement is a lie, while ‘greedy label took all the credits left him with no money’. The whole music scene now looks unfair to him, and eventually, he giving up his music career.

The worst and the saddest part of this story is this actually happens with many producers, I even know few people in person who was thinking that way.

Beatport Top-100 is overrated

First things off, let’s dispel the myth about Beatport charts: it takes only about 30 sales to get in a Top-100. Yes, not millions, not thousands, not even hundreds — just a couple of dozens sales, and you’re in Top-100.

Subtract taxes, Beatport’s cut, distributor’s cut, label’s share, mastering fee, artwork fee, and you’ll be lucky to get even those fifty bucks out of this. So next time you’ll see your release appeared in Top-100, it’s certainly nice but doesn’t mean you’ll be a millionaire, it’s overrated.

Here are some real numbers. My debut album “Chronicles Of The Universe” released back in 2014 skyrocketed straight into the Top-11 spot, and overall was in Top-100 chart for about five weeks. Pretty nice results for a debut album.

Chronicles Of The Universe

The album’s evolution in Beatport Psytrance chart, data from bptoptracker.com

In total, I’ve got roughly €400 from the album sales. Is it a lot? Well, it may look fine at first, but as a matter of fact, it barely covers mastering, artwork, promotion, and other expenses on post-production and advertisement.

If I would count sales only, all the money I’ve got so far in my 5-years career, which includes more than 30 releases on one of the most credible labels in the scenes, wouldn’t even cover my gear investment yet.

Home studio basics: gear costs calculation

Sales are over, streaming is screwed up

The truth is people simply don’t buy that much music that they used to do, people now stream music. The only way to get a substantial income from music sales is to sell millions of copies, which is only possible in a pop music world, e. g. Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift.

In the last 8 years, Lady Gaga’s sales dropped from 15 millions to 700 thousands of sold copies per album. Source: Wikipedia

Speaking of streaming, despite the growth of services like Spotify and Apple Music, royalty rate per track is so miserable so it makes no chance for a bedroom producer to make a living on streaming, too. At least for now.

$0.001128 — the average payment to an artist per stream. Source: The Guardian, 2015

Bottom line

If you wanted to release your debut album and left your ‘normal’ job because of the decent income you suppose to get from sales, I strongly suggest reconsidering this plan because it not gonna happen.

I’m sorry to tell you such things, I know someone may find it uncomfortable and even depressing. But what’s even more depressing is seeing how such an incredibly talented producers quit music career because they didn’t get money from music sales, which in reality is simply too high and wrong expectations in the first place.

There are plenty of possible income sources for bedroom producers, music sales and streaming are just occupies the smallest part of the pie. Yes, music business is tough!

I advise treating music like a marketing tool for getting an audience, it’s a business card that you show to the world which gives gigs and other opportunities in return.

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

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2 comments
Boom Shankar BMSS

Well written and fully accurate. I fully agree with the point that nowadays releases are simply a business card or a promotional tool to get your name around...and that’s about it. The money comes from the gigs and the release makes you gonna get those gigs if it’s any good...simple as that. On top, running a record label doesn’t make sense either from an economic point of view, I hope artists get this as well...we certainly dont swim in money.

Daniel Lesden

Thanks Armin, I’m glad to know this is not only a “one man’s opinion”, and that credible artists and label owner like you think alike. I hope those producers who fall intro wrong expectations regarding music sales will get this.

Magnus

Great article, Daniel. This has been my experience as well. There is little to no money in music sales. I’d have to agree with what David was trying to convey above, and that is one must look at music as a marketing tool to further their brand, get gigs, etc. One cannot look at music sales as a way to make any decent amount of money. Instead, we essentially write music for free to push our brand in the hopes of gaining a bigger audience. A bigger audience means more fans, more demand, and this translates into what the main source of income for artists is, and that is gigs.

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