For most producers: no. Or at least not yet. There always seems to be a huge rush for young producers to make an EP or single for sale. A wave of tunes from apparent nobodies hit Beatport and iTunes every day–and often sit there without a single dime to be made. Here are some reasons on when to profit music through selling, and when to build your career by giving.
Wait to Sell Music
1. Selling Music Isn’t as Profitable as You Think
If you’re trying to replace your day-job by selling tunes on Beatport, you’re sadly mistaken. It’s no secret that recorded music revenues are falling. In the digital age, it’s easier to find a rip than to put up money for the same album. There’s been a steady decline in album sales since the early 2000’s, when filesharing services began with companies like Napster and Limewire. In 2016, less people are buying music than ever–a major red flag for anyone looking to make an income off of selling music copies.
To add to the low amount of music buyers, artists themselves don’t get paid a high percentage of their sales royalties. For a digitally distributed track expect the following: iTunes takes a cut, then the music distributor takes a cut, then the record label takes a cut, then any of the listed personnel take a cut, and finally, the artist receives what is left. Artists can often receive between 10-25% of their full royalty payout. Combine this with a market that doesn’t value purchasing music, and you have a recipe for the poorhouse.
2. Music Spreads Better When it’s Free
The invention of SoundCloud Fan Gates is one of the most ingenious music discovery tools ever created. Instead of paying money for a track, listeners can pay for music by using their social capital–reposting the tune to their personal SoundCloud and following the artist’s profile. Each repost shows up in other people’s feeds, spreading the music to others who would download and repost. Plus, each downloader follows the artist to stay in touch for the next release. This allows good music to be rapidly discovered and reposted all across SoundCloud.
Now, purchasable music can still be reposted–that’s no issue–but there’s no system to help it spread. There’s no option in iTunes to repost the SoundCloud track of the tune you’re buying. Instead, songs can be forgotten by not gaining the viral attention that they could if they were free.
3. Effectiveness > Prestige
It looks good to be on Beatport & iTunes. Hell, even I am on those platforms for my old producer project. But do you know what is better than looking like an important artist? Being one.
If you want to release on paid platforms just to look important, you absolutely shouldn’t. Realize that big artists can sell tracks because they’re popular.
Let’s say that 1 in 1000 people buy good music (hypothetically). If Skrillex releases a new tune to his 6.16 million followers, a little of 6000 people would buy his music.
If you have 2,000 people who listen to your music, you have a potential of 2 people buying your music, even if it’s on par with the top producers in the world. While depth is important, you can’t ignore breadth on a resource that people aren’t willing to buy.
As mentioned in the last section, it’s often more effective to release music for free. Instead of releasing your EP on and hoping someone will give a shit about you because you’re on Beatport, go release that EP for free and make people actually do by giving them your music.
4. Keep Your Rep for Excellence
Think back to the first song you ever made. What if you released that, on the internet, forever, and asked people to pay for it? What if when fans were searching for your music, they came across that song? If you’re debating on releasing a track, even just to SoundCloud, ask yourself this. “Will I still be proud of this in 5 years?” If it’s dope, then hell yea! Release it. However if there is a shred of doubt that you will not stand by your work, keep it in the reserves. Get some private feedback on it, and get back to finessing your skills.
5. Small Labels Are Usually Traps
Don’t get caught in the small record label trap. Wait for your dream label.
Because anyone can distribute music online, everybody does distribute music online. There are so many small labels that shouldn’t exist, and even more artists that waste releases on labels that can do nothing for the artist.
If you are considering releasing with a label, pay close attention to their SoundCloud engagement. How many plays are their tracks receiving? How many comments? How many reposts? How effective is their marketing strategy? What is their reputation, if they have one?
When you sign a track to a label, you are forfeiting many of your intellectual rights as the artist. To be cliche, you don’t want to throw pearls before swine, and give a potential dynamite track to a label that can’t do anything with it besides put it online and hope people buy it.
Also, think of who you are associated with when you release on a label. If it’s a small label, chances are your labelmates are average or even subpar producers who can’t release anywhere else.
Scenarios to Profit From Music Distribution
After reading the first part of this article, you might think I’m terribly against ever selling any kind of music, ever. That is horribly incorrect; however, I do believe that most producers try to sell music too early in their career.
Here are some places where you can profit off of selling music.
Official Remixes via a Large Label
Like earlier, hold out for the big labels. While some labels have discovery compilations or imprints where they find new artists, most upcoming producers get their first big-label feature on a remix compilation. Build relationships with producers above you, and put out dope work. You will be noticed.
Releasing on a big-label remix EP has its perks. First, you get the marketing machine of the label, plus the original artist. This is an extremely powerful network to tap into. Secondly, you instantly earn the prestige of being associated that label. It pays to wait.
SoundCloud Free Download + Streaming Platforms
Streaming services offer a hospitable environments for earning revenue from music royalties in two ways.
First, tracks are not for explicitly for sale–meaning that more people can access the music for free, or for their subscription fee to the service. Instead of hearing a 30 second preview and debating to spend $1.49, they can listen to the entire song for a very low cost.
Secondly, each streaming service has it’s own ecosystem of users. SoundCloud has a young listener base that is frantic over EDM and hip-hop. In contrast, over 50% of Spotify users are above the age of 25. Apple Music is similarly more popular with older demographics. Both of these platforms actively curate new music for their listeners. Both PRXZM and Papa Ya have charted on Spotify’s Viral 50, giving way to a multitude of new listeners.
By releasing music into these l0w-cost-to-listen environments, you can connect with people who you normally wouldn’t reach through your normal channels.
Bonus: You can set your SoundCloud Fan Gate so listeners follow your Spotify, making you some $$. Discover how to transfer your audience to Spotify here.
Are You Ready to Release?
Before you hop onto CDBaby and drop your EP on Beatport, review these points and think carefully. Remember that if you really want to have a career in music, you need to think long-term, not short-term. Reflect on how your decisions will shine on you in later years. Are you being too impatient? Do you want everything at once? We’ll see.
If this article changed your perspective, copy the link and send it to a producer friend who could benefit from it.