Q: Many musicians we speak to are looking to make money with music. What would you recommend they focus on and spend time doing?
There's no cookie cutter approach and this may be more of a mindset-type answer. It's highly dependent on what the artist is willing to do with their time. Where I see artists building a sustainable career, those artists are always willing to gig, even for free. Getting exposure and building a fanbase is always about human interaction -- it can be difficult to do that through social networking. If you want to build your career, you have to be willing to tour.
Some of the artists we distribute at CD Baby who have had sustained careers and make their money through music are touring over 100 days a year. It's through touring that they're building a fan base that supports them. It's from this interaction that fans then go and buy their music and merchandise. Artists like Joe Purdy or Gregory Alan Isakov. These guys are on tour half the year and even though they're making income through the tours, which is one income stream, they're also generating awareness, interest, and demand in their music which results in downloads, vinyl, CDs, or streams.
Q: What is one of the biggest challenges for musicians today?
One of the biggest challenges is competition. There's a lot of great music out there. If you've overcome the hurdle of creation and production, once you put your music out, you're competing with all the music that's out there. So it comes down to how do you differentiate yourself? How do you make yourself unique? And by the way, a perfectly sound strategy is to build a following and fan base through cover songs. But eventually you have to set yourself apart. And, so the challenge becomes: what sets you apart from the others or even the music within your genre?
There's no cookie cutter on how to do this. It takes hard work, creative thinking, time, and perseverance. Artists like Joe Purdy toured and played for years before getting his first break, which was getting one of his songs placed in the TV show, Lost. The same for Ingrid Michaelson who had one of her biggest commercial successes when one of her songs got placed in a TV commercial. It really is all about being a little different, working at it, and preserving over time considering there's so much content out there and the ease in which you can reach out today to potential fans to convince them that your music is different and worthy to be heard.
Q: Any advice on how musicians can set themselves apart?
I always say that the first thing a musician should do once they get their music into distribution is to work with a publicist. A publicist can help you discover what makes you unique and different and then craft that message. That story is key. Is it your live show that's unique? Your songwriting? The unfortunate thing is I've heard so much music that won't be successful if only because it sounds so much like something else (even if it's good) or the artist isn't willing to tour to support the building of the fan base.
And then there's just creativity. Again, a great example of this is Ingrid Michaelson. Ingrid put out this wildly creative video for her song "Hell No" just by using Snapchat and the apps' lenses or face effects. It's one of those, "why didn't I think of that?" ideas. She constantly is coming up with clever ways to promote her music.
Q: Given your vantage point at CD Baby, where do you see the music industry in a couple years?
I have strong opinions on this and differ from many of those in the music industry who say we're in a musical apocalypse. I don't believe that. I think the democratization of music distribution in the long run will be a good system for independent artists and a difficult one for the majors. It's pulled market share away from the majors who used to control the production and distribution of it in the past. Independent artists are actually earning more today. Five years ago artists weren't making any money from YouTube or streaming. Yes, the per stream rate is low right now. But this is a new revenue stream. One that didn't exist about five or six years ago.
March of this year was the first month that CD Baby artists made as much in aggregate streaming as they did in downloads. This is a seminal moment -- consumer preference is causing this change. True, they're not buying as many downloads, CDs, or vinyl like consumers used to, but that then leads me to me second point...
The number one artist in 1999 was Britney Spears. She sold more CDs than anyone else in that year. For the 14-21 year old set, they had to scrape their nickels together to go out and buy her CD. Today, they don't have to do this. They can listen to Britney Spears, Joe Purdy, Ingrid Michaelson, and others because they have music-on-demand. Yes, the share is low, but rather than saving my nickels to buy one CD, I'm streaming so many songs and artists. So, we're at the start of the shift of share from those who earned a lot to those who made nothing. And the artists we serve -- the indies -- they stand to make more money since these new income streams are incremental and it's being driven by a change in how people listen to music. I don't see majors happy with this, but I do see independents pleased. And yes, the per stream is low at the moment, but I see that as my job to help argue to raise those rates so indies make more. And there will be a lot more streams! And there's quite a few of us out there doing that on behalf of independent musicians. It's only going to get better. So I'm very optimistic.
About Tracy Maddux
Tracy Maddux is the CEO of CD Baby, a physical and digital distribution, micro-sync licensing, web-hosting, publishing, and royalty collection service. In short, CD Baby gives independent musicians the same advantages and reach that “signed” artists enjoy, without interfering with the musician's creative vision or copyright ownership. Tracy has an MBA in Finance and Information Systems from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.
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