I am listening to Pledge Music artist Madi Diaz on a plane flying over Nebraska as I type this. I have been trying to figure out how to write this blog for the last week or so but it hasn’t quite come under the fingers in any kind of way that made sense until just now.
OK so here goes.
When I was touring with my band in 2001 we had some big ups and downs. I recall dreadful shows, badly attended and then amazing shows that were packed out. I recall the wonderful feeling when a fan would come up to me after a show and say something along the lines of: “Great show. I’d like to buy your CD.” This wasn’t a rare thing either.
I was massively in debt from making the record and so each one that sold put gas in the van, paid for food and coupled with other merch sales all added up to… well if I’m honest not losing too much more than we were making. It was building though and so on we slogged.
I recall when I signed up with CDbaby for digital distribution and got my first digital sales check. It wasn’t huge but there was no manufacturing cost. I got $6.30 give or take a few cents. This felt great. I recall the first time a fan came up to me and said: “I love your tunes, I’m going to buy your music on iTunes.” Wow! I was so happy, he got the music, in pretty good quality, in the way that I listened to my music at least and more importantly he recognised that this digital service was a way in which he could express his support for the music that I was making. I wasn’t pocketing the $10, but I was getting $6.30+.
To be clear in this, as a musician I made it my goal early on, to get my music in any way shape and form into people’s ears. I didn’t and don’t care what format, what they pay or even if they pay. If you were out of cash or broke at a show I would give you a disc and tell you to PayPal me. To me it was about the fact that some people just wanted the music, they weren’t going to be super fans perhaps but if I rolled into town for a gig they would come out and I could keep on doing what I was doing. It worked for quite a while but I don’t think it can continue for long.
You see there will come a day in which a fan will go up to a musician much like they did to me and they will say: “Great show! I’m going to check you out on Spotify!” When it happens to me (i.e. if I get out on the road again) I will say “thank you.” Express my genuine gratitude for their intention to support my music and as they leave, just for a second contemplate the fact that their first listen will net me $0.00077601 for each song of mine that they listen to.
In other words 8174 listens at that rate would net me just under what I currently get from an iTunes album purchase. I have included below screen shots of my statements from CDBaby so that you can see what this looks like in practice.
Now I am not bashing what Spotify does. I don’t believe that they are bad people but I would very much like to know how they see musicians making a living on that kind of income. I know that they have a very different deal with the major labels but what I am the most concerned about is how musos like myself are going to sustain ourselves on the road. How do you convince someone that streaming doesn’t pay enough to feed you?
The argument will be made that it’s promotional service and that the more people can have access to hear it, the better it will be for the band in the long run. But how can you have a long run? If your fans are subscribers to the service why would they buy? What for? There’s no sense of ownership. How will they come and see you live if you can’t get to them? How will they hear what you do if you can’t make enough money to make it? Rent? Rehearsal?
CD’s will no longer be a viable source of income in the future, and when iTunes and the myriad of others go to the streaming/cloud model this will only compound the issue as I do not see how a viable income can be had from a service that would be competing essentially with Spotify and therefore driving the price down further.
Digital music streamed may well be an answer for the larger acts that, though they will see a decline in their income, none the less can sustain themselves more modestly. Scale back the live show perhaps, one bus for all of them instead of four. Carry their own gear? But if you are about to go on your first indie tour and you reckon on 50% of the people who would have bought your CD’s are streaming them instead…? Well you can see where I am going.
Simply put how can you get that start? I created a company to help with this, and it has been working but so many of our artists are asking me the question: What now? OK so I’ve made my record, now what? It’s a really tough question to answer. I believe in fans. I believe that if you can build upon a hardcore of fans and offer them something special, something that can’t be streamed, something that can only be experienced, that you stand a chance but a chance at what after this is still up in the air.
Music will be made, shows will be played and fans will love it. How that will pay for itself with new models such as Spotify and a streaming or Cloud based iTunes though has yet to be seen.
I decided when we founded Pledge to be in the music creation business and thus far if a band makes great music, works the system, and offers their fans unique and amazing experiences all is well on that front.
I don’t have an answer to what’s next in a world of streaming and subscription other than to say to that fan who comes up to me after a show: Thank You for my $0.00077601. No really, thank you. And to hope that this means that they will either Pledge for something more, or come to a show and share not just the music but all that went into it with their friends.
I have no interest in trying to bring back or recreate what was, I am only interested in what works.