New business models for musicians

We live in interesting times. Did you know that the Chinese proverb along those lines is actually a curse? Well, if it was ever said at all. No original Chinese source has ever been found

Anyway, from a music business point of view, we do live in interesting times. After CD sales dropped off a metaphorical cliff a while back, sales have recovered thanks to iTunes. Now it seems that iTunes downloads are on the decline. How are musicians going to make money from their recordings? Lets ignore touring and live revenue streams for the sake of this post.

Common wisdom has it that the reason that iTunes downloads are declining, is due to the rise in popularity of streaming services. The head of Spotify doesn’t agree. In a blog post today he addresses some ideas that are held up as facts by many people when discussing Spotify. Myself included it has to be said. I’ve articulated that Spotify doesn’t pay enough to the artists a lot over the last few years. They have paid out $2 Billion to the rights holders. With half of that in the last year. So the payments are accelerating. If there is a delay in that money getting to the artists, or not getting to them at all, that’s a separate issue and not Spotify’s fault. I have to say the argument in the blog post is compelling. There may be a future where musicians can get a decent revenue return from streaming. Here’s hoping. I won’t be as negative about Spotify in future. 

It’s still the case that the maximum revenue a musician can get is from people buying their music¹. And there are novel ways to get people to pay for your music. I got an email today on the Marina and the Diamonds mailing list about her new album. A quote from the email:

My album is made up of 6 colours, each representing a different “Froot”.
I’ve come up with an idea that I hope you’ll love and want to experience together… It’s called “Froot of the Month”. 
When you pre-order “FROOT”, I will send you a new track every month up until the album release. So, 6 new “FROOTS” will be dropping in to your inbox over the next 6 months.
Each “Froot of the Month” has it’s own colour, visual world and “Scratch ’N Sniff” scents to explore.

That’s a great idea. Get people to pay up front for the album and send them a track each month for half a year. It builds buzz, and lets fans feel as if they are part of something bigger. I’ll be pre-ordering. The title track is fantastic.

There are other ways to get people to pay for music. Kickstarter has been successful for over 1000 UK based musicians. I backed just one. I’ll back more in future. Some musicians are producing packages around their CD or Vinyl² releases. For example, The Anchoress  whose current release comes with selection of other items, like a romance novel, tied into the subject matter of the song. 

I could go on. But I won’t. Bottom line. I hope that musicians can find a way to make money from their art. We all benefit when they do and can focus their efforts on producing more music for us to consume. Pay for your favourite songs. If you don’t you might be cheating your future self out of some great music. And future you might regret it.

Notes:
1. Unless their music gets a ridiculous number of streams on Spotify.
2. Yes Vinyl. No, it doesn’t sound better. Sort your life out!

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