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Artist Roundtable: Where's the Money?

Artist Roundtable: Where's the Money?
Kathy Sanborn By

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In our last roundtable, we delved into the topic of hiring a publicist, and the benefits of doing so. In this article, we will discover how our roundtable peers make money from their musical recordings. Are there any secrets to successfully releasing albums or singles in this era of free streaming and rampant stealing?

Let's find out.


D. Edward

Cheryl Hodge

Suzanne Grzanna

Grace Garland

Laura Ainsworth
All About Jazz: Where are you generating the most income from your recorded music? (For example, CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon, gig sales, etc.)

D. Edward: Most of my income at this point comes from sales at shows. I have found that that is the best way to sell a CD directly to fans. I think after that it's iTunes downloads.

Cheryl Hodge: Definitely gig sales have been my top generator. All of my friends who play jazz say the same thing. People want the physical article when they hear you play. They want a signed copy. I make piddly amounts so far from web sales, but then again, I've been focusing almost entirely on live sales. Out of the aggregates you mentioned, CD Baby is my top generator. That's because I'm always pushing it. I want people to visit that site because the prices are closer to fair, as I see it. In addition, iTunes can be a great seller sometimes, because it's so affordable to the average buyer.

Suzanne Grzanna: My income generates from online sales such as CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon, etc., and sales at performances. I feel most income is generated from people who have attended my concerts.

Grace Garland: A combination of CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes, and gig sales. Even if it's one sale, you feel the joy!

Laura Ainsworth: Aside from a few big names, jazz people earn most of their money from performing and selling CDs at gigs. I don't perform live that often; I used to do it a lot more, but I now prefer to concentrate on recording, so I can create something that lasts. I've made a bit from selling online and yes, streaming. I actually make a little money from those one and two-cent royalties. (For someone who is undeservedly a non-superstar, I get a surprising amount of radio and online airplay.) I think it's also led to a lot of people discovering me who wouldn't have otherwise. My style of music tends to be more popular outside the United States, and online streaming has helped me win fans from all over the world, in places where people still actually buy CDs.

AAJ: Is there a strategy you use when releasing an album? (For instance, do you release a CD first, and a few weeks later, release to MP3? Or do you release both versions at the same time? Or do you only release to MP3?)

DE: I haven't released an album in 2016 of my own but I did the year before. I originally thought it might be the last CD I would make. I released both physical CDs and MP3s at the same time. My main strategy when releasing music is to allow enough time for pre-release promotion. I like to have at least 2-3 months lead time and have a pre-release date so I can strategically market the upcoming album.

CH: My strategy has been to release a few singles (MP3s) one to two months before the actual CD is out. I focus on the two most marketable cuts. I release them one at a time, as a teaser. I enter each of those in contests, while at the same time pushing them on my four Facebook fan pages and also on ReverbNation. When marketing you've got to use every trick in the book, for instance, deciding the right tags. When you choose who you "sound like," investigate as to which comparable artist is selling the best. Google analytics can be very effective as well.

SG: My strategy is that I release both versions at the same time, because I can generate more interest and hopefully more income.

GG: While stressing about getting my album, LADY G!, out in time to make a deadline, I was reminded by David Longoria that "the real objective is to make it good, and not worry about the deadline." With that in mind, that's the first level of strategy: Make what YOU think is a good album. After all, it's your baby.

As an Indie Artist/Producer/Songwriter with an extremely small budget and microscopic "team," I wasn't sure what to do on so many levels. The music biz is ever-changing, and I had more questions than answers. Although it sounds like a commercial, my replication company (Discmakers) led me in the right direction and had all of the answers/solutions. As a result, the physical CD was released first. I had LADY G! in my hands for sale at concerts and gigs. They also took care of it being properly released digitally, so there was less stress for me.

LA: I release CDs and MP3s simultaneously. Sadly, I've found that by the time my CDs are officially released, there are usually a dozen bootleg sites giving away MP3 versions for free, stolen from review copies. We try to police that, but it's like playing Whack-A-Mole. I wish copyright protections were better and the penalties more severe, but that's just the way it is. I am an indie artist, but I use only top quality musicians, studios, packaging, etc., to create a major label-worthy result. It's a big expense, so I just have to hope that people who like what I do will appreciate it enough to buy it, and from legitimate sources. Remember, if you rip off indie artists, they can't afford to record more music. So give them your support!

While I have so far made it a point to bring out really nicely packaged albums (I like to replicate the experience of buying an LP from the classic Capitol or Verve eras), I've lately been debating whether it's worth trying to keep that idea alive in the single/download age. It would be much easier (and cheaper) simply to record songs I want to do and release them online when they're ready. After my upcoming third album, New Vintage, is released, I am thinking of doing just that, then repackaging the best tracks in high quality vinyl releases. Vinyl tends to get more attention from the type of audiophile classic jazz/lounge fans who appreciate what I do.

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