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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.

AAJ: I think you have made the point for every artist in the recording business today, Laura. The times have definitely changed from the old days of big recording contracts and record labels fronting production costs. And with the resurgence of vinyl, we artists have so many choices and decisions to make when we release our music, not the least of which is how to pay for it all.

Is a street date (release date) relevant in today's music business? Why or why not?

DE: I think a street date is relevant. That is THE date that all my promotion effort is directed towards. I look at it as if I had a slingshot and all the pre-release promo builds up to the release date—and then I let go and fire the shot. I think that it is really important to build the hype for that date and if all goes well, you've generated enough interest to catapult the release into successful sales. Of course, creative promotion must continue after the release date, too. It could be through releasing singles to radio, putting out videos, holding contests, and, of course, performing in shows.

CH: I would say there is a release date window: between January and May. This is mostly because of the award shows, and needing to have the marketing done on the early side before you actually go for any awards for that year. Award shows are great because they make your bio look good. When your bio looks good you tend to sell more music, and get way better gigs.

AAJ: Cheryl, you make an excellent point about the importance of getting awards. Accolades can be great for the ego, but they are really about building your bio and helping you gain more recognition from worldwide jazz fans.

Do the rest of you think a street date is critical?

SG: Yes, it is relevant in pre-sales and during the first week of the release. I feel there is time after the release to promote the album and continue the awareness.

GG: I don't think so, these days, unless you are a major artist. Any date you can get it out, is a good day. It means you've reached your creative goal. In fact, be sure to give yourself a round of applause for doing so!

LA: Street date is still important, but mostly because you need a target date if you want to get it to reviewers with enough lead time, enter it for awards, and so on. That can be pretty complicated with so many people having wildly different lead times and deadlines. Break out your charts and graphs!

AAJ: We all know about the lousy income artists receive from streaming. Have you released music where you did not have it available for streaming?

DE: I have not released anything that wasn't available for streaming as well but going forward I may delay streaming access until sometime after the release date.

CH: I pulled out of Spotify for a while, because it didn't seem right to me how little I was getting back for my songs' airplay and streams. At a "penny a listen," I discovered that when my song was played 43,900 times, I would receive exactly $439.00. That disgusted me. I was on a deep anti-Spotify crusade for a little while. However, recently a songwriter friend told me that I needed to give them another chance. They are working on ways to finally reward the artist. I can only tell you how that will go in a few months from now. The proof is in the pudding. I'm in the midst of setting up a new artist page there, as a matter of fact.

SG: No, I have not refused streaming. I am staying optimistic.

GG: We live in an age of everything being available somewhere for free, so no, I haven't refused, but try not to "volunteer" for streaming.

AAJ: Are there any real benefits for artists who allow their music to be streamed?

DE: I think first and foremost, the models for streaming revenue need to be revamped and I'm happy that organizations like the Recording Academy are working on trying to get the Fair Play/Fair Pay act passed into law. My fingers are crossed. I don't think streaming is going away. It's becoming the new way of music discovery. As an independent artist without a big budget, getting my music heard by potential new fans is of utmost importance. It's the most important thing, I think for all of us, indies and majors. I still hope that people who stream will eventually buy my music, too. Although that is becoming more and more difficult. It's the reason why I'm considering not going to the streaming services at the release date.

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