Friday, April 16, 2010

Reality Check

Some of you might know that I am one of six co-writers of a rock opera that is currently in the final phases of production. The album (it is not a stage production) is slated for release sometime later this year, and will be released only in Europe and Australia, where the artist has a following.

Today comes this post from Andrew Sullivan that illustrates just how much in sales an artist needs to generate in order to earn the minimum wage of $1,160 per month ($6.70/hour). It shows that, if the entire source of revenue from the album were individual song downloads on iTunes, the artist would need to have 2,044 downloads each month. To make $100,000 a year ($8,333.33/month), that number goes up to 14,683 downloads.

Now, there are six of us working on this project, and if we agreed to split the revenue in six equal ways, that number goes up to 88,103 downloads per month to make that same $100,000 a year per person.

Now, some of the sales will probably also come from sales of physical CDs and album downloads, (not to mention performance and mechanical royalties through various rights societies like ASCAP and BMI, which are not included on the chart), but the income stream for a new artist is just not there (let's not forget that production and marketing costs for the CD must be recaptured by the record label before the artist sees a dime).

In the digital age, piracy is a big issue, so there's a huge portion of playing for free that artists have to contend with as well. So the question becomes, how do we keep seeing all these millionaire rock stars? The answer: touring and merchandising. A top-selling artist like Radiohead released their last album online months ahead of the physical CD release, and basically told customers that they could pay whatever they wanted (including nothing) to download the album. They did this without a record label to maximize the revenue stream. Finally, they hit the road and sold all manner of merch. With ticket prices hitting $100+ in some markets and big cuts of the t-shirt and other merch concessions, there are tens of millions to be made. The veteran trio Rush was one of the top draws last year (well deserved too if you ask my son Max).

So how does a new artist make it these days? Honestly, I don't think he does unless his music is being played on TV shows and in movies. After he becomes a name, then he can tour and sell merch.

I'll be happy to see any money for this work I've done, but it sure does make doing the work a lot less attractive.

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