Times they are a’changin: Episode 2

So here it is 2009 and the SMB is sitting here with 3 cds out there in the market and more songs in the can or more appropriately the hard drive. Meanwhile I’m out here wondering about the future of recorded music. Sounds kind of crazy. Well, we live in crazy times right now so here goes….

 We are recording music in a time when a growing number of people are thinking that the music should essentially be free. So what are musicians going to do and how can we possibly make a living with music when people don’t want to pay for it? Well, first I have to decide what is the purpose of the cd. For some acts it will be to make good money. Of course the number of acts that can make a living wage off cd sales dwindles every year. And let’s be real here. The SMB is not going to make a living off cd and iTunes sales anytime soon – if ever. No, I think the real purpose of a cd today is to create interest in the band. Sure we may make a little money off of it but what we really want is for20people to hear it and become interested in the band. When they become interested in the band then they talk about you and tell other people about you. Then hopefully those people will want to hear you and maybe go buy a song or two off iTunes and maybe tell somebody else. Or more than likely they will burn the cd or find some place to download it. But ultimately the primary goal of the musician is to get fans to hear them by whatever means necessary.

Now if the music industry really wants to cut down on downloading then the answer is they need to make the music cheap. So cheap that people will be more inclined to buy the music rather than steal it. I personally think that 99 cents a song is too much. I also think that $10 to $15 a cd is too much. iTunes is already thinking about this as they just announced a drop in their prices with the lowest price being 69 cents per song. That is a start, but there is still a long way to go. The labels are afraid to follow suit because they don’t know how they can continue to live in the life style to which they have grown accustomed if they drop cd prices below $10.

But that is not my problem right now and really isn’t something the little guys like the SMB and our friends in the music world need to deal with. You see the little bands like us; well what we really want is for everybody possible to hear us and create a desire to come see us play live. You don’t play live so people will buy your cd anymore. You want people to hear your cd so they will come and see you play live. The whole system is turned upside down now. But hey, in this new world we can control our destiny if we are creative enough.

Why not sell your cds for $5 at a show? Now some people will think that is crazy and argue that if the cd is only $5 people won’t think it is any good. But think about this. These people just heard you play and if you sucked then they aren’t going to buy a cd anyway. If you were good then people will drop another $5 because they liked the music. And at $5 bucks they might buy 2. You won’t get rich off the cd sales but you stand a better chance of getting more people to hear you. And right now that is why you are making the CD. You want people to hear you. And when they buy a cd tell them to share it with everybody they know. If they want to burn copies to give to all their friends tell them to do it. Just tell them to encourage those people to come see you play live. You are getting out there and that is what you want. I think most people aren’t going to buy cds unless they are really cheap or there is something unique about them that they can’t get any other way. (more on that later)

Now digital downloads? Well we have no control over that price. And the reality is the price is heavily influenced by what the credit card charges for each trans action. (this is what the retailer has to pay the credit card company for the ‘convenience’ of using the cerdit card.) I think the minimum credit card charge per transaction is around 27 cents and while that is not a deal killer on a $5 sale it really hurts on a 75 cent sale. So if you sold a single song for let’s say, 50 cents, then the artist would end up with about 17 cents gross profit after the credit card and iTunes charges. But you know what? This is probably where we are going anyway and I guess you could argue that 17 cents – or even 10 cents – is better than the zero you get on an illegal download. But we don’t have any influence over this so let’s focus on what we can influence. Why not have a series of songs available for free on your website? Let people get some songs for free. Pique their interest and see if maybe they will go and buy some other songs. But more importantly create a fan that will come and see you play live. That is what you want.

You see I think in this new music world recorded music is not how we will make a living but instead will be a means to make ourselves known to a wider audience. And if that is the case then I want to maximize the ability to get the recorded music into the hands of fans. And if that means practically giving it away, well so be it. Many of them are going to steal it anyway.

So how do we survive? Well, that should be somewhat obvious and will be the topic of my next discussion. Until then keep the faith because the changin’ times are creating great opportunities. Charlie


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