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Why isn't your music making any money?

So you've uploaded your tracks to a couple of online download stores. You wait for the money to start rolling in, you wait, and wait, and wait... So where's the money? Why are your tracks not selling?


Question from an Audio Masterclass visitor...

"Many many artists are now signing 'download shop deals' with small 'labels'. It's fast and easy, but is it worth it? Almost all benefit/money goes to the label, the artist is not getting much out of it, other than the opportunity to get noticed, and to get the music out to the people. Myself included. I signed a contract about 4 months ago, I earned 5 US dollars up to this date. I have five single tracks available on different download shops today and we're working on a 10-track album, but is it worth it?"

Let's suppose you register with a few music download online stores. You upload your tracks and expect people to pay to download them. The online stores get a share, but you are entitled to the lion's share of the rewards.

Problem No. 1 - why should anyone download your tracks? There is a massive over-supply of music these days. There is more music available than you could possibly listen to in your whole lifetime. So why should anyone pick your track to download and pay for the privilege?

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Just making a track available doesn't mean that it will sell. Even if the music is really great, will a potential purchaser click on the preview of your track when there are thousands of others to choose from? Almost certainly not.

The download store may wow you with stories of how 'Act X' made thousands of dollars from their site. Do you know why this happened? It happened because the download store operates a 'star system'. They know that if they promote a few acts heavily, they will achieve more sales than allowing everyone equal billing.

If you get chosen, then you've had a stroke of good luck. Don't expect it to last though because when a new star is chosen to shine, then your track will go back into the depths of the catalog again.

The solution to this problem is to be found in one word... 'marketing'.

People have to be persuaded to like your music and buy it. And that is the function of marketing. Nothing sells without marketing, particularly the artists who claim to have been 'discovered by the public'. In reality there is always a powerful marketing machine in the background.

This is where the concept of a record label comes in. In the past they would act as both bank and marketer. They would fund your recording and market it to the world. As it sold, they would recoup their recording costs.

These days, you are pretty much expected to fund your own recording, so the label just does the marketing.

Now that's great if that's what they do. With the power of a creative label behind you, then you can indeed expect to win sales and make money. Of course, the label will want a share of the proceeds. After expenses and profit for the label, you will be left with a share that looks quite tiny. But at least it will be a share of something rather than nothing.

Where things could come unstuck is if you signed an exclusive deal with a label that doesn't promote you very well. You could be taking a very small share of very small revenues. Perhaps the label has more important acts to promote. Perhaps they signed you in a rush of enthusiasm and they are now no longer interested.

They key to success in the download market is either to realize that if you go it alone then you need to do your own marketing. Get a website, get out there and perform, get known, build a fan club or at least a mailing list.

Either that or get a deal with a label that will really get behind you, and can show you clear evidence of past successes.

And the answer to your question, 'is it worth it?'...

Well if you enjoy making music and getting it heard, then yes of course it's worth it. The problem is that we have developed an expectation that a successful musician will become immensely rich. That never applied to more than just a very few top acts, even in the heyday of recorded music

The reality is that most acts will never make as much money from music as they could from a regular job.

But hey, what's wrong with doing music simply for the sheer pleasure of it, and getting a little - not a lot of - money in return?

By David Mellor Thursday November 30, 2006