Can Artists Still Make Money Selling Music? (By Luthando)

Those of us who have been around for over 40 years know a little bit more about the evolution of the music industry than our younger counterparts. Remember the 45? You know back when the Jackson 5 was a group and Michael Jackson had an afro? You had an A side and a B side. Then there was the LP and the 8 tracks. Most of us bought singles in those days because it was all we could afford. However, we got the music we wanted and record labels made money. Even when the tape recorder came out and we started recording our favorite songs off of the radio the industry still made money.

Fast forward to the 1990’s and everyone is now forced to buy a CD for $16.99 with only 2 good songs that you like. Why? Because it cost labels the same amount of money to ship a full album as it would a single. This was the most profitable time for the industry but not for the artist. Many artist during this time got really bad deals and ended up broke. If you fast forward to the year 2004 when digital downloads hit the scene all of a sudden artist could sell their own CDs and record industry profits plummeted. Many labels believed that it was because of piracy but that was an excuse they made so they would not have to face the real problem. The truth is the music industry has gone back to its roots. People are only buying the music that they like and not some 16 track junk album.

Can artist make money off of this new platform? The answer is yes. Here is why. I remember in the early 2000’s when I would produce indie artist here in Chicago. They would go out and spend $2,000 on 2500 CD’s and sell at shows, out of their trunk or try to get them into local stores. This was after they would spend a few thousand getting the CD produced in the first place. Today an artist can have a digital Cd distributed to multiple online stores without spending one dime on CD printing. The cost of producing a CD can now be done for hundred dollars instead of thousands of dollars. Now artist can keep 100 percent of their money instead of 3 percent they had with major labels plus they can make money licensing their music. Yes, it is true that revenue for labels are way down from the 1990’s hay day but cost are also down which means profits should be up. In other words if that same artist sells 2500 digital CD’s online today instead out of his trunk the money goes into his pocket instead of reprinting CD’s.

Some believe streaming services will undercut artist but this is not true either. A streaming service must PRO or performance rights royalties. This means an Artist will get paid everything their song is played. Although it may not be much with over a billion people online and millions listening to streaming services it can add up pretty quick. This is an alternative for those who may not have the money to purchase music but is still a fan plus the artist still gets paid.

I remember when it was almost impossible to get a song on the radio for a new local act or an indie artist. And don’t even think of getting your video on MTV. Now you just upload your new video to multiple video hosting sites, your own web page or even other websites to promote your song. So yes, it is great time to be an indie artist if you are willing to do the work but not such a good time to be a major label. The day that artist can no longer make money with their music is the day they stop making music.


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