It’s 4a.m. when I’m writing this; I couldn’t sleep because I drank too much caffeine, and I also thought of something pretty interesting: artists can struggle for years trying to make money and gain fame, and people hardly care about them, even if they’re outstanding singers or musicians. I think of my friends The Doyle Brothers, in New York City bars doing 3 or more hours of live music a night, giving their all on stage while the audience doesn’t pay total attention, and the money is okay, but not great. I think of my friends The Reign Of Kindo, who are musicians’ musicians, the kind of players others revere, yet they’re not rich and they’re not that famous, even though they’re gifted music makers. The world seems to reward unlikely people in the music business– youngsters like Justin Bieber and oddballs like Lady Gaga get all the attention, while thousands of very talented others struggle to pay their bills.
Justin Bieber is famous. Ugh.
There is a downside to too much money and fame, of course– when struggling artists do manage to get lots of money and fame, usually through appearing on TV or making viral videos on YouTube, THEN people overcompensate them. They’re offered free food, clothing, cars and trips. Every whim is taken care of by the people around them. You want a chicken salad sandwich at 4 in the morning? Your assistant will go buy you one, or make it themselves– anything to appease the rich, famous artist. But before money and fame, hardly anyone cared! Most artists today are not just poor but very poor, and their fame consists of their parents, lovers and close friends cheering them on at coffeehouse concerts or hole in the wall venues every couple months, or something like that. Even worse, many venues don’t even want to pay local musicians. “Come play our restaurant; it’s great ‘exposure,'” translates into Joe the singer or Bob the guitar player not being able to buy gas for his car to get to and from the gig. Sad!
The sad reality of being a music maker today is that very few of you are going to get rich and famous. In 2000, there were 25,000 individual albums released, and in 2008, 100,000. Yet, fewer than 6000 sold more than 1000 copies. Look at that another way: 99,000 didn’t sell 1000!
Of those 100,000 albums, only 110 of them sold more than 250,000 units.
Also of note: there are 13 million songs for sale on iTunes– 10 million of those songs haven’t sold once!
So what can YOU do to make some money and gain some fame as a music maker today?
All hope is not lost. Think of it this way: you’re not just selling a CD; you’re doing “fan development.” How can you connect with fans so they’ll support you? The new way of doing so is by asking those you know/are connected to for money, in exchange for giving something of value back to them. Maybe it’s an autographed copy of the CD when it comes out, or you’ll play their party, or call them on their birthday and sing to them…The goal? If you can get 1,000 people buying $100 from you annually, you’ll be a “successful” music maker. Is it possible? Yes.
Many artists make the mistake of posting on Facebook or Twitter something like this: “Buy my album; here’s the link…” What they’re forgetting to do is tell people why they should buy it. Give them some compelling reasons why they should care about you. Imagine if you posted something like, “Crazy hillbilly music that’ll make you poop your pants with happiness; here’s the link…” Betcha get a lot more people to investigate what you’re selling. Better yet, try not to even think in terms of selling when you post things on the net. Think of it this way– you’re building a community of like-minded individuals who rally around someone/something and like to exchange ideas. Treat your potential buyers as personal friends. No one really wants to be sold something, but if a friend suggests you listen to a song online, you do it, right? That’s how to build a fanbase who’ll most likely support you.
If you think about the most famous artists today, they include Justin Bieber, who appeals to teen girls looking for someone to crush on, Lady Gaga, who dresses outlandishly and has a community of followers whom she proclaims as “okay” even if they’re “different,” and Katy Perry, who clearly use sex appeal to sell music to women who want to be like her and men who want to be with her.
In this day and age, where image is more important than lyrics/singing ability, you have to have a gimmick to really stand out and garner outrageous fame and fortune. The music business is a lot like sports– you have a select few making millions of dollars while the rest either “do okay” or are poor but happy they’re able to do something they love.
For the record, I like Justin Bieber and his music. But I know a lot of people who cannot stand him at all. They’re probably jealous because a movie was made about him and it made $100 million bucks. Obviously, a lot of people support the Biebs.