Category Archives: Sales

Why You Should Release and Promote Your Music on iTunes

Click image for source.

The new buzz seems to be that independent artists shouldn’t release and/or promote their music on iTunes.

The argument is that iTunes is the Walmart of digital music, and you wouldn’t point your fans in the direction on Walmart to buy your record. You’d send them to an independent record shop.

Furthermore, the argument goes that iTunes keeps 30% of the retail price where other retailers, such as CD baby, keep 9% to 15%. So it makes better sense to keep fans away from iTunes.

Now as I’ve written before, I’m no fan of iTunes. There’s a real risk that they’ll end up being the only online music retailer. But for independent musicians, it’s necessary to have your music on iTunes, and let your fans know about it.

Firstly, a lot of people have iPhones. If you’ve ever been through the process of trying to get non-iTunes purchased music onto an iPhone, then you’ll understand what I mean.

Secondly, the fact that iTunes is so big means that there’s a certain credibility in having your music on there. Whilst anyone can get there music onto CD Baby, it’s much more straight forward than getting your music onto iTunes. Therefore, it adds the impression of credibility and authenticity.

Thirdly, sites like CDBaby are still big businesses. Sure, they make more effort at promoting independent music, but let’s not forget that they’re still in the business of making money. Avoiding one company because it’s a “billionaire corporation”, but promoting a millionaire corporation, doesn’t make much sense.

So what should independent artists do?

Firstly, let fans know all the places they can buy your music from. Have links to iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby, etc.

Secondly, iTunes charges more for albums – let your fans know this. If they still want to use iTunes and pay the premium, well good for them.

Thirdly, try push fans to physical copies. The profit margin is about the same and it gives fans more bang for their buck. Tell them which record stores they can buy your record from, and furthermore, set up your own online store.

Avoiding  iTunes as an artist is reckless. But having it be the only place you sell your music from is just plain stupid. After all, your an independent artist. You’re not locked into any contracts, so why act like you have only one option. So don’t stop using iTunes, but make sure you explore all possibilities for selling your music online.

 

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So How Much Power Does Taylor Swift Have?

Taylor Swift was the biggest selling artist of 2014. What’s more, she was the first artist to sell over a million copies for the year, and this didn’t come until November.

Leaving aside your subjective opinions of Taylor Swift’s music, and ignoring conversations surrounding the current state of the music industry, a couple of recent events have lead me to ask the question; just how much power does this give Taylor Swift?

The first event came upon the release of her current album when Swift announced she would no longer be doing business with Spotify. Citing insufficient royalty returns, her entire back catalogue was promptly removed.

But what effect, if any did this have? Well to date, no other artists have announced that they would follow suit. And according to digital music news, Spotify premium subscriptions have actually spiked as a consequence of Swift’s announcement! As Digital Music News note, “a wide-scale boycott from the most powerful, influential artists…would cripple Spotify’s service”. But to Spotify, Swift on her own, was merely an inconvenience who does hold enough sway to truly affect the service.

Spotify Subscriptions Surge after Taylor Swift removes music from the service

The next is a more localised issue. Over the past few weeks there has been a campaign, using the hashtag #tay4Hottest100, in an attempt to get Swift on Triple J’s Hottest 100 for 2014. Whilst it bewilders me that her fans would want her on the chart of a radio stations that has never played her music, it has seen Swift move to second favourite in betting.

Whilst Triple J never publically comments on Hottest 100 voting, it has caused some media contention, with Noisy suggesting that it could destroy the Hottest 100, and The Guardian calling Swift’s potential exclusion “cultural elitism”.

However, it is now being reported that Triple J may remove Swift from contention because the rules state that the station “reserves the right to remove artists from the list who have benefited from competitions or commercial campaigns that incentivise fans to vote for them.” KFC recently made this worse by Tweeting their endorsement. Although this Tweet seems to have now been removed.

KCF Tweet

So it seems that Swift herself does not carry much power. But her name is still able to mobilise people. Spotify are laughing at the extra promotion her name gave their service as she wasn’t able to mobilise other artists to follow her lead. But the executives at Triple J would be quite nervous at the results of the current Hottest 100 voting. Does she stay, or do they find a justification to remove her? With a movement of this size and with this much press, I find it unlikely that she won’t get enough votes to poll. So we’ll just have to wait and see how Triple J choose to play this situation. Regardless, it does seem that Taylor Swift is the one artist currently who is able to grab headlines.


Subscription Based Vinyl

Vinyl

There is little doubt that subscription services are the new big thing. Whilst Netflix and Spotify are the offering all you can consume music and video through your Internet connection, other mail based services are supplying everything from coffee, to razors, to cured meats. Now we are seeing vinyl enter the mix with the successful Kickstarter campaign from VNYL.

VNYL is a subscription service, similar to the original Netflix model, whereby paying a monthly fee you will be sent three handpicked records based on your chosen ‘vibe’. Once you’ve listened to the records, you can send them back in the prepaid packaging and VNYL will send more records out. Alternatively, if you decide you like the wax and can’t let go of it, you have the option of buying the record to keep for an extra fee.

The selling point is that “humans are at the helm” and it seems VNYL are affectively getting their message across. Their Kickstarter campaign had a total of 777 backers and raised $36,000 – $26,000 more than they were asking.

However VNYL is not the first subscription based vinyl service. Both Vinyl Me Please and That Special Record offer subscription services where for a monthly fee they’ll send out a monthly selection of records for you to keep. Likewise, record labels such as No Sleep Records offer a subscription to their entire annual catalogue for one upfront fee.

The advantage of services such as these is that it takes the effort out of vinyl. In VNYL’s case, you can have a consistent variety of wax without having to spend the time going to stores. Vinyl Me Know and That Special Record allow you to expand your collection and discover new music. However, these services do rely on you trusting your taste in music with another. Also, concerns about the quality of the wax being sent could also be an issue. For this reason it’s unlikely these services will convert anyone already collecting. But they may well open up a new market of people who like the idea of playing records, but have no time for the process involved in collecting.


More Stats on Streaming and Vinyl in 2014

Total Music Wallet Spend, 2014

As Nielsen Music trickles out their annual music sales figures, the tiny amount spent on digital streaming services and vinyl has been revealed.

Whilst the average music consumer spent $109 on music, only 3% of that was spent on digital streaming services, and 2.5% on vinyl and cassettes. In comparison, 35% was spent on admission to live concerts (this is good for artists) and 12% was spent on CDs.

These stats throw the analysis of last week’s stats out the window. Last week, some suggested the increase in demand for digital steaming services was leading the recovery of record labels. Instead, these figures suggest the turnover generated from digital streaming services is minimal, and record labels are still relying on CD sales for the bulk of their profits.

Turnover is an important figure in the music industry because most of their expenses are upfront and fixed. Whilst the sale of a CD has the added cost of manufacturing, this cost is minimal when compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the recording, production and marketing of an album. It is these costs which need to be recouped in order for labels invest in future releases.

With this in mind, whilst much of the press was downplaying the rapid increase in vinyl due to its minimal share of total sales, it would seem vinyl’s contribution to turnover is almost equal to that of digital streaming. This is particularly true when you consider that record labels will only see a faction of an online digital subscription through royalties.

What is interesting is that these two formats sit side-by-side. Whilst one is lauded as the future and the other dismissed as nostalgia, it seems that at this point at least their contribution is the same. And whilst there is little doubt that different types of consumers are attracted to each format, it is perhaps symbolic of the increasingly eclectic nature of music.

 


Music Sales and the Future of the Industry

In what is becoming as predictable as a new years day hangover, the start of 2015 has also seen the announcement of  a decline in music sales for 2014.

According to Billboard, Nielson’s 2014 music sales review is reporting a 11.2% drop in album sales and a 12.5% decline in single sales.

The report did not comment of the total decline of CD and digital sales, but it did note the 51.8% increase in vinyl sales, although this only accounts for 3.6% of the entire music market.

The report is however focusing on the 54% increase in demand for streaming services, a figure that is likely understated as it doesn’t includes non-interactive services such as Pandora. This figure is apparently the equivalent to an extra 56.1 million album sales, making it larger than the decline in physical and digital units.

The troubling thing is that whilst Billboard are suggesting this increase in demand is moving record labels back toward profit making status, it is seemingly at the expense of artists. Whilst Pharrall’s Happy  was the highest selling single with 6.41 million units sold, it has been previously reported that 43 million plays of Happy on Pandora translated into only $US2700 for Pharrall.

It’s also difficult to quantify units streamed as an equivalent to sales. Whilst some use streaming services instead of purchasing albums, many treat these services like a radio station – they simply consume what is aggregated for them, and would never have purchased this music otherwise. And whilst these services can be a handy tool for discovering new music, there is little evidence to suggest that this is actually occurs for most users.

The other concerning element is that music steaming isn’t as cheap as it initially seems. Whilst the subscription price is reasonable, only $12 per month for Spotify, data usage still needs to be seen as an expense. Mobile data expense and limitations means that streaming outside the home could be prohibitive. There is also ramifications for music consumers who find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. The last thing the music industry needs is for music consumption to become an elitist pursuit.

Overall it seems the music industry is still in a state of limbo. No one seems to know when or how this will be gotten out of. Yet the artists keep writing and performing the same as it ever was. If streaming is the way out, it seems it will be at the expense of artists. But then this inequality has been documented time and time again over the industry’s 110+ year history. Let hope though that music consumers are not left worse off.

 


A Vinyl Review of 2014

Well as 2014 is on our doorstep, the news media has once again filled its white space with what is quickly becoming a mainstay of the end of year news: the rise of vinyl.

The most common angle this time of year is the one that comes with the least surprise; vinyl sales have once again grown, up 49% from last year. This means vinyl now represents 3.5% of total music sales, up from around 2% of sales at the end of the 2013. Whilst the resurgence is small, it’s bucking the trend of declining physical sales.

This growth is on the back of rock record buyers, with Jack White’s Lazaretto being the highest selling vinyl album with 75,700 units. It seems the gimmick of a backward playing, secret section vinyl album payed off with the next biggest seller being the Arctic Monkeys who sold about half that amount.

Top Selling Vinyl 2014

Top Selling Vinyl 2014

However, this year saw Billboard taking an interesting angle by suggesting Record Store Day is driving this resurgence. They point out that since the first Record Store Day in 2008 vinyl sales have grown 223%. They note that this has given major record labels the confidence to press the kind of numbers needed to get a decent return on investing in vinyl. But the story does note it was 2007 which saw the first increase in vinyl sales, so perhaps Billboard are looking at the wrong side of chicken or egg question.

Another interesting angle was taken by the Wall Street Journal who noted that vinyl is possibly becoming a victim of its own success. With aging equipment, fewer qualified repairers, and only a few suppliers of raw material, hold ups in the manufacturing process are becoming more common and more costly for customers. This story perhaps has some traction; Fat Possum records recently opened their own record pressing plant in Memphis, in order to overcome delays from backlogged record pressing plants. But then if Fat Possum are seeing the worth in setting up a new plant, it suggests demand for vinyl will find a way to fuel more supply.

So another year another growth in vinyl sales. Whilst it still represents a small portion of overall music sales, this continued growth is positive. Most of us are seeing friends sourcing out record players or parents dusting off theirs, and it’s now easier to find brand new, consumer turntables. The high price of second hand vinyl suggests that demand is still high, and the fact that it’s rock albums which are the highest selling suggests this is becoming a mainstream phenomenon.

Here’s to a healthy 2015, and more wax on your turntable.

 


D’Angelo and the Vanguard: An Album 14 Years in Anticipation

Album Cover

At the beginning of the year, there were rumours this was going to drop, but no one got too excited. As the year’s end got closer, the whispers were of an early 2015 release – but this was the sort of procrastination we’d been hearing since 2009. If it took another 14 years, no would have been surprised. But then, last Friday the 12th December, a single for streaming. And then, the following Monday, finally, The Album.

Normally I like to wait for the vinyl to drop before purchasing albums. But upon news that the wax wouldn’t be available until late February 2015, I grit my teeth and resolved that I’d have to do business with either the monopolistic iTunes or the restrictive Google Play. There was simply too much anticipation to wait another two months for a proper listen.

After the 2000 release of Voodoo, D’Angelo, struggling with the sudden transition from being a nerdy, glasses wearing musician to a sex symbol, removed himself from the public life and entered a world of reclusiveness. Reportedly struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, it looked likely that Voodoo might be D’Angelo’s second and last album. He re-emerged in 2009 with reports of a forth coming album, and recent years have seen a return to touring along with further rumours and teasers of an upcoming release.

And then it just appeared. Despite the never ending anticipation, on the back of the Ferguson grand jury decision, D’Angelo felt the album needed to drop now. No month long, major label marketing build up, it just dropped.

I’m quite a few listens in now, and this album has not disappointed. From the opening few tracks it seems a more intense and heavy album than D’Angelo’s previous releases. It’s not until track 3, The Charade, that we begin to hear the floating-in-air-type sounds that he is often associated with. This is followed by the exceptionally funky Sugah Daddy (listen below), the debut single from the album. Towards the end of the album there’s almost a roots vibe with tracks such as The Door, but none of them escape from the neo-soul sound that D’Angelo almost single-handedly pioneered.

This is not an album that will disappoint. Black Messiah not only lives up to the legend that Voodoo became, but builds on and evolves the sound taking it to a new level. There are intricacies, subtleties, and nuances within the production, musicianship, and song writing of every track. Don’t spoil your first listen of this album on shitty laptop speakers. Sit down with some good stereo speakers, or a good set of headphones, and lose yourself.