Allow me to start at the end:
And in the end, I feel conflicted about the project. As I continue to build my songwriting career, I feel encouraged by the numbers. 500,000 people downloaded my music (and not the easy way - they had to create a profile on a single clunky website to get the songs). 400,000 people have watched my YouTube videos. I don’t care what anybody says - you don’t get those numbers with crappy music. Someday, maybe, people will say, “Man, did you know that Dave Hahn had a million YouTube views before he had a hit?”
On the other hand, in the two years I’ve been working on the project, I’ve made $673.02.
$673.02 is about what it costs to live in Manhattan for 4 days.
This is essentially a story about a side project that took off. And it’s about the state of the music industry today. And it’s about fart jokes. Well, not fart jokes, but whatever the musical equivalent of fart jokes is. Which is:
I was bored, maybe. I had been ignoring my songwriting side for too long. I had spent all my time hustling after gigs on Broadway and no time on music that I really loved (no offense, Broadway).
Songs started coming out. Silly ones at first. Goofy ones. Marginally inappropriate ones. But all catchy. And they were funny - some of them very funny.
So I started recording them and showing my friends on Facebook. And people liked them! 300 downloads in an hour - that kind of liked them.
It’s fun to make things that people like, so I made more. They were just 30-second joke songs. It occurred to me that they’d make great ringtones, so I started writing them with that in mind. I made about 30 of them in, I think, about 2 weeks.
My friends wanted to know how to get them on their phones - and what could I tell them? How would I know? I’m not a phone expert.
So I found a site that would let me distribute homemade ringtones - Myxer.com. I put them up for free and my friends would download them to their phones. But then everybody seemed to get into it - 2,000 downloads a day, that kind of everybody.
I thought, “Wow, cool. Goofy or not, these are songs I wrote and people really dig them. That’s a really great feeling.”
And also: “There’s a real demand here. I could start a whole business. I’ll have my friend make a logo. I’ll make a website. I’ll start developing an app.”
And finally: “I’ll just charge $1 each. Perhaps I won’t get 2,000 downloads a day, but surely a percentage of these people will pay $1 for these songs.”
But I was wrong. People wouldn’t pay a dollar. Downloads fell immediately to maybe six a day, then nothing. I made the price just $0.50 each - still nothing. I put it back to free for a day and within a few hours the rush was back. 2,000 a day or more.
Part of the problem was Myxer - they promote free ringtones on their home page and dismiss the premium ringtones to the abyss of invisible content standing dormant in the innards of their site.
And part of the problem was the medium. You can sell ringtones yourself, but there’s two problems:
- There are more than 50 different ringtone file formats used in the world. Which is difficult enough in itself, but then it’s combined with #2…
- As I described before, people want to know how to get your ringtone on their 1997 Zach Morris brick phone (or similar), which you don’t know how to do - especially for 2,000 people a day.
I’m sure you can picture the dilemma. I had to use Myxer, but Myxer was no help.
“Ok, fine,” I thought, “I don’t care if people ever hear this music. If somebody wants the ringtone on their phone it costs $1.” It stayed like that for awhile. I made maybe $0.90 a month.
My Wise Friend
A little while later a songwriter friend came to stay with me. I told him the story, complete with my indignation over the unfairness of Myxer and those fickle ringtone consumers!
He said, “Look, man, you’re a songwriter. Would you rather have 2,000 people a day hear your music, or 3 people a day?”
And, wisely, “How much money would you pay to have 2,000 people a day listen to your music? Would you pay $0.90?”
I felt like he made a good point. And what was there to do? By then I’d submitted the songs to all the placement services I knew of at the time - without any responses back. They’d be great in a cell phone commercial, I imagined, but landing a major corporate placement was a big leap from my little perch in the Broadway scene. I was now selling them on the iTunes Ringtone Store through Tunecore, but marketing options were limited (ie, you can’t link to a ringtone in the iTunes Store - hell, you can’t even see them unless you are looking at iTunes from a mobile device).
So I made them free.
And I promoted them. I created YouTube videos for them. For awhile I had a whole site for them (now absorbed into Songwriter.fm). I released a 27-track, mastered album (with commissioned album art even!) of these funny ringtones.
Counterintuitively, making the ringtones free and promoting them actually helped grow sales in the iTunes Store (perhaps an important lesson in itself). These days the Tunecore revenue is around $80-100/month. And the YouTube channel brings in ad revenue - a humble amount I’m not allowed to disclose as part of the standard Adsense contract.
And now they’ve been downloaded to 500,000 cell phones worldwide. They’ve been viewed on YouTube 400,000 times.
And I’ve made a profit of $673.02.
So, in the end, you already know how I feel. I think I’ve succeeded (in a quirky, farty-joke kind of way) as a songwriter on this project. I wrote songs people like to listen to - songs people share with their friends. That is a difficult thing to do in any format or any genre.
But I didn’t make much money. And maybe that’s just how it goes this time. Maybe that’s what I get for making musical fart jokes. If I’d written an ALBUM (like a NORMAL HUMAN BEING) that was formally downloaded 500k times, I might have a different story to tell.
So maybe that’s what I’ll do.
What would you do?