Never have a limit on your income
April 7, 2008
Derek Sivers in How to Make Money, Music Business Models

A wise man said, “Never have a limit on your income.”

Example he gave:

If you sell pens for a living and someone orders a million pens, no problem! You just place an order with your manufacturer for a million pens, get them to the customer, and celebrate.

But if you do hands-on massage for a living and a recent spot on Oprah gets you a waiting list of 10,000 people, “you’ll wish you were in the pen business.”

Point being : if you make a living only providing an in-person (hands-on) service, you are limiting your income. If you were in a “while you sleep” business, there is no limit to how much you can make.

So… what about musicians?

For the last few years, many people have suggested that the products (CDs, even downloads) are now just the free giveaways to get people to go to the show - that musicians are only in a hands-on service-provider business now.

Of course I disagree because I watch CD Baby pay more and more to musicians every month (while they sleep).

Musicians MUST NOT buy into that “only earn by performing” belief because it limits your income.

I spend a LOT of money on music, but haven’t been to a live concert in years. The recorded music has great value to me, whether MP3s, CDs, or even subscription services.

What other ways can music be a “while you sleep” income-earner for musicians? (STUPID BRAINSTORM WARNING:)


Update on April 21, 2008 by Registered CommenterBob Baker

Great post, Derek. This is classic passive (while you sleep) vs. active (while you work) income. The key is to grow your passive income streams while lowering your reliance on hands-on revenue. Artists should always put a focus on live performance (if that suits them) but not have to rely on it for their survival.

There's a growing sentiment that recorded music is now like a business card. Give tons of them away free to build recognition and exposure among your core fans. I agree that can be effective, especially early in an artists career. But as the fan base grows, an artist has a lot more options to profit from his or her music, as well as live shows, merch, etc.

One passive income model I like is what Trent Reznor did with the recent indie Ghosts release. He made it available at five different price points: from free to a $300 Ultra-Deluxe edition. Smart move. Instead of a new CD available for $15, he gave his fans a choice. And 2,500 people took him up on the $300 option.

This is basically the PBS pledge drive approach. Ask people for their help, and let them choose their level of support. Don't assume all of you fans are looking for free downloads. Many of them may actually want to support you and will send money your way -- if you only ASK. And you won't have to lug in and set up equipment to get paid that way!


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