In the last decade, the music industry has seen a lot of changes, and with these changes come new and ever-changing obstacles that we, as independent musicians, need to adapt to.
Any artist who has been serious about progressing his or her career for a certain length of time will have sat in enough seminars and read enough books to have heard the old adage that you have to think of your music as a product if you want to make money from it. As artists we are often terribly pained to try to place monetary value on our creations, let alone remove ourselves emotionally from them enough to think of them as merely items for sale, yet in today’s industry even this concept seems to be changing.
With the development of the Internet as a day-to-day tool, music has become more accessible than ever before. iTunes and its contemporaries have allowed people to buy songs at the click of a button, at a very low price and without the need to leave their homes. The need to buy a full album to get the songs you want has been negated in most cases, much to the chagrin of the artist and the rights-holders of the recordings.
On the other hand, streaming services such as Spotify and even YouTube have made music even more accessible. Now, anyone with a smart phone can pull up the vast majority of songs they want, and stream them anywhere providing they have enough signal to do it. So it raises the question, why would the public/your audience actually need to OWN music anymore? What’s their motivation?
This is ignoring the illegal methods of acquiring music, via file sharing, and even using programs to directly rip music from the sound card of a computer as it’s being played. As time passes and music becomes more accessible, it’s getting more obvious that thinking of your music as a product is nothing more than the crux of an obsolete way of thinking.
We could write essay upon essay bemoaning the situation we’re in, but where would that get us? From my perspective, music is about communication, and the amount of Facebook posts I see from musicians and artists complaining about the lack of support they get does nothing to make me want to support them. Quite the contrary - would you want to help someone because they are complaining about you?!
However much it pains me to say it, the only way I can see to gain a decent revenue stream as an independent artist through music is by viewing the music not as the product, but as a marketing tool for the product. Even typing those words makes me writhe and turn in my seat, but it’s unfortunately true. Using music to advertise yourself/your band is imperative to making money. I know it’s not about the money, but unfortunately without money then our art becomes impossible. Music as an advertisement tool will get more people to go to see your shows, and get more people to buy your merchandise. You can’t stream a t-shirt, and that’s ultimately what it comes down to. You have to be able to offer your audience something that they can’t get anywhere else. You have to make them want to be a part of something that you represent. You should be trying to do that with your music anyway, but unfortunately from a financial point of view, that may yield very few results.
This is where quality kicks in. If you don’t already, you need to have strict quality control over everything you do. If something doesn’t meet the quality bar, don’t put it out. This goes for everything – music, merchandise, design and artwork, everything. To survive and succeed, you have to make people want to be a part of something amazing, and to do that, you need to do something amazing.