We just received a paypal payment of $6.37 from our music aggregator for sales on iTunes music store. I thought it was cool how we can see how our sales are doing each month through these services. It then occurred to me that most people don't realize how their money actually effects the independent artist and I thought I'd break it down in plain terms.
In the old days, when there were still major labels signing bands to multimillion dollar deals, the artist almost never saw any proceeds from record sales. The deal was set up in such a way that only around 10% of the money accrued from record sales would be credited against the debt the band held with the record company. Courtney Love made a wonderful speech regarding this disparity and most of us are aware of it these days. Essentially, unless you were a million selling artist you were never going to be out of debt with the record company, they would always hold your master recordings, and you were living off the advances they gave you up front. If you're frugal enough this works. Hey if did for me! However, if you get in the grey area, where you're selling 100,000 albums - which is significant no matter what anyone tells you - you're kind of getting shafted a bit. Sure the advance helped make the record possible but afterwards the artist never sees a nickel until the advances are paid off. Let's say 300-400 grand for the recording and tour support, about a million in gross sales but only 110K is being reduced from your debt. Not too great is it? That was the old system: but that's pretty much over these days. There are but a handful of recording artists working off that kind of deal and almost no-one is signing a contract in that form anymore.
So onto the modern system which sees the indie artists paying for their own recording and probably the pressing as well. Subsequently the recording budgets have dropped substantially: from 150 or 300 thousand to 10 or 20 grand. The last album that I had the pleasure to work on that was signed to a major was The Upper Room who were an English band signed to Sony Records. Their budget was probably around 60-70 thousand pounds. Substantial but not anywhere near what once was being spent (Charming lads though and they made a very great pop album, try to find it if you can). The Combine the Victorious album was made for well less than a tenth of that; I guess it would have been a great deal more if I'd charged myself for recording it, but then what would be the point in that? Our overhead was pretty low, I lost a lot of revenue by focusing solely on the record, but the outcome speaks for itself. Isabelle and I are both really proud of The World Over and we have made all the money back through song licensing deals and hope to sell several thousands of copies eventually. We'll see.
The cool thing about the modern age in music is that now the artist can see the direct accounting of sales and distribution. In our case we are handling all the physical sales of the cd through our website and selling them at gigs. The iTunes Music Store however has been our main retailer and we get updates every month of how many downloads we've sold (a big Thank You to everyone that has already purchased a copy). So now, instead of being credited approximately $1.10 per unit sold against the recording debt, we receive about $6.50 per album. So when a person pays $9.99 for the full length the artist receives about 6.50 (this figure changes according to territories and the aggregators commission, but it's usually about that amount. If we were ever to start selling a decent amount of the albums we'd actually make a bit of money! Of course there is a hitch. Without the clout of a major label behind them, the indie artist is just another little fish swimming out in the massive ocean. Pretty hard to find one fish amongst a million others isn't it? However I still believe that hard work and perseverance can prevail. And obviously getting out and playing is really important. Which is why next year we have to get out of Vancouver and take the show on the road.
I thought it would be good to explain just how your hard earned dollars are appreciated and do actually go to the little guy these days. If you like an indie band and want their music on your iPod, honestly I think I can speak for almost all of us, we'd love to see that 6 bucks get credited to our respective paypal accounts. It helps pay for websites, little things like tubes for guitar amps, strings, whatever. If there were a situation to arise wherein many thousands of people were to purchase the album then hell , we might even be able to pay our rent from the proceeds: and that would be a glorious day indeed. Perhaps I'm deluded but I really believe that the world needs new music, and new art all the time. It makes our existence tolerable, helps soothe the dodgier moments that assail us, and certainly enhances any good party or evening out. That's worth something isn't it? And for a couple bucks you can help make the artists feel appreciated! I know I do every month when we see a few shillings fall into our coffers!
So know that unlike so many charities that go to fix the world's problems, if you buy an artists product, be it music, painting, writing, tickets to a play or movie, it's helping the cause for humanity. Maybe that sounds too precious, but it is true. Imagine how crappy your day would be without music, or books, or movies, or dancing, or painting, sculpture, architecture: doesn't matter, society couldn't exist without art. Therefore I say once again to all of you who have purchased our cd, or hell, Anyone's music this year, I salute you, and praise you for sharing your hard earned money with us. Thank you. And if any of you that read this have ever wondered if it even mattered, let me assure you that is does, especially in 2007.
Okay, thanks for reading and hope I don't seem too pious or self righteous. We're both happy with how things are going but it sure would be great if we could start actually paying the rent too! Cheers to you all and hope you have a lovely Xmas Season - beware the eggnog!