The rise of the .mp3 and decline of CD sales over the past 10 years has severely impacted the monetization of music releases. One major change has been the growing trend of singles becoming more profitable than album sales, per song. But instead of viewing this change as a problem, it is better to embrace technology and realize that without digital stores like iTunes, many of us would not have the opportunity to sell music without signing a major record deal. Regardless, it is important for artists to capitalize on each release as much as possible. And here is how:
Too often, artists make it their goal to release an album. Traditionally, this sounds like a great idea. If it were 1990, creating one album might lead to fame and riches. Back then, getting into a studio and recording an album was reserved for a chosen few, as opposed to today, where everybody and their brother has an album they recorded in their bedroom. Given the over saturation of the current market, shooting for the top of the charts on a debut release is wishful thinking. I have seen countless artists rely on their first album to be profitable, only to realize they need to release much more than just one project to create traction. Unless an artist already has a huge established fan base like Lady Gaga or Jay-Z, knocking 10 dollars out of a fan’s pocket proves increasingly difficult. Instead, it is better to focus on one single song that best represents your sound and promote that for a while. Even top selling artists stand to benefit by releasing one song per month for a year, instead of a 12 song album once a year. This is because it is easier to get one dollar per month from a fan, rather than 12 dollars all at once.
Additionally, releasing songs slowly and steadily keeps an artist in the public eye. Due to market saturation, consumer’s attention spans are shorter than ever, and they don’t latch onto artist brands like they used to. Today’s consumers forget “one hit wonders” faster than ever before. By releasing one song per month, artists will captivate audiences over a longer period of time. And by building slowly, artists create hype and grab attention of potential fans easier than if they release too many songs all at once. The best part about this single-song approach is that after a year of monthly releases, artists can re-package the same content as a full album, effectively doubling the amount of inventory in their store.
In addition to releasing individual tracks monthly, putting a visual to music is another strategy for maximizing sales. I have experienced this first hand with multiple artists on my label. Thanks to the popularity of YouTube, until an artist shoots a music video, it is rare that their music will be published in necessary online promotional services like blogs. Moreover, releasing and promoting a song first as an audio .mp3, and then again as a video, is another tactic to create twice as much product from one song.
Another great way to get the most value out of your music is to create cover songs and remixes. Cover songs are when an artist recreates popular songs with their own instrumentation, and remixes are when artists use exact elements of popular songs directly in their own recordings. For DJs and producers, an example of a remix is using an a cappella from a famous artist and creating your own beat under it. For artists, a remix consists of taking the instrumental from a popular song and putting your own lyrics to it.
Cover songs and remixes serve the same purpose: for the public to ease into your sound, while maintaining a comfortable level of familiarity. There are several benefits to this approach. First, it can save production/collaboration costs when an artist incorporates pre-established work into their own material. For example, instead of paying me for original instrumentals, a lot of my clients bring in popular industry instrumentals that they rip off YouTube using free services like www.video2mp3.net or www.listentoyoutube.com . Piggybacking on the quality and familiarity of a big name producer or recording artist without paying for exclusive collaborations can come with immense benefit. Not only will you save money on content, allowing you to create more records in the long run, but you will also reach a larger fan base than you would with your original music. For instance, by covering a Lady Gaga song and properly tagging her in your product, you will populate search results from her large pre-established audience.
The only drawback to cover songs and remixes is that licenses need to be cleared before you can profit from them. But don’t worry if you can’t clear a license, you can still release the material for free and build a buzz to promote your brand. Besides, if nobody knows who you are, making a profit from original tunes from the start is near impossible, so you might as well begin by giving away covers and remixes at first. If you create content that goes viral, eventually you will have the audience you’ve been looking for. Ultimately, the best approach is creating both original content and cover songs simultaneously, so that you can benefit from the best of both worlds.
The aforementioned strategies are especially useful to artists just starting out in their career. I have seen many new artists invest into an album or project before they have the necessary fan base to turn a profit. It is great to be optimistic, but also important to have realistic goals. If you release more content than your audience is interested in, it is a waste of valuable product. Which brings me to my closing thought of the day: if an artist releases a song, and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?