In the trade rags, I see column after column about “lousy” ticket sales and “lousy” CD sales. “Lousy” is right, if you’re used to selling out arenas every night and going triple platinum in three weeks on the charts.
As Lefsetz points out, our audiences are fractured. In America, we have more shared experiences as consumers in shopping malls than we have around any television show we watch or any music we listen to.
Record labels consolidated around the idea that we could get ten million music fans to agree on one thing at a time. So deals evolved that would let musicians earn about a buck per disc. Though major label acts only seem to make money if they sell more than five million units, a new wave of independent artists has figured out how to make the same kind of net profit from moving only fifty or sixty thousand records.
Would the world be a little more vibrant if a one out of a hundred professional musicians made $100,000 per year, as opposed to one out of ten thousand musicians making ten million dollars per year?
I think so, though I’m certainly not opposed to anybody making ten million dollars in a year.
Every week, I hear stories of bands getting shelved because they “only” sold 300,000 units. I’m sure that, if you sold that many units on your own label, you’d be rolling around your back yard in a big pile of twenties. Money fight!
The deflation of the mainstream recording industry as we know it opens up tremendous opportunities for working musicians. And I mean “working.” You can’t sit back and wait to be discovered — you’ve got to go build your own audience. If the labels aren’t willing to get out of bed to chase niche audiences and “small” markets, all the better for you.
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