Release-stic Expectations: What Happens When We Release New Music

Some people think that when a musician releases music, nothing but glory and treasure await. But most often, nothing could be further from the truth. 

Let me tell you what happens to the typical small time recording artist. 

First, you spend time and brain power planning out what you’re going to actually record; album concepts, song choices, personnel, etc.. 

Then you spend more time money going into the studio and actually completing the recording.

After more time and more money; the editing, mixing and mastering, cover art, and everything else is complete- and your project is “done”.

This is when all the glory and riches start pouring in-right?


Now it’s time to promote. And here’s where stuff gets really messed up.

It’s very hard to generate lots of followers on streaming services like Spotify, Apple, etc. You can pay services to help you do that, but the reality is that you’re almost certainly going to dump more money into it than you’re likely to get in return from streaming services.  This is because the average stream pays bands/musicians .003 cents per stream. That’s right - .003 cents per stream!

 I’m not saying it’s impossible to make money from streaming, but most of small-time/local/regional artists find it extraordinarily difficult.  If you’re Taylor Swift and you get a zillion streams a day, you’ll do well; but if you’re a small time local artist, you’re pretty much going to get nothing.  So, do you really want to spend money hiring companies to get your song on the radio and to get people to hear it on Spotify, when chances are you’re not going to recoup your costs unless you go viral?

It’s a tough one to answer.

Well, you may say, what about selling physical merchandise like CDs and vinyl?

It is true that this is probably the easiest way to make money off of your recorded music.  But is it easy?


CDs are relatively cheap to produce these days, but the problem is that most people don’t buy them anymore. On the upside, vinyl is becoming very popular again, but the downside is that getting your album pressed into vinyl is quite expensive. So the risk reward factor on physical products like this gets complicated.

You can make money off of them, but you have to first take the financial risk of dumping more money into the project.  Then you have to be patient and hope that you will sell enough product to at least break even.  This overlooks the fact that the money you may make on cd’s and vinyl really just serves to help pay off the bills you acquired in recording/promoting the project in the first place.

Not too long ago, musicians could sell their CDs and records at gigs and live shows. Of course, that can still happen now, but most people that come to live shows are already paying a monthly fee to a streaming service, so they might be much more motivated to stream your music rather than to buy things.

What about music file downloads? Research shows that most listeners don’t like doing that. But, if you’re downloading direct from the artist’s website, it is a good way to financially support them. But this doesn’t work if you use iTunes, Amazon or most other online services because they keep a large portion of the money, and the artist gets only a little. Band camp is a nice exception to this rule.

If you really want to support your favorite regional musician, the best thing to do is just to give them money – seriously.  It sounds stupid, but the most convenient way to listen to their music is to stream it, which cost you almost nothing and pays them even less. So, stream the music all you like, but consider giving the artist a one time donation of $20. This is about what you’d pay if you were going to buy their album or CD, had they taken the risk of having them made.

Nowadays, most musicians make their money through live performances, but recording is still an important part of making music despite the terrible business conditions.  But you can help! 

The next time you add an album to your Spotify library, go to that musician’s profile page or their webpage, and send them a couple bucks. That way you get the music you want, and they get some financial compensation.

Releasing music is easier today than ever, but making money from it is just the opposite. Most musicians don’t expect to get rich or famous, but we all hope for enough support to keep us going.


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