Is it possible to make a living on music sales?
TL;DR version: you certainly can make some money on music sales, but most likely it won’t be a substantial amount to make a living just from the sales alone. Here is why.
Producers have false expectations
I would like to go a little bit deeper because many producers have false expectations on that matter. A typical story looks like this:
A young and talented producer submits his tracks to a decent record label, and the label accepts it. The producer is very thrilled about this because it’s all he was dreaming about. After months of excitement and waiting, it’s finally out. The release climbed up in Beatport’s Top-10. Wow, what a success!
A half year later the artist receives a royalty statement with a total payable amount of $50. “What, just fifty bucks? No way, my release was in top charts! The label screwed me!” — the artist thinks. So he starts to blame label that this statement is a lie, while ‘greedy label took all the credits left him with no money’. The whole music scene now looks unfair to him, and eventually, he gave up his music career.
The worst and the saddest part of this story is this actually happens with many producers, I even know a few people in person who was thinking that way.
Beatport Top-100 is overrated
First things off, let’s dispel the myth about Beatport charts: it takes only about 30 sales to get in a Top-100. Yes, not millions, not thousands, not even hundreds — just a couple of dozens of sales, and you’re in Top-100.
Subtract taxes, Beatport’s cut, distributor’s cut, label’s share, mastering fee, artwork fee, and you’ll be lucky to get even those fifty bucks out of this. So next time you’ll see your release appeared in Top-100, it’s certainly nice but doesn’t mean you’ll be a millionaire, it’s overrated.
Here are some real numbers. My debut album “Chronicles Of The Universe” released back in 2014 skyrocketed straight into the Top-11 spot, and overall was in Top-100 chart for about five weeks. Pretty nice results for a debut album.
In total, I’ve got roughly €400 from the album sales. Is it a lot? Well, it may look fine at first, but as a matter of fact, it barely covers mastering, artwork, promotion, and other expenses on post-production and advertisement.
If I would count sales only, all the money I’ve got so far in my 5-year career, which includes more than 30 releases on one of the most credible labels in the scenes, wouldn’t even cover my gear investment yet.
Sales are over, streaming is screwed up
The truth is people simply don’t buy that much music that they used to do, people now stream music. The only way to get a substantial income from music sales is to sell millions of copies, which is only possible in a pop music world, e. g. Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift.
In the last 8 years, Lady Gaga’s sales dropped from 15 million to 700 thousands of sold copies per album. Source: Wikipedia
Speaking of streaming, despite the growth of services like Spotify and Apple Music, royalty rate per track is so miserable so it makes no chance for a bedroom producer to make a living on streaming, too. At least for now.
$0.001128 — the average payment to an artist per stream. Source: The Guardian, 2015
If you wanted to release your debut album and left your ‘normal’ job because of the decent income you suppose to get from sales, I strongly suggest reconsidering this plan because it not gonna happen.
I’m sorry to tell you such things, I know someone may find it uncomfortable and even depressing. But what’s even more depressing is seeing how such an incredibly talented producers quit music career because they didn’t get money from music sales, which in reality is simply too high and wrong expectations in the first place.
There are plenty of possible income sources for bedroom producers, music sales and streaming are just occupies the smallest part of the pie. Yes, the music business is tough!
I advise treating music as a marketing tool for getting an audience, it’s a business card that you show to the world which gives gigs and other opportunities in return.