The truth about music sales

This article was written in 2016 and in 2022 it also got a video version. If you prefer to listen, then watch the video.

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Is it possible to make a living on music sales?

Daniel

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 on top charts! The label screwed me!” — the artist thinks. So he starts to blame the label that this statement is a lie, while the ‘greedy label took all the credits and 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 saddest part of this story is this actually happens with many producers, I even know a few people in person who were 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 to 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 appear in Top-100, it’s certainly nice but that 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 on Top-100 chart for about five weeks. Pretty nice results for a debut album.

Chronicles Of The Universe

The album’s evolution in Beatport Psytrance chart, data from bptoptracker.com

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.

Home studio basics: gear costs calculation

Sales are over, streaming is screwed up

The truth is people simply don’t buy as much music as 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 thousand sold copies per album. Source: Wikipedia

Speaking of streaming, despite the growth of services like Spotify and Apple Music, the 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

Bottom line

If you wanted to release your debut album and quit your ‘normal’ job because of the decent income you are supposed 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 incredibly talented producers quit their music careers 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 just occupy 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.

 6881   2016   Advice   Behind the scenes   Finance   Music Industry

Since 2015, I’ve run an advice section giving my experience and answering readers’ questions on music production, DJing, performing, marketing, management, and other aspects of the music industry. The purpose of the series is to spread knowledge and cultivate professionalism in the music industry. The advice series works simply: you send me your questions, and I answer them with a blog post when I have something relevant to say. Send me your questions via the form.

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3 comments
Boom Shankar BMSS 2019

Well written and fully accurate. I fully agree with the point that nowadays releases are simply a business card or a promotional tool to get your name around...and that’s about it. The money comes from the gigs and the release makes you gonna get those gigs if it’s any good...simple as that. On top, running a record label doesn’t make sense either from an economic point of view, I hope artists get this as well...we certainly dont swim in money.

Magnus 2019

Great article, Daniel. This has been my experience as well. There is little to no money in music sales. I’d have to agree with what David was trying to convey above, and that is one must look at music as a marketing tool to further their brand, get gigs, etc. One cannot look at music sales as a way to make any decent amount of money. Instead, we essentially write music for free to push our brand in the hopes of gaining a bigger audience. A bigger audience means more fans, more demand, and this translates into what the main source of income for artists is, and that is gigs.

t t 15 d

Great article. As an artist on Beatport, I’ve seen my name up in the top 100 best selling artists in one particular genre and barely made anything from the labels I was on. I started my own label, and run everything. Music, Mixing, Mastering, Art and have been in the top 100 charts with my label. You are so right that it does not take many sales to get in the top 100. Sometimes just 10 sales will get you up in there......
My first payment for the first release, wasn’t even enough to cover the costs of putting up there....yes, even though I do EVERYTHING I still have to pay distributor and also Beatport for their Hype exposure.
I really wanted to test the waters and see if this was for real, and now that I have started a label, I know 100% it is REAL.
What makes me baffled is how Beatport gets 5 million visitors per month and this is the kind of profit margin made....I assume the platform makes most of its profits in other areas, as this would most likely be peanuts!

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