Recorded Music Sales
Tracks are not evanescent. You don’t consume them and they disappear. Some people, like me,
still have all their vinyl, but most don’t. So just because someone bought your CD once, don’t
think you live on into eternity.
Arguably, you’re better off selling an MP3 than a CD. Said MP3 might be able to be deleted
with a click, but it can also be put into a playlist, e-mailed to friends, spread far and
wide. And with this distribution not only can new fans be made, you have a greater possibility
What makes a Website grow is word of mouth. Word of mouth had a more difficult time in the
You had to save up for an album, get to the store, always difficult if you don’t have a
driver’s license, and then get someone to come to your house to hear the music. And that was
before not only video games and DVDs and cable TV competed for attention, but before tens of
thousands of people were making and distributing music. If you can get someone to spread your
music far and wide, so much easier to do online, you don’t have a criminal, but a dyed-in-the
-wool fan you should take to dinner.
Don’t take the short term view. Don’t believe just because you sold this many discs that you
have a presence, that you have a career. The music must not only live on on the disc, which
might be in someone’s closet, but in hearts and minds.
Are a badge of honor. A point of identification. Mostly used by young people as evidence of
their personality and hipness. Sure, oldsters buy classics as ringtones, but they’re already
fans of the bands, they’ve already been converted.
Selling a ton of ringtones means nothing when it comes to longevity. They can disappear into
the ether about as quickly as the conversation that transpires on the hand-set. Furthermore,
don’t young people prefer to text rather than talk?
And then there’s the question of how long paid-for ringtones will survive, with sideloading
already here and spreading further.
As for giving away ringtones… Like I stated above, you can make your own in so many cases. And
they don’t have lasting value. You burn out on them and replace them. You might as well charge
while you can, but don’t say you’ve made it forever because your song sold a lot of tones.
If you’re putting a band wallpaper on your computer, chances are you’re very young and will
switch loyalties soon.
Sure, teen males may employ a wallpaper. But not for the bands trumpeted by the mainstream,
the acts have got to be cool.
Fuck the wallpaper. Anybody who wants one can make one himself, kids are just that computer-
savvy. A wallpaper giveaway identifies you as a teenybopper act. And, unless you’re part of
the Disney empire, you probably want to avoid this.
Are evidence of loyalty. It’s less about how many you did once than how many you can continue
to do. Underplay the market, keep prices on the low side. It’s not about being number one on
the chart, but being able to go on the road year after year, whenever you want to.
Also, give the audience what it expects. It’s all right to play obscurities if you’re known
for that, but if you’re a sold-out popster, people only want to hear the hits. If you’re a
classic rock act, no one wants to hear your new material. Sad, but true. Just know if you
don’t fulfill audience expectations, you might be happy, yet your listeners might not. Fine if
you don’t mind playing ever-smaller buildings, not cool if you want to maintain your lofty
perch. And that begs the question of safety… If you’re a new act and not willing to risk, your
longevity will be decreased. Unfortunately, it’s the opposite with old acts. Old acts would be
better off innovating in side projects. No one wanted to see the formula of Coke fucked with.
The cheaper you make it, the better it is for your career. You want every fan to own a t-
shirt. They’re walking billboards, with CREDIBILITY! Not only did people pay for the shirt,
they chose to wear it of their own volition!
You know how you can tell who is really legendary? By scoping out what t-shirts you see
walking down the sidewalk. That’s one of the reasons we know AC/DC is gigantic.
As for other tchotchkes… Hell, if people want to buy, great. But make them unique and know
that although they show evidence of fan dedication, most do nothing for your ongoing career.
Tour books are looked at for a day and then filed.
Big stars get paid once, but there’s minimal benefit to their career. Yes, Sting’s album was
revived by a Jaguar ad, but that was in the last century, before everybody tried to play this
game, before we were so bombarded with messages, back when everybody was still watching
So, if you want a check, take it. But even though you’ll be heard and/or seen by so many, it’s
doubtful there will be a benefit to your career. Conventional wisdom is Mellencamp’s car
commercial HURT his career.
As for developing acts… You don’t have an identity yet. You’ll be forever linked with the
brand. Feist…isn’t she the iPod girl? It can be a shortcut to success, but can also damage
your long term career. You get notoriety and… Well, sometimes you don’t even get that
notoriety. The blip tends to be momentary… Hell, how many commercials can you remember from
three months ago?
Are all about the cash. Count your dollars, because they do nothing positive for your career.
To what degree they hurt it we can debate all day long, but there’s no long term benefit.
Are heard by fewer people than you think. And the endless lifespan of these tracks burns fans
out on the act and the song itself. Just because your MediaBase number is good, that doesn’t
mean you’ve got a career. Either they’re playing your classic tracks and you already have one,
or, if you’re fighting up the ladder, unless you’re a Top Forty act, the target audience
doesn’t listen to the radio. And those Top Forty acts tend not to do road business. They’re
like dessert. Something sweet and forgettable, if they don’t make you sick.
Sheryl Crow showed up everywhere, but it didn’t move her new album. She’s owned by the media
now, she’s no longer famous for her music. Maybe at her age and her career arc it can’t be
about the music anymore. Then again, it is for Bonnie Raitt.
A deal with Starbucks elicits a yawn at best from the audience. As for the Wal-Mart
imprimatur…check the SoundScan numbers for Bryan Adams.
Starbucks is history. Wal-Mart is all about name recognition and price. Is your name that big
and is the package that cheap. Very few acts fit this paradigm.
Are you in the money business or the career business. There are a lot of choices you can make
to generate capital. But although they might be trumpeted in the press, they don’t guarantee a
career. If you want a career, you must widely distribute your music. Your goal is to be on as
many iPods as possible, irrelevant of whether the songs were paid for or not. And you’ll know
if you’re successful based on your ticket count and merch numbers. They seem to be the only
tangible evidence of an ongoing career. And, in order to be ongoing, you must leave a certain
amount of money on the table, to foster good will, to keep people coming back. People want to
sit up close at a relatively cheap price.