I asked my friends on Facebook what they’d like to see more of on the Projekt email list. One of their suggestions was behind the scenes of running a label. What it takes, what I do, what I’ve learned. So today’s email is about EXPOSURE. If you’d like to reply, please visit this blog on the Projekt site and post your comments.
In 2011, you regularly read this type of exchange:
Artist: Spotify doesn’t pay enough
Spotify: You get exposure
Artist: You can die from exposure
Yes. We all loved repeating that witty retort when Spotify launched and Daniel Ek was trying to convince us that getting paid micropennies was OK because we got exposure. “Exposure? I’ve been doing music for twenty-five years, I’m established. I don’t need exposure. I need to get paid for sales!”
Now, six years later, I’d like to backtrack and kind of agree. We need exposure. All of the artists on Projekt need more people listening to our music. Sure, YOU are aware of Projekt bands, YOU like listening to our music. But in the wide world, we’re unheard of, we’re mostly unknown, and we don’t sell very many records. We need more people listening to our music, so hopefully more of them will purchase something.
When I launch an artist’s album, there’s a spike of attention in the first month. Then interest quickly fades away. Unless the band is touring, or making new videos regularly, or doing something else to keep their name out there, an album is generally forgotten within a few months. In the old days, there was longevity, and albums were still selling half a year later. Now? Not so much.
What’s there to do?
Streaming gives artists ongoing exposure because it’s frictionless. Casual listeners don’t have to pay. They check out music they might not otherwise bother with or get around to.
I believe that “free” should be under the artist/label’s control. We should make the decisions about this. I know we cannot control the amount we get paid by streaming sites, but we can control what is available on streaming.
In that regards, I also begrudgingly agree with Ek: streaming has cut back dramatically on Projekt music pirated and available at illegal locker site. Compared to 2011, I only find 10% as much music on those sites. Why? Because streaming is easy for listeners. Why bother illegally obtaining an album, when there are legal methods to hear the music at no cost?
[Back to the subject of “free” being under the artist’s control.] Have you noticed that Projekt gives away name-your-price downloads at our Bandcamp store? It’s not because I’m crazy (well, not exactly), and partially because I’m feeling generous. The main reason is because people will listen to free music. There were over 800 downloads on Mercury’s Antennae A waking ghost inside when I put it up at name-your-price last month. That’s about 797 more people than would have paid to download the album in the same period. You were probably one of the people who grabbed it. Thanks! I hope you enjoy their music. Mercury’s Antennae have a recent album (Beneath the Serene) that you might enjoy as well.
This is why I give music away, to expose you to great artists on the Projekt label.< I’ll give you an album with the hope that you'll come back and make a purchase of their other albums. Does it work? Meh, hard to say. We sold 5 copies of Beneath the Serene while we were giving away the debut. I would think those purchases were from people who discovered the band via free.
Exposure. Does it work?
Well, it makes more people aware of the music. Does it lead to sales? Maybe. Does anyone get rich off it? Definitely not. It’s part of a building process. It’s promotion / publicity. Back in 1994, I’d buy half page ads in Alternative Press. Did that $500 or $750 (or whatever it cost) pay off with sales? It’s hard to say. Probably a few sales( 50?); but I don’t think any ad did better than breaking even. The more important point was exposure.
Hey, wait! Back two decades ago we paid for exposure. Now we get paid (in micropennies at streaming, or donations at Bandcamp). This is a point I make to artists. Projekt used to pay a lot of money to get artist’s name out, we had to buy ads and give away hundreds and hundreds of promo CDs (that all ended up in the used bins). Now we get paid in micropennies.
Unfortunately, it’s harder than ever to make a living in the music industry, and seeing those miniscule trickles of cash is frustrating when comparable-sized artists used to sell thousands of albums.
These are new (and insane) times.
It took five years, but I see the logic behind things we were once opposed to. I’m not stuck in a 1997 or 2007 perspective, I’m looking at now and seeing what works for Projekt. The label has to do what we can, to be heard.
We have to try new ideas.
Funny, because that was the argument I used to have with people (from San Francisco) about eight years ago. They said I was a dinosaur who didn’t understand the new economy. I said, “Give me examples of how this is suppose to be profitable.” Well, I don’t know if we’ve proven it to be profitable, but we have seen that it is part of the way a band gets heard in 2017.
Projekt’s two new releases for March 17th:
Lorenzo Montana: phase IX
Erik Wøllo: Different Spaces