By: David Nevue
I am often asked how much money a person can really make selling music online. I hear both extremes, both from artists who think they'll use the Internet to make it rich, and others who don't believe anyone can make any money online selling music. The truth is somewhere in between.
What follows is a brief, edited excerpt from the introductory chapter of my book, How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet.
Will You Make Millions?
Let’s get real for a moment. Promoting your music successfully on the Internet is hard work. Don’t ever forget that. I’ve spent years doing this. The Internet is not a shortcut to success -- it’s simply another tool, one that can be very effective in the hands of someone who knows how to use it. Still, it’s important to have realistic expectations before investing your time and money marketing your music online. You’re going to face some very heated competition. There are literally tens of thousands of musicians out there who already have web pages on the Internet (as of this writing there are over 143,000 artists registered with CDBaby.com alone). How can you compete with all those artists? They are just the tip of the iceberg. Once you embark upon your promotional journey, you are, in a very real sense, competing with every other web page out there. How can you possibly stand out in that crowd? Pretty daunting, isn’t it?
According to the Neilsen Netratings web site, there are over 317 million people actively using the Internet. A Georgia Tech survey of actual buyers provided some very interesting statistics: 70% of all buyers searched for the item they bought, 16% searched for a topic related to what they bought, and 4% searched for the name of another product which led them to the final product they purchased. Adding it up, 90% of all buyers used the Internet as a modern-day, digital Yellow Pages. So the question is, what does this tell you about selling your music on the Net?
Quite simply, it means that creating a web page to sell your music is not enough. That’s something I discovered very early on. Even if you submit your site to the search engines, you’re not likely to see a significant traffic increase. Think about it. If 90% of the buyers out there already know what they are looking for and are searching the Internet for that particular item, how will they find you, someone whose music they have likely never heard of? If they are not looking for you, they won’t find you. So, what ARE they looking for? Therein lies the key.
Here’s the slap-in-the-face reality: In my experience, the average musician sells between two and five CDs a year from their web site. Sales that low do not justify the expense of putting your music online. Can you do better than that? Yes, you can do much, much better, selling not only CDs, but digital music downloads, ringtones and even sheet music. But you’ll only find success if you have a quality product people care about and market it properly. Let me be up front with you. To succeed on the Internet, you must prepare yourself for the long haul and prepare to work hard. Success on the Internet won’t come overnight.
As you read on, keep the following questions in the back of your mind. They hold the key to successful online music promotion:
- What is unique about my music?
- What general style of music are my fans most interested in?
What other artists do my fans compare my music to?
and most importantly...
- Who is my target customer?
- What kind of information is my *target* customer searching for on the Internet?
- How can I use that information to bring that target customer to my web site?
To answer the question I posed at the beginning of this article, no, you are not likely to make millions on the Internet doing just music. But you can bring in a good, steady income. In 2005, I was able to generate an average of about $6,000 per month in total sales just from the Internet (that doesn’t include gigs and CD sales at gigs). This income comes not only from CD sales, but sheet music sales (of my own music), book sales, partnerships, advertising revenue, and other sources. But every single thing I do online is related to the music business I love.
It's Not Just About the Money...
There is still the question of using the Internet to advance your music career, and that’s something the Internet can help you do also. I’ve been able to generate a lot of publicity for my music online, and as a result not only do I sell CDs, but I often receive requests to have my music used in independent film and media projects. I’ve negotiated three distribution deals overseas as a result of someone finding my music online. One company is using my music on an internationally distributed DVD series that raises funds for various charities. NBC contacted me to inquire about using my music in a made for TV film. Photographers are regularly asking permission to use my music for their web sites. Even the Wall Street Journal took notice of my efforts, and included me on their “New Media Power List” of people “being catapulted into positions of enormous influence.” Finally, I’m playing a lot more gigs in a lot more places as a direct result of marketing my music online and as you know, the more you play live, the more doors get opened up for you. You, like me, can use the Internet to create a huge amount of exposure for your music. The more exposure you generate, the more likely you are to gain new fans, sell more music, get more gigs, and of course, make those contacts you want to make within the music industry.
I get e-mail almost every day from musicians looking to be signed by a major record label. Perhaps you, too, have aspirations of ‘making it big’ in the music business. But if there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that record labels aren’t looking for fly-by-night musicians to turn into stars (American Idol and a few other copycat TV shows being the exception). They are looking for musicians who are already doing the work. They are looking for artists who have proven they can create a huge fan base, sell thousands of CDs and sell out shows all on their own. What I’m saying, in a roundabout way, is this: If you want to make it big and get signed to a major label, the best way to do that is to forget about being signed to a major label and do the work yourself. Get out there, play your music, build your fan base, and sell your CDs and downloads. Your goal should not be to ‘get signed,’ but to bring yourself to a point to where you don’t need the backing of a record label anymore. Once you’ve reached this point, and you have a marketable name and product catalog, then you might find some A&R people knocking on your door. Maybe.
My intent with these comments isn’t to discourage you, but to empower you. You don’t need a major label deal to have a successful music career. If you are seeking only fame, then yes, you need the backing of big money to help you achieve that. But if you’re just wanting to do music full-time and be the quintessential artist, that’s something you can do all on your own, and the Internet can help you reach that goal. I'm living proof of that.