My Music Sales Income The Past 3 Years
Last year I published my finances so it helped other musicians, artists, and showed a level of transparency I wish most businesses had.
Anyway, I’ve been doing this idea for about 6 years, and the first 3 years were awful. In the first 3 years, 2007-2009, I made about $2,000 in total: In 2007 I made about $200. In 2008 I made $500. In 2009 I made about $1,000.
There have been other things I’ve done to survive, like write music for people on the side, collect unemployment when I was laid off, worked as a music instructor, cashed in my baby bonds, and made music tutorials on Youtube. Although the pay wasn’t much, it was just enough to get by so I didn’t lose sight of this ‘ForOrchestra’ goal. So now onto the past 3 years of my music sales:
July 2010 to July 2011 I made $4,766.64 of music sales
July 2011 to July 2012 I made $9,232.80 of music sales
July 2012 to December 2012 I made $11,862.88 of music sales
So it’s safe to say I’ve seen a 100% growth year over year. In that last picture above you’ll notice that I made more money in the last 6 months than I did in all of the previous year. Since I’m on track to make $22,000 this year, for the first time in my life I’m finally above the poverty threshold (which for individuals is $14,800).
Those stats are my gross income, so I still have to pay out royalties, taxes, etc. But still, that’s insane, and I can’t believe this. I actually feel like crying. Anyway, there are a number of reasons that explain why I’ve grown:
1.) My music sounds better every week
2.) The arrangements themselves are much more mature
3.) I understand the music catalogue, trends, and demographics much better
4.) I’m more focused than ever before
5.) I’m becoming more transparent and creating more rapport with my community
6.) Unlike the first 4 years, I no longer need a job to support myself - so I’m spending more time on writing music as opposed to having a side-job
7.) Update: as Vexarian mentioned: there’s a 7th point you missed, which is that over time your community grows by default the longer you stick with it (thanks for mentioning that. Yep -that’s true!)
In my tips tag I always say that being patient is the #1 thing. If I gave up on year 4, then I would have never known if this idea could work. I also talk about the importance of being on a schedule. It doesn’t have to be a weekly song schedule, it could be something like a tour schedule, or a merchandise schedule, or whatever. The important thing is to stay on point.
So to answer a few pre-determined questions:
Yes, it sucked every Thanksgiving for half a decade saying to my relatives “My music is going to work out, trust me.”
Yes, it sucked being $15,000 in debt a few years ago.
Yes, it sucked when my hands went numb from pinched nerves and over-working.
Yes, it sucked working weekends and 16 hour days.
Yes, it sucked having a failed Kickstarter at a time when this idea needed it most.
Yes it sucked at times not having a car, health insurance, a haircut, a house, or a steady paycheck.
Yes it sucked when I ate turkey gravy straight from the can because I had no money to buy food.
Yes, it sucked to break up with someone special because you were trying to make ends meet.
Yes, it all sucked. Everything. It sucked to the point of almost breaking down. And then something funny happens after a few years. Something magical. A tipping point sort of experience. And you think. You just think. You stop and realize for the first time you’re able to make ends meet. You start thinking that since you now have disposable income you can start making merchandise this week and other higher-margined items as opposed to a song that pays 40 cents. You even start thinking about how your own story probably isn’t much different than others you read about over the years.
You start getting excited at the idea of hiring real artists to make beautiful cover art as opposed to the ones you’ve been struggling to make in your room. You start thinking that you’re following your heart. You start thinking that all those days people said “don’t give up”, that they weren’t just words, at this very moment it was turning into advice from experience.
You start realizing the importance of how none of this would be possible without a community who kept you up when you were falling. Every comment, every share, every purchase - they were all like these little silent whispers saying “Keep going, we believe in what you’re doing for new orchestra music. You can’t stop now”.
So I want to say thanks. I’m so glad you enjoy my work and that this idea is creating a glimmer of hope in the orchestral repertoire.
To sum up this post, I want to say to other artisans - you have to keep on going. Your DeviantArt drawings, music, or unpublished books are meant to be read and experienced, and it’s more DIY-accessible today than it’s ever been in history. In fact, a lot of the ideas for my music are the result from all the amazing things I see online and offline each day. Art is a melting pot, so you need to create great work so we can all add to the brew kettle. Some people need to drink from it whereas others just want to watch it and experience it. But the point is that the kettle needs to keep being added to, or it will die. Every single thing you see in this world is here because someone brought something in their brain to life.
Fluency, mastery, learning, and overcoming obstacles take decades - so you can’t give up. You have to keep on going.
katzmatt asked: why dont you accept donations for getting licences for songs, IE i could pay you like 5 dollars to cover the licences for the bond songs , because i would totally do that if you wanted
Well it would be $2.03 per sale. So $100 in donations would cover ~45 sales (remember, 23 songs at 9.1 cents each is $2.03 in royalties per song). If I did all 23 James Bond intros into one song then I would have to sell each single for $3 just to make up the difference (Bandcamp would allow this tiered pricing, but iTunes doesn’t allow $3 singles.). Plus I’d imagine not too many people would buy a $3 song, which further reduces the finances of arranging it.
On the other hand, if I only got $100 in donations and the song somewhow went gangbusters and sold 1,000 copies, then I’d have to make up the difference 1.) out of my own pocket 2.) hoping for more donations. Hope is deadly, I don’t base any decisions in my life based on hope. I need things to be concrete before I do anything - like I said last week, being poor sucks but being debt was the absolute worst.
One option would be to raise $1,000 to cover royalties for a limited edition download for $3, capped at ~480 downloads. That could work because since I would owe $2 per single, I would never have to worry about selling more songs than the donations covered.
As for donations to me, the link is fororchestra.com/donate. I never promote it though because it feels spammy to me.
itsumiomoyashi asked: May I make a request? >.< Can you do jonathan coulton's song RE: your brains? Much appreciated Thank you! :) Love your work btw~. I 'm a musician myself. ^^
OK so here’s the crazy truth about JoCo RE: Your Brains - it’s one of my favorites, right next to “You Ruined Everything”.
Anyway, I arranged ‘Nemeses’ last year, which was his A side single on his new album. However, it barely sold.
By barely sold, I mean that I made about $11 off it so far.
So I spent 70 hours on the arrangement, and made 11 dollars. That’s 30 cents an hour. Like, it’s great when people share my music and the support is awesome. But when they say they want me to arrange a song, it doesn’t guarantee they’ll buy it. And if I get 4 consecutive weeks making $10, then I’m out of business overnight.
So that’s why I quit this idea 3 times, it was because no one was buying some releases even when everyone voted and demanded me to do something. So I’m very careful about the songs I choose. And I can’t sell sheet music because it’s a licensing issue.
No pity. No guilt trip. But I’m cautious about songs now. My Kickstarter failed, everyone is on Spotify, and I’m worrying about making 45 cents per song so I can save enough money to buy a faster laptop and print up t-shirts (again not sure if anyone would actually buy them haha).
The reason I haven’t released a song these past few weeks is because my computer can’t keep up with my arrangements now. So I have to wait until iTunes pays (45 days) so I can buy a new one. You may be saying “just put it on your credit card!”. No way - I used to be $15,000 in debt and was laid off 3 times. Being poor sucks, but being in debt is even worse. So I’m not going that route again. Ever.
Anyway, I’m rambling, it’s 3am and I’m tired :P You’re a musician? Please don’t say piano, because then I’ll be incredibly jealous (slowly learning).
I also spend most of my time answering every email when I should actually just be writing more music for everyone. And if you want to know why I do that, then this will answer that question.
A Study On Cover Sales Vs Original Sales
My Gravity Falls arrangement was over 4 minutes long. However, the original song is only 30-40 seconds long. So that means there was over 3 minutes of purely original material by me. I eventually had to change it all to original material as I noted here, so the entirety of “Newton” is a complete 4 minute original composition by me.
But I’ve been thinking recently about anchoring off of covers vs. releasing original material. Would sales be better? Worse?
There’s a consumer’s psychological excitement and acceptance that goes into already being able to identify with something before it’s experienced. In fact, it happens in Jazz music all the time: the musicians will play the melody for 15 seconds, trade solos for 5 minutes, then “cap” it at the end.
And the audience LOVES it. Every single time.
But it’s really just a head fake: it was simply a solo camouflaged by a 15 second intro and ending so that the audience could identify with it.
This highlights the importance of identity. It’s not that people don’t buy original music, it’s just that if I take that same exact original music of mine and “sandwich” it in-between a cover song then everyone will love it. But what they fail to realize is that I’m including mostly original material in my cover songs anyway.
Let’s take the same exact 3 minutes of my original material that I mentioned above, and place it into 2 completely different cover songs:
1.) Slayer ‘Angel Of Death’ 2.) Justin Bieber ‘Somebody To Love’
No matter what the end result is, both groups will hate/love my work. If I “hide” my music inside the Justin Beiber track, then all the Slayer fans will say my original music sucks. And if I hide it inside the Slayer track then all the Justin Beiber fans won’t buy it or like it either. Simply put - it’s all about perspective. So does a rose by any other name smell just as sweet?
So now let’s take this idea to photographs: take a completely normal scenery picture, then add it onto an Incubus CD. No one cared about that photo before, but now it’s suddenly getting recognized. However, it’s no different than millions of others. Bluntly put: the photograph has finally been accepted simply because of it’s new association. But based on my Slayer/JB example above, Incubus fans LOVE that picture and claim it to be a work of art - however, if they first saw that same exact picture on a Taylor Swift CD then they’d claim it to be the ugliest picture of all time.
This is human psychology. It’s like assuming a guy next to you at a bar is creepy, only to find out moments later that he’s actually your best friend’s older brother. Suddenly, your perception of him has changed from really creepy to really cool. Right?
So that’s why I pay a portion of my sales to the original songwriters - it’s because I’d rather make 60% of something than 100% of nothing. Identity is important.
I understand that there are a lot of artists who follow me. So here’s the thing: I’m not saying every painter, musician, author, or film director has to start doing cover songs or derivatives of popular topics… but what I am saying is to give it a chance. Give everything a chance. It’s all about social dynamics.
And you might just find your muse, or passion, or better yet, your audience.
An Idea About Tumblr’s CPMs
Tumblr has a few monetization streams: radar, pinned posts, highlighted posts, themes, etc. But when I read this reblog by Kenyatta about Rick Webb’s CPM analysis, I started thinking - maybe CPMs are all wrong. And while Tumblr is the only website to be moving away from CPMs (which I think is in the right direction) maybe it could be better. Let me explain:
Beyonce is now on Tumblr. Based off her 6.3 million Twitter followers, Iet’s say she has about 1 million Tumblr followers. However, Beyonce currently pays the same $5 to pin her posts as me. So if she promotes her new fashion line for $5, she’ll generate millions off of that promotion. Her promoted posts can’t even compare to mine. That’s a problem for a few reasons:
What if I were just starting out with 100 followers, and I tackled the same business model of releasing a song per week. That $5 a week ($20 a month) is a ton of money when you’re poor or just starting out. So maybe CPMs (how Twitter and Facebook are doing it) is all wrong. And maybe “a socialized price” of $5 per blog is also wrong because not all blogs are equal.
So maybe the newer model should be CPF (cost per followers) or whatever you might call it. Here’s how it would work:
Tumblr could do something like $1 per 1,000 followers. If your blog has 200 followers, you would pay $1 to promote your posts. If you have 10,000 followers, it would cost $10. It’s structured similar to a email blast’s tiered pricing. This would allow newer Tumblrs (the long tail) to risk the $1 in hopes of generating sales and a creating a larger community. Then as they grew with Tumblr’s assistance, they pay another $1 per each 1,000 fans they get.
Facebook ads and Google adsense suck. At least for me they do. They’re confusing and they never work. But Tumblr works because it’s a community and rapport between the seller and the buyer. CPM campaigns target strangers and usually hit their financial ceiling within an hour, so I have no idea where that money went. In addition, Twitter Ads are charging up to $2.50 per follower. What’s that even mean? It can easily be rigged, and that’s why CPM’s truth and transparency is dying.
Erin Griffith wrote an interesting article about how we’re still waiting for ads to catch up to user activity. She raises a good point, and I think it comes down to how structured and confusing CPMs are. If you want something to catch on, then you have to make it easy enough that a grandparent or a 12 year old can do it. And I promise you - a 12 year old doesn’t understand CPM’s, but they understand the ease of Tumblr’s promoted post feature.
An idea for a Tumblr “CFM” like I proposed would level the playing field, still be super easy to understand, allow smaller sites more leverage to grow their communities, and disallow someone like Beyonce to have an advantage over the other smaller 70 million Tumblr pages.
The flaw about this model that I proposed has 3 concerns:
1.) If there are 2 blogs each with 1000 followers, and one is selling $10,000 Bulldozers and the other is selling $1 songs, then the bulldozer’s pinned posts are going to make a ton of more money, and therefore continue to take advantage of CFMs over CPMs. But that’s still the case with Tumblr’s current system anyway.
2.) Wouldn’t this stop people from wanting to grow their Tumblr’s because the cost would go up? I feel that a few dollars per thousand followers would hardly hinder growth.
3.) Wouldn’t $1 promoted posts (for smaller communities) squander the $2 highlighted posts option? Yes. So perhaps what you could do is have highlighted posts be on multiples starting at 1 ($1, $2, $4, $8, $16) and have promoted posts start on a higher multiple ($2, $4, $8, $16, $32)
Or maybe this isn’t the answer, who knows. But at least it creates and continues an active discussion on this topic.