The concept of a music fan purchasing an artist’s music might seem outdated in 2020, but it’s still a crucial part of making an income and leaving a legacy as an artist. Music has changed so much in recent years that it’s easy to dismiss long-standing cultural and industry traditions like selling music physically and digitally, but artists and audiences alike lose out when convenience ushers out things that are truly meaningful and enduring in music. Selling and owning music is something all musicians should be advocating for.
Here today, gone tomorrow
When music only lives on streaming platforms and playlists, it runs the risk of being perceived as disposable. Whether we post our music on big streaming platforms or social media sites, there’s a sense that what we share with the world will stand the test of time. But, as the music industry has seen before, millions of songs can disappear in an instant when a music platform folds or is careless with its data. The same idea applies when digital music distributors go out of business or dramatically change their business models. Think back to how much music has transformed since 2010. Are you still trusting your music with the same platforms you did back then? There’s no way to know, but it’s safe to assume that the companies dominating the industry today won’t be in the same position in a decade’s time. Physical and downloadable versions of your music ensures you work will be around through whatever happens digitally over the coming years.
Building an income and leaving a legacy for fans
Compared to the cost of simply distributing music and releasing music, duplicating CDs and pressing vinyl records is massively expensive. Many artists opt to not offer physical forms of their work in hopes that the music they release digitally will catch on with audiences, cover distribution costs and then some. But playing it safe leaves artists in a position of not being able to earn what they’re really worth. CDs, tapes, and vinyl records still have a large earning potential, even for small artists with modest fan bases. It’s natural to put a lot of stock in streaming counts in today’s industry, but the truth is that good money doesn’t start being made until an artist starts generating a huge amount of streams. One CD or vinyl record sold is tantamount to loads of streams, especially when it comes to platforms that pay artists the lowest. Physical music demands a steep investment, but provides artists a path towards earning real money. And, even though they’re quickly falling out of fashion, downloads are still highly profitable for artists.
But for many artists, leaving an enduring musical legacy is much more important than turning a profit, and offering physical and downloadable listening formats to fans is a way to create music that lasts. In 2020, there’s a massive amount of music listeners, but a much smaller group of true music fans. Giving audiences something they can own helps solidify the meaningful connections that often can’t or don’t often happen in today’s digitally focused music culture.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.