The following comes from Tyler Hayes, a music enthusiast and owner of indie-focused site Liisten. He’s hit a digital wall.
I’d like to think I was optimistic rather than naive, but call it what you will. Digital music, in its raw form of audio files, was supposed to liberate artists from the shackles of onerous label contracts and filler albums promoting one single. Digital music, with the internet as the distribution channel and almost free reproduction, could’ve single-handedly changed the music industry, or so I thought. I used to think bands didn’t need labels, that all the tools and resources were right in front of everyone and so all it would take was some good music to make it as a musician. So far, that’s not really happening.
In hindsight, seeing digital music as the independent artists’ savior was a little like writing down your escape plan on paper, never trying it in real life and then expecting everything to go as planned. It makes sense in theory, but in practice there are still only a handful of artists, proportionally, that really make it. Same as it ever was.
If there was ever someone who wanted the internet and digital music to be a gold rush for good bands and good music it was me. I even started a site (Liisten.com) that promotes some of the best independent music out there. But the success stories are few and far between. And it gets tough trying to defend stories that show 99.9 percent of independent bands aren’t making minimum wage, or that in 2008 only something like 15 independent artists sold more than 10,000 albums.
That’s just the beginning. There’s Lady Gaga earning $167 from one million Spotify plays. The fact that every band you’ll talk to will tell you making money is still incredibly hard. It started to get to my optimism.
I used to think that record labels were the problem. With their failing business model and poorly structured investment to profit framework, fully embracing digital music would fix their problems and save the industry. Simple enough. Crunching numbers shows that investing $20,000 in a small artist, and then selling digital-only albums for $7 would mean that you don’t even have to sell 3,000 [~2,875] copies to break even. Sell an additional 3,000 copies and you’ve doubled your investment.
But ultimately, that’s assuming the stars line up with good promotion and good music. It’s rare.
There are advantages, I suppose. I love being able to buy a song on my phone when I’m out, have it automatically show up on my computer when I get home and move it around with ease. But beyond a few magic tricks like that, digital music shouldn’t be fooling anyone. Distribution, reproduction and even low costs can’t make people pay for music, they can’t promote a quality song, and I’m finally starting to see that by themselves, they can’t save an entrenched industry.