Why Vinyl Is More Important to Artists Than Streaming, Touring, and T-Shirts…

The following guest post comes from Chelsea Van Bloom at Feedbands.com. Feedbands is a crowdsourced vinyl startup that finds one music group every month, presses their album to vinyl, and sends it to subscribers. Artists get paid and keep all the rights to their music. 

vinylbill

quotationmarksIt’s no secret that for most, “musician” is not a lucrative career choice.  Like many professions in the
arts, a select few musical artists make it big and live large, and the rest struggle.  According to this chart
from Berklee College of Music, the pay for the vast majority of jobs in the music field varies widely, but independent artists playing club gigs are definitely at the low end of the spectrum.

berkleepayscale

So hypothetical: let’s say you’re a in a band.  Let’s assume, for the purposes of this exercise (and for the
fact that it’s probably true), that you would like to make a living.  How are you, a musical artist, going to
go about exchanging your skills for monetary value?

Well, you’ve got a few options: streaming, shows, merch, and music sales. 

I. Streaming.

Streaming seems to be the latest format for music distribution, at least, that’s what the kids these days (and, apparently, the French) are doing.  But there’s been quite a lot of
controversy over just how much – or rather, how little – artists make from services like Pandora and Spotify.  I’m not here to get into that; I’ll just say I think we can all agree that there’s clearly a debate
about it.

II. Live Shows

You can play live shows, which is usually part of the gig anyway but doesn’t pay much unless you’re at
the point in your career where you’re attracting a solid crowd.  According to Future of Music Coalition,
who did a very informative study about artist revenue which I highly recommend should you be
interested, live performances constitute on average about a third of your income as a musician.

Shows are clearly important to the performing musician, but they also take a lot of time and money to put on.
Logistically, they can be quite complicated.

III. Merch

Alright, what about merch?  The truth about merchandise is that despite the average BitTorrent­ user’s
claim that “bands make their money on t­-shirts,” musicians tend to make about 2 percent of their income from
the sale of non-­musical physical merchandise like t-­shirts, hats, and posters.

Now, that’s not a lot any
way you slice it, but it is important to note the discrepancies between genres regarding merchandise
sales.  And by that I mean it’s not hard to find a rock, indie­ rock, or hip-­hop band tee (heck, there’s half
a dozen in my closet), but good luck spotting a Dave Brubeck or Bill Evans shirt on the street.

 merchincome

IV. Actual Music Sales

So that leaves us with actual music sales. According to the Nielsen Company & Billboard’s 2012 Music
Industry Report, overall music sales are at an all-­time high of over 1.65 billion units. Digital sales are ever on the rise, increasing 9.1% from 2011 to ­2012.  CD sales (unsurprisingly) decreased by 13%.

Despite the rise in digital sales – the rise in
digital everything, in fact –
physical music
purchases still exceed digital ones.

The thing I find most interesting is that, for the fifth consecutive year, sales of vinyl records are higher
than they have been in the history of Nielsen SoundScan. Yes, that’s correct: records are breaking records. (I’m so sorry; I just couldn’t help myself.)

vinyl2014

It’s clear that there has been a resurgence in vinyl (even a vinyl library just opened in London). Feel free to speculate and pontificate on the possible reasons for this rapid swell in vinyl enthusiasm (not the
least of which I’m sure also helps explain the sudden appearance of handlebar mustaches on everything
from t­shirts and keychains to pushpins and ice cube trays.  I wish I was making this up.)

At least we can
all agree that people love having a physical form of the music, and still purchase physical more than
digital.

Because physical music sales are greater than
digital sales, and because the trending physical
format is vinyl, independent artists are missing
out on a huge income stream by not having vinyl.

To the artist who’s never released vinyl, there are many questions:

(a) How do you go about getting a
record pressed?

(b) What would it cost you?

(c) How much can you charge for a record?

(d) What does one
need to know before getting a record made?

For the purpose of today’s article, we’re going to discuss the risks/benefits of pressing vinyl.  Further down the road, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of the actual process.  For now, let’s assume you have a full length album that you want to invest in pressing, so that you can sell your vinyl at shows and increase
your income.

When pressing your record, you have a
bevy of options including the weight of
your record, the color of your record,
and whether or not you’re going to
include a digital download card.

We will quickly go over the cost breakdown, and what it will take to get 500 black records in standard
weight.  Below is a breakdown of the pricing for Quality Record Pressings, arguably the gold standard for record pressing right now in the US:

recordpressingcosts

So let’s go ahead and press 500 records in black 150 gram. Our costs are as follows:

(i) Full three step processing: $200

(ii) Test pressing: $75

(iii) 500 records @ 1.35 each: $675

(iv) 500 Jackets, full color @ .60: $300

(v) 500 Center Labels @ .35 each: $175

(vi) 500 Sleeves on Rice Paper @ .25 each: $125

Estimated shipping for 500 records: $200

Which brings the total cost to press 500 records
to $1,750.

And what can you expect to make from these records?  For a real vinyl record, fans will happily pay
$15 to $20 to support an artist they love and get their music on vinyl.  Today, there are countless music
fans out there that only look for the vinyl at a show, and simply won’t buy CDs.

People love collecting
vinyl. If you are on tour, and will be playing regularly to decent crowds, you should be able to sell 5
records per show. This will take you 100 shows to sell all your vinyl, but here’s what you gain.

500 records sold at $15 each means
$7,500 in extra income for you or your
band.  Could this finance your entire tour? If you’re scrappy, then quite possibly.

And there you have it, the vinyl opportunity for your touring band.

In closing, I just want to touch upon one more thing for artists considering investing in vinyl. There is
another benefit, above and beyond the monetary, and that is the emotional factor.  From art school
hipsters to old school misters, people are drawn to vinyl; drawn to it as something more than just an
audio format. And yes, part of that is just image. Part of that is just people wanting to be “cool.”  Part of
that is the aura of elite intellectualism surrounding the appreciation of an antiquated commodity.

But I
wonder why that is.  What is it about vinyl?  For me, it’s like the difference between books and Kindles:
one has the practical appeal of being very small and having a large capacity; the other just… feels good.

Books are like vinyl. Vinyl is tactile. It’s physical. It is, for lack of a better word, realer.

When people explain why they love vinyl, it’s usually for visceral and experiential rather than practical
reasons. They say it sounds better, it feels better, and I have to agree.  Yes, the debate as to whether or
not vinyl is actually acoustically better rages on, and whether or not you think it is, the point is that the
debate is there.

Still. Vinyl is undeniably reemerging as a trending format that many people are deeply
emotionally connected to. I don’t mean to say that vinyl is the be­-all, end-­all of music listening. (I don’t
think there even is or ever should be a be­all, end­all when it comes to music.) However I do think that, just like physical books, there will always be a place for it.

And as an artist trying to pay rent, eat, and go on
tour, I guess all you really need to know is that it’s selling.

23 Responses

  1. face vs. palm
    face vs. palm

    “the aura of elite intellectualism surrounding the appreciation of an antiquated commodity”

    MAKE IT STOP!!! PLEASE!!! I BEG OF YOU!!!

    Reply
    • FarePlay
      FarePlay

      So tired of you guys. You can have your digital domination, but leave the good stuff alone. There will always be audiophiles who appreciate the sound quality of vinyl, please spare me your arguments about vinyl being inferior. It’s different and it’s better, for some.
      For all your convenience, accessability and storage, you sacrifice a great deal. I don’t even know where to start with this conversation.
      But I will say this. Great music from great artists was never meant to be consumed the way we consume music today. Who would ever think we’d revert to a singles world; spare me the BS that all complete works have only one good song.
      The folklore is gone. We no longer know where the music was recorded, who engineered it, who played on it. The whole nine yards my friend.
      You ain’t got nothing now, but a bunch of text on a screen. If that’s the way you want your ENTIRE WORLD TO BE, have at it.
      Vinyl is coming back, dude and it will never replace your digital crap. So don’t bother us. We don’t care what you think, really.
      BTW. Paul thanks for the pricing info. Was it Daft Punk that sold 20,000 LPs? Every band that has some following should consider “pressing” some vinyl.
      PS same goes for cars. I’d take a Ferrari from the 60s over what their turning out today in a heart beat. I guess that makes me an elitist.

      Reply
  2. Justin Colletti
    Justin Colletti

    The claim about musicians making 2% of their revenue from merch sales is misleading in this context. A couple of significant problems with that statement:

    1) Once you account for the fact that 88% of musicians surveyed by the FMA made $0 from Merch sales, it stands to reason that the portion of musicians who made any money from selling merch made about 16% of their income that way. This actually makes merch the second largest slice of the pie after live performance for musicians who make any money from merch.

    More on that here: http://trustmeimascientist.com/2013/08/05/merch-table-the-math-behind-supplementing-creative-income-through-t-shirt-sales/

    2) Total music industry revenues for 2012 were $16.6 billion. Vinyl sales were around $5 million. This is a lot less than 2%. In fact, it’s a lot less than 1%. It’s actually more like .003%. Or roughly, speaking, a few thousand times less than the very lowest estimates for merch sales.

    I’m sorry to say it, but I think this might be what the kids call a “logic fail.” Vinyl is swell and all. I own a lot of it. But if you’re counting on it to ‘save’ the music industry…. Well, good luck with that.

    What could save the day for musicians is a combination of sustainable streaming rates and an effective crackdown on illegal and exploitative pirate websites.

    More on that here: http://www.sonicscoop.com/2013/07/31/op-ed-spotify-payouts-revisited-how-much-does-it-pay-now-and-how-much-should-artists-demand/

    Reply
    • Matt M
      Matt M

      Re: #2, this may be explained by the difference between industry revenues and artist revenues. For example, I recall learning that artists receive pennies on the dollar for digital downloads, and a fraction of that for licensed streaming plays. What was assumed by this article is that distribution, promotion, and retail of vinyl is carried out by the artists themselves–a reasonable assumption for the bulk of full-time touring musicians. In this subset of the market, then, industry revenues ($15 per unit) roughly equal net artist revenues (ca. $12 per unit). This equality doesn’t come close to holding true for the digital markets, where distributors claim the majority of revenue.

      Reply
      • Justin
        Justin

        Sorry Matt, but I’m not so sure about your reasoning there.

        This assumes that most of the vinyl sold is sold by bands who press it up themselves.

        This is far from the truth.

        Here’s a list of the top-selling vinyl albums: http://www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2013/01/2012-top-10-selling-vinyl-albums-in-the-us-and-uk-as-sales-rise.html

        All of these artists are on labels. In fact, most of them are on major labels. Self-released artists make up a very small portion of the overall sales.

        With this in mind there is absolutely no way that one can reasonably make the assertion that vinyl is more of a boon than T-shirts or CDs. It defies the actual numbers. It’s just not true!

        Reply
      • Justin
        Justin

        Sorry Matt, but I’m not so sure about your reasoning there.

        This assumes that most of the vinyl sold is sold by bands who press it up themselves.

        This is far from the truth.

        Here’s a list of the top-selling vinyl albums: http://www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2013/01/2012-top-10-selling-vinyl-albums-in-the-us-and-uk-as-sales-rise.html

        All of these artists are on labels. In fact, many of them are on major labels. Self-released artists make up a very small portion of the overall sales in vinyl as well as in everything else.

        With this in mind there is absolutely no way that one can reasonably make the assertion that vinyl is more of a boon than T-shirts or CDs. It defies the actual numbers. It’s just nota supportable statement.

        Reply
        • pat storey
          pat storey

          While I can’t dispute the numbers you quote on vinyl sales, you are missing the point. The figures you quote are sales through retailers of various descriptions. What is being discussed here is person-to-person sales of vinyl, in clubs or concert venues, by bands directly to their fans. There are no stores involved. There are no sales figures reported to any sort of agency.
          The point is that vinyl sells, both to young hipsters and to middle-aged farts like me who still have their record collections and turntables. There is more value at so many levels in a vinyl album than in a digital download to those who like vinyl, not least of which is fidelity. Digital downloads are to vinyl as SDTV is to 1080p HDTV, which is to say that downloads are a low-resolution, low-bit rate, data-compressed version of the original recording, intended to be listened to through ear-buds attached to a cellphone or MP3 player – not exactly an audiophile experience. I fail to understand why in this era of demand for higher and higher quality in video playback (especially amongst the young), there is such a lack of appreciation of high-quality audio, particularly given the amazing quality of recording that is currently the norm.

          Reply
  3. GGG
    GGG

    If you can’t attract a solid crowd how in the hell are you gonna get 500 people to buy a vinyl?

    Reply
  4. mathman
    mathman

    Some quick math:
    You said
    “500 records sold at $15 each means $7,500 in extra income for you or your band.”
    This is misleading. Income implies what goes into your pocket, as in “net income” or after you’ve subtracted expenses from revenue. $7,500 is actually the revenue you’d generate from selling 500 records at $15 eac. Subtract that $1,750 (23.3% of revenue) and you have $5,750. This $5,750 would surely be split among all the rightsholders. Most musicians do not own their own content and most still have to pay other songwriters a cut. So when you factor that in, what is the true income here from vinyl? What would an artist actually take in?
    Now, I’m not against vinyl – I think its great. I just don’t think you should pitch it as a way for scrappy musicians to fund their tours. I think it’s a niche product that has gained some momentum the last few years because hipsters made it cool to throw some Miles Davis on their grandma’s old record player. For most people, vinyl is too big of an investment from both a time and financial standpoint. And most people are lazy and prefer to have access (mobile/streaming) of their music rather than use a record player once a month to play music while sipping on some strange version of a Manhattan made from Moonshine distilled in their closet and talking to their friends about how OWS still lives on while twirling their handlebar mustaches (a sweeping generalization there so I hope you know that is sarcasm).
    Truth is, touring artists should be using data from streaming platforms to identify where their fans are so they can tour there and sell more tickets. They’re better off spending that money to hire a smart booking agent who can get them good gigs in the right markets.
    Tour intelligently. Figure out how to own your music. And focus on identifying those 1,000 fans that will support your career and selling to them. Vinyl is definitely a part of the plan, just a very very small part.
    Nothing against Feedbands at all. It’s actually a very cool idea and if I owned a record player I would absolutely use this service. Like a birchbox or trunk club for music in a format that people display like art. Props guys. Very cool.

    Reply
    • pat storey
      pat storey

      “Most musicians do not own their own content and most still have to pay other songwriters a cut.”
      Sorry, but any touring band that is selling vinyl or CD’s is likely to own their own content. Nobody (except their closest friends) buys recordings of cover bands. Any reputable recording studio will also inform artists of their obligations to pay for copyright when recording others’ material. In nearly 30 years as a studio owner/engineer I have only once had a band record an album of covers, and they had obtained rights for every song, mostly through the Harry Fox Agency. Most recordings of covers are limited to booking demos (typically 3 songs) which are clearly labeled “For Promotional Use Only – Not For Sale”.
      Typically, merch sales for touring bands don’t end up being split up as individual income anyway. These moneys usually go into a “band fund” to cover the expenses of being on the road, or to pay for future recording projects and manufacture of more merch.

      Reply
    • Aaron
      Aaron

      Your argument about third party pay outs is itself misleading. The vast majority of indy bands, the kind of people making their own records and selling them “off the floor” are also writing their own music and not recording albums of covers. Please use some forethought before espousing something that is based upon essentially specious reasoning. Since the Beatles, say 50 years ago, most bands are autonomous is this regard and for you not to know that smacks of someone that is not particularly well-informed.

      Reply
  5. VOR
    VOR

    A load of shit. How many of your fans own a record player? Who the fuck has 15-20 bucks to “happily spend” to support your band? What band has 1750.00 to spend on vinyl?
    This article udder crap. I’ve been a musician for 45 years and I’ve lived thru vinyl, 8 tracks, cassettes, CDs and now digital. Vinyl is for the few, the collectors, etc.
    Feedbands you owe DMN a big thanks for the free publicity!

    VOR

    Reply
    • Anires
      Anires

      I know lots of music fans that own record players. I’ve got 3 of them and I’m not rich, barely getting by like anyone. If I am at a (probably free to get in) touring band or local bands show and I like them, I most certainly pick the vinyl over a cd or going online to download it. Real music fans feel compelled to support musicians they appreciate. The article is not shit. Its a great article. No matter how you slice it, (but by my math it would be possible to press 300-500 records for under 1,ooo) its a good investment. Wether you charge 10$, 15$, or 20$, in the long run, no matter HOW long. You stand to make 4-6 thousand dollars.

      Reply
  6. Allison
    Allison

    This whole article reads like a promo plug for someone’s company. research based on almost a hypothesis of someone’s hopeful probable outcome, whats that, to sell more vinyl, to get my company more exposure. I know around 10 people that own record players, half of them don’t even work, I myself don’t. Vinyl looks cool, love the art, makes me wish I could have been around when records were cool, but they aren’t, I have never heard any kid under 20 say, I am gonna go buy a record, other then DJ’s.
    Saying Merchandise makes up 2 percent of income is completely off base. Research has shown out of a 1000 bands questioned that Merch makes up up to 20 percent of their total income, espcially a small baby band. 500 Vinyls pressed costs 1750, 1000 cd’s cost 900, 500 shirts, say around 3 dollars per unit with such a large order around 800, which if you turn around and sell for 15 a unit makes you 7500, minus the intitial 800 spent, which means you have to also minus the intital 1750 spent for vinyls which brings the total down to 5250 you are actually making. I think this pie chart might need to be rebaked with the actual measurement of ingredients, this pie has gone bad, redo your recipie.

    Reply
  7. yelsnit
    yelsnit

    Why would anyone even wrie this, it is so blatant that its fabricated and manipulated and I cant see who it benifits. Unless you have just bought a pressing plant?
    You actually should be ashamed!

    Reply
    • Visitor
      Visitor

      It was written by a company who sell vinyl so yeah, fabricated and manipulated for their benefit. I wonder if it’s backfired or if they’ll still make money from the publicity of it being such a bad article?

      Reply
  8. hippydog
    hippydog

    Quote ” You can play live shows, which is usually part of the gig anyway but doesn’t pay much unless you’re at the point in your career where you’re attracting a solid crowd.
    “Could this finance your entire tour?”
    I love the vinyl idea, but if a band is relying on vinyl sales to fund their tour.. Then something is definetly wrong..
    Selling records is not a bad idea, but its still just another form of merch.. Matter of fact, if a band can sell 500 LP’s, then they could also sell 500 T-shirts, and 1000 of those plastic stupid wristbands, etc etc..
    but I must admit, I didnt know it was that cheap to make an LP in small quantities like that! very interesting!
    My buddy is a professional screen printer, it would seem the costs of making 500 LP’s is not much different then making 500 shirts.. (and it could be argued that the vinyl would have a higher percieved value)

    Reply

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