Several years ago, in 2014, I wrote about how Taylor Swift pulling her music from Spotify was a giant PR stunt and a terrible inconvenience to her public, and about how streaming platforms, such as Spotify, Apple Music or Tidal, were now the norm and the new players.
It’s 2019 and I’m back to revisit this story and add to it, in the form of new opinions and, of course, to continue telling you how I was right then and that I’m probably still right today.
You see? Just a few weeks ago, an artist I respect a lot released a brand new album, which I am stoked to listen to, but then I found out that it is only available as a hard copy (album has been ordered, even though I don’t think I actually have a device to listen to CDs anymore) or an iTunes purchase. This is all nice and dandy until you realize that, in today’s age, we mostly use a streaming platform and that “Local File” access from those is spotty at best, which leads to me probably not listening to this artist nearly as much as I would like to, and search for other alternatives.
The alternatives are, obviously, listening to artists who have made their music available on these platforms and are easily accessible. I argued in favour of convenience in the past and it is definitely true. There are fewer true warriors out there willing to avoid the digital era and still purchase and wait for the hard copy.
Instead of trying to increase CD sales among your current fan base, use streaming to potentially grow the fanbase you can sell merch to.
In the modern Music Industry, niche markets are everything, at least for those who are centred in sub-genres away from the mainstream, and knowing how to market to those niches is pivotal for a successful release. You don’t need to sell CDs in order to profit from your fanbase, even though it’s still a good idea to release physical media, such as CDs or Vinyl, these should now just be grouped with the rest of the merch as memorabilia. The key word here is AVAILABILITY: Show up on playlists, share your easy-to-access music on social media, word of mouth, etc. Instead of trying to increase CD sales among your current fan base, use streaming to potentially grow the fanbase you can sell merch to. It’s a no-brainer.
Spotify and Tidal playlists are probably one of the best ways to find new bands to love and throw money at. There’s people out there willing to support your efforts even without trading it for physical items. Some people actually just want to help, but it is way more difficult when they don’t know that you exist.
But Alejandro, you say, how are we supposed to value something that takes zero effort to obtain?
Ah! The old question of fans not valuing your favourite artist’s carefully crafted art! I can only speak from experience and empirical observation on this point, but I can confidently say: Fear not! If the artist is one that you care about a lot, then your ease of access will only bring you joy, as you are ensured that you will get access to their material as soon as it is released to the public. Want it before that release date? Maybe they have a pre-release somewhere, maybe if there is a crowd-funding campaign for the album you can get a hold of it earlier, and it will be slightly more inconvenient to access for those few weeks, but then you will have the benefit of convenience while having that warm and fuzzy feeling of having made a tangible contribution to the material you are listening to, and that, to me, is the ultimate reward as a listener.
I’m going to end the same way that I ended the article in 2014, by saying that being in front of new potential fans is better than selling things to the same four people in hopes that they somehow convince their friends to but your things. And that crowd-funding and touring and selling merch are still going to be your main sources of income. It takes hard work to get to a comfortable spot, and nobody said it would be easy, but new artists need to realize that even though they are part of a community, they are also competing for a limited amount of air time, so the more available they are, the better their chances of getting new fans to spend money on their craft.