There's no doubt that the popularity of streaming music is skyrocketing.
For an independent artist like yourself, the obvious conclusion is that you need to get your music on as many streaming services as quickly as possible. If you do, you're going to reach a huge audience immediately and grow your fanbase like crazy.
I can see why you'd come to this conclusion, but you'll find that the expectations you have for success on Spotify will be very different from your actual results. Getting your music on streaming services couldn't be easier, but actually expanding your fanbase and making a living from streaming is extremely difficult. While there's certainly a market for independent artists on the streaming platforms, and they absolutely shouldn't be ignored, the fact is that there's a lot more to the story than you may realize.
We all remember the days when it seemed like the music industry was on the ropes; piracy was rampant, and the doomsayers were predicting further and further declines. If that's still your mindset, you need to brush up on the situation. The truth is, the record industry has actually been growing in revenue for years.
That's right, in 2018 the recording industry actually grew 11.9% to a whopping 9.8 billion dollars. It turns out that all that negativity about the future of the music industry was unfounded. So what changed? As is so often the case, the technology changed. Once digital storefronts and streaming entered the picture, there was a huge paradigm shift in the way fans consume music.
75% of that 9.8 billion came from streaming alone. As an independent artist, it's easy to come to the the conclusion that you should be chasing that opportunity. But before you plan out your entire career around services like Spotify or Apple Music, ask yourself the following question:
Who's really benefiting from the growth of streaming?
The truth is, it's not independent artists. The ones benefiting the most from the rise of streaming are the major labels. Consider the following facts:
99% of the revenue generated by streaming came from only 10% of the available music.
The vast, vast majority of that 10% of music is owned and promoted by the major labels. There are some independent artists who are outliers, but you'll find that this is the exception, not the rule. The reason for this discrepancy lies within the differing business models for independent artists and major record labels.
A commonly used metaphor for the advertising employed by huge multinational corporations of all kinds is "shotgun" marketing. The major labels are backed by titanic advertising budgets which they employ to "hit" every possible target caught in their blast radius. The music they've chosen to promote gets plastered just about everywhere they can possibly put it; radio, iTunes, as background music in traditional brick and mortar stores, and as you can probably guess, the major streaming services. You could also think of this as marketing by inundation; subjecting anyone and everyone they possibly can to certain music in the hopes that a tiny proportion of that huge population will fall in love with that song.
And as we've seen by the results, this is an extremely effective strategy for them. By promoting the hell out of their product (especially during the summer months, your quintessential "summer jams") they easily climb to the tops of the streaming charts. There's a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that takes hold here, where the streaming algorithms begin recommending users more of the same music which just so happens to be owned by those same major labels and the cycle repeats.
This is why independent artists shouldn't rely solely on streaming.
I don't know about you, but I don't have the luxury of a huge marketing budget. This doesn't mean that you can't market your music at all; quite the opposite in fact. All it means is that you need to employ a different marketing strategy. With smaller budgets, the "shotgun" approach is clearly out of the question, so you need to prioritize HIGHLY TARGETED MARKETING to grow your fanbase.
Let's get into what highly targeted marketing means for your music. When people stream music over their phone on the train or in the gym, or as background noise while they work or study, they tend to bounce right off it and let autoplay carry them off to the next tune. They usually don't have much interest in the artist, and this works wonderfully for the shotgun approach used by the major labels. This approach nets them around 0.006 cents per stream, which adds up to quite a bit when multiplied by millions.
So now we get why that won't work for us as independent artists. Instead, what we're going to use our budget for is directly connecting with our fans. Streaming isn't going to be the best source for doing this, as your music is likely to simply get lost in the noise. While there are certainly viral independent artists who end up with millions of streams, this is more like winning the lottery than having your unique talent simultaneously recognized by swarms of random people. It's just not reliable.
What is reliable then? Selling your music and merch directly to your fans. I'll do the math for you; let's say you sell ONE album to one of your fans for ten dollars. How many streams, at the aforementioned 0.006 cents per stream price point, would it take to make that exact amount of money? The answer to that question is 1667, as in one thousand, six hundred and sixty seven streams. Without a major marketing budget or a lot of luck, this illustrates pretty clearly why you should be focusing on album sales over streams.
PEOPLE ARE STILL BUYING MUSIC
While the traditional model of selling albums and songs directly to consumers via physical albums has undeniably shrunk over the years, it's far from obsolete. Physical albums and digital downloads generated around 2 billion dollars in sales in 2018 alone.
The key to increasing your fan base and revenue lies in the highly targeted marketing we discussed before. While the streaming model is based on just throwing the music out there based on the assumption that some people will become fans, as an independent artist you should focus on building a community around your music that cares about you.
This is why people buy music. So how do you make people care about you as an artist?
You do this by connecting with your fans on social media and engaging with them on a regular basis. Reply to tweets, post responses to questions or comments (how did you make this? etc) below your YouTube content, build an actual rapport with the people who enjoy your music. If you do this one simple, wholesome thing the results will astound you. When it does come time for you to ask them to spend money with you, they will respond, because now they're emotionally invested in you and your music in a way that shotgun marketing will never be able to replicate.
Of course, I would never make the argument that you shouldn't put your music on streaming services altogether; it's never been easier to get your music out there. It's entirely possible that someone stumbles across your music on Spotify and is so taken with it that they want to learn more, so they seek you out. You're still going to do the exact same thing, though: Build a dialogue with that person and make them a true fan.
Don't ignore streaming, just don't rely on it.
- Major record labels and independent artists have different marketing approaches
- As an independent artist, you should focus on selling your music directly to your fans rather than streaming it
- Do this by building a community around your music and a real relationship with your fanbase
If you want to learn more about marketing your music, make sure to check out Music Promotion Machine for a complete "A to Z" music marketing strategy that will help you get more exposure, more fans, (more streams) and sell more music. Click the link below and check out tons of content we've built specifically with the needs of independent artists in mind.