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A Few Words on Buying Music September 23, 2010

Posted by craftlass in Uncategorized.

I used to work on the business side of music, back in the day when record labels still ruled, iTunes was only barely started, and even young people still bought the vast majority of music on cd. I watched from the outside as the revolution got going, a bittersweet time as I cheered the destruction of a system I knew from the inside out to be pretty darn bad for both musicians and fans yet sympathized with my friends who had no idea how to cope with the changing tide (regardless of whether they lost their jobs or not).

Then I found myself becoming an indie musician. Truly indie, I have no desire to be on even a small label at this point. Are there days I would love to have the help and some support money? Sure. I’m just not ready to let go of the control I have, especially now that I’ve made Above the Sky and found I can make a desirable product at low cost, passing on my savings to my fans. Win/win.

Oh, it was a brave new world I found myself in! As many artists do, I signed up with Tunecore to get my music up on all the big sites like iTunes and Amazon. Then my friend told me about a new website called bandcamp, where I can sell downloads and cds directly, control my own page (to a point) and copy, and even decide to run my own sales or giveaways. Even better, there is no delay, the moment I upload a song it’s available for sale, unlike the big retailers. The more I’ve gotten to know other cool indie musicians the more I’ve found them on bandcamp (and I make sure any others hear about it as soon as possible).

My philosophy is to make my music available as many places as possible, so I went down both routes. I’ve sold some music on quite a few different sites now and it’s astounding how different the experience is. I’m going to use iTunes in this comparison as most people have used it to buy something (except for me, I don’t even have their software).

Bandcamp allows me to set my prices, so all my songs are $1 each and I made the entire EP $5 so you essentially get one song free if you download there. If you buy a cd, it’s $10 but you also get a free digital copy to download immediately. Seemed like fair amounts, and fans also have the option to pay more if they wish to donate some extra money (which goes into helping me make more music and seems to be surprisingly popular). Downloads can be in multiple formats, including the AAC format iTunes uses. Anyone in any country that allows PayPal can purchase through the site at the same price. Best of all, I get paid immediately and can turn around and invest that money right into a new project, like touring or recording.

iTunes has standard prices and a fixed pay rate for Tunecore artists. My songs are each $0.99 and the full EP is $5.94 (which is, of course, just the sum of price of all the songs, no discount). Out of your $0.99, I get $0.70. If you live outside the U.S., you pay a bit more for each song (last I checked it was US$1.35 in the EU after conversion, but that does change, and a variety of prices elsewhere) and I make an extra penny. One penny. To add insult to injury, I don’t see any of those pennies until 45 days after the end of the month you bought it in and can’t remove money from my Tunecore account until I’ve made over $100, which means a whole lot of people need to purchase before I get any money (precisely, 143 sales are required before I can withdraw each time, which may seem like a small number, but remember, I deal in small numbers as a new indie artist). Did I also mention that I have to spend a lot of money (to me)  just to get my music in Tunecore and onto each web site before I make anything at all?

Comparison Chart

To make this really clear, if you buy Above the Sky at bandcamp, you spend $1 less and I still make $0.80 more! Again, win/win.

I understand that some people just like iTunes, and that’s okay, choice is a good thing. But when you are buying from an indie artist, that $0.29 actually makes a HUGE difference. $0.29 per sale can be the difference between getting back into the studio in 6 months rather than over a year. It can be the money that pays for that artist to visit your hometown for a concert. Which would you rather support, the music you love and musicians who appreciate you or a mega-corporation that only cares about your money? Think about it.

When you spend money you don’t just receive goods, you make a statement. You are saying, “I support the way you do business,” with each penny you give them.

This is why sites like bandcamp and Etsy are wonderful, they lower the wall between creative types and those who appreciate their work. They are facilitators more than middlemen. They give you a choice, join the revolution of wise spending or keep feeding the giants who don’t care about anyone but their executives.

Either way, I don’t actually make a profit, I put almost every penny right back into the music. I don’t have a retirement fund and probably never will, I live somewhere below the hand-to-mouth level. I have insurance thanks to my boyfriend and his job but can’t afford the co-pays, so health care is but a dream and one emergency room visit would bankrupt me.  I need a car to tour more effectively but that’s just a ridiculous pipe dream at this point. It’s okay, my only hope is that I can keep providing music to those who appreciate it  and somehow survive. Most artists I know are in the same position, or they have to maintain a full-time day job that prevents them from writing, practicing, and performing as much as you need to if you want to be your best, not to mention they can’t tour.

So, if you like a musician or band (or any form of artist) and really want to support them, check for other ways to buy before you go to the major sites. They’ll appreciate it and you can sleep better knowing you made an actual difference just by buying something you were going to buy anyway.



1. Peter Wells - September 25, 2010

Well thought-through, Craftlass, and well written. The difference between a Bandcamp-enabled purchase and one from a big e-retailer like iTunes comes down to discovery: where to people go to find music? With so many billions of songs sold, iTunes has proven they can attract music fans. What you’re really paying for, when iTunes takes their cut, is being in a place people go to in order to find music. But even as it grows ever larger, the question becomes, how do people find you on iTunes, Amazon and other enormous stores? If they already know who you are and enter you into the search field, couldn’t they do that just as easily in Google and find your site and purchase directly from you?

There are even more complexities: iTunes and the other large stores provide trusted spaces, customer support (you can write them if your download comes out fuzzy, for instance), stability, and of course the power of their own promotion, whenever they decide to use it. All this makes iTunes’s cut reasonable–it gives your fans an environment and more, and keeps prices competitive. It may mean less for the artist, but the artist is “paying” for all those services, not the least of which is the “legitimization” that comes from being on the same shelves as Madonna or Led Zeppelin or Lady Gaga.

My advice to folks is always to do BOTH. No reason not to use BandCamp and direct fans to make the same purchase and have more money go to the artist, that’s fine. Being in iTunes and the like can help build your base, capture sales that might not otherwise have come. In this, I think we’re on the same page.



craftlass - November 17, 2010

Sorry it took me this long to respond, Peter, I’ve been traveling and just crazy busy for awhile. Thank you so much for the kind comments. I actually agree with you, which is why I am using TuneCore and will continue to do so. This post was intended for the people who ask me all the time, “How can I support your music best?” I’m extremely lucky to have a pretty hardcore fan base, most of whom find me through social media and non-traditional venues.

Most important? I have no need or use for the traditional music business and people from most of the globe have as much access to my music as the people around the corner from me. I couldn’t do that without any of these services. 🙂

2. Renee - September 25, 2010

CraftLass – great article that gives an “insider” look at these services! I avoid iTunes and now I have even more reason to 🙂
I shared this with my friends on Google Reader.

craftlass - November 17, 2010

Thanks, Renee! I’m hoping to continue to shed some light on the realities of being a struggling musician (not the old romantic take, the nitty-gritty real stuff). Things are better for a musician today than ever before but if you truly love someones music it just makes sense to give them as much of what you’re spending, right? I tend to buy through Bandcamp if available, if not, I’ll turn to Amazon. I have never actually had iTunes on any device and I really do not want them to have a monopoly on media. Monopolies only serve the company who has one, never the consumer or manufacturer/content provider.

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