Dreams for sale! Who’s Buying?
If you invested $50,000 in Apple stock in July 2006, ten years later your investment would be worth $500,000. What if I was selling the next Apple stock? Would you be willing to invest $50,000 of your hard-earned money in it? What if I told you that there’s a 95% chance that you’ll lose all your money? Most people are risk-averse and wouldn’t make that investment. So why do I see artists putting so much of their money into investments that have lottery-like odds? Artists make bad investment decisions because they’re getting sold on the dream. When it comes to passion, people often ignore their instincts. Bad investments for recording artists include things like radio tracking, expensive music videos, publicity and marketing campaigns, tours to Europe or the US, etc.
What am I talking about when I say artists are being “sold on the dream”? I mean that they are making a financial decision that will not yield tangible results. This could be the result of someone selling you a garbage service, or you buying into your own hype. A tangible result for an artist is the ability to acquire fans, who will then support your career. Based on Nielsen’s Music 360 Canada 2016 Highlights report, radio remains the number-one method for people to discover new music. This is why many artists go all in on getting on the radio. But radio is expensive, and very competitive.
Let’s face it. Radio is the major leagues. If you’re not ready for the major leagues, you’re wasting your money. And how do you know you’re ready for the major leagues? When your career is consuming you, you’re turning down live shows, people are talking about you, you're winning showcases and contests, and you have a reputable team supporting you. Those are all signs that you’re getting closer to the majors. So if you’ve just released your first single and someone is selling you on a radio-tracking program, ask yourself if you’re really ready for the majors.
So if radio is for the majors, then an amazing music video that will go viral is probably the right way to get noticed. Investing $20,000 to $50,000 in this amazing video is the way to go, right? Nope. YouTube creators generate anywhere from $2 to $7.50 per 1,000 views. That means that for each 100,000 views you might earn $200 to $750. Even with a million views, you won’t be close to breaking even on that video. Video content is important nowadays for all artists, but investing your life savings on a single video is probably not a smart strategy. There are many ways to create affordable music videos. Great indie videos are being made for $3,000. If you want to be creative, try looking for video creators at www.fiverr.com, www.upwork.com, www.freelancer.ca (many other sites are out there).
What about hiring a publicist to get you some press and to create hype – say, coverage on a morning TV show, blogs and some print. PR campaigns can run at $1,500 to $3,000 per month with reputable firms. PR campaigns are very valuable, but you have to make sure you continue to build momentum from them. Also, some PR firms will charge you for this, and all they do is send a few press releases to their media lists. With the amount of noise that’s out there, even getting on TV will not guarantee much attention. Hiring a publicist with the goal of building fans is probably not wise. Unless you can build on the momentum a PR campaign can generate and you’re generating revenues from your music career to fund this cost, then a PR campaign is not for you. Until you’re generating that revenue, you should be your own publicist. I know many artists who have gotten great press on their own.
To have a sustainable career in the music business, you need fuel to help you make the trip. That fuel, my friends, is money. If you waste all your fuel on the first mile of 10,000-mile trip, you put yourself in a deep hole. You’ll need fuel at the start of the journey, and you’ll also need to refill the tank along the way. So being prudent about how you expend this fuel is essential to your success.
This article is not meant to dump on the aforementioned music services, but to underscore the need to make informed investment decisions. Radio tracking, publicity and many other services are valid and important to your success, but they are all important to you only when you can afford them. Until then, spend every dollar on your career to gradually build your audience and revenues. Spending money to win the lottery is not a strategy. Clearly, many people won big by investing in Apple, but there is only one Apple, one Google, one Justin Bieber, and one Drake. So putting all your money into a radio campaign because you believe you will win the lottery is not a strategy. You need to find a way to take $1 and turn into $1.10.