Off the Charts: Examining Musicians’ Income from Sound Recordings
Technology’s impact on sound recordings
Even as our interviewees talked about the value of iTunes, just as many talked about the negative consequences of technology. While most of the attention has been on the negative impact of peer-to-peer filesharing on sound recording sales – a sentiment that was expressed by a number of interviewees – technology has affected sound recordings in other ways.
A business manager with urban and hip hop clients talked about the ripple effect that decreased sound recording sales have had on the entire music ecosystem:
It’s also had an effect on price. One interviewee talked about how piracy has put downward pressure on how much they can charge:
But we also talked to some musicians and composers who were using technology to make money off recorded music in new ways. Technology makes it possible for musicians to do variable pricing, or bundle download sales with vinyl sales, stuff that was really difficult for individuals to do in the past.
One fellow we interviewed had built his own download card system for his indie label artists, so that each person who bought a t-shirt at show got a copy of the album from their site:
Technology also makes it possible for musicians to stagger the availability of their releases on various platforms, commonly referred to as windowing. The quote is too long to post, but another musician we talked to was directing fans to a Bandcamp-powered page to purchase a recent release because they had set up very specific bundled packages and variable pricing on the release. After about six months they also made it available on iTunes, but Bandcamp was the primary destination at first because that’s where they stood to make the most money, and deliver the best variety of products to the project’s fan base – it was where she could control the packaging and price points. By using Bandcamp in this ways she was, in essence, re-establishing exclusivity in a market that is all about ubiquity.
Digital performance royalties
Finally, technology has led to the development of an entire new revenue stream, and that’s digital performance royalties. A number of musicians talked about not only the promotional power of services like Sirius XM and Pandora, but also verified that it has become a legitimate source of income for them. A jazz publisher noted its ascendance:
…as did a hard rock band guitarist, whose music is played frequently on specific satellite radio channels, and who was receiving money from SoundExchange because of it.
The growth of income from the digital performance of sound recordings should continue to increase as the marketplace matures.