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The Truth About Spotify. Part 3.

What Not To Do

As the modern music industry is in constant change, with many of the platforms and resources we now rely on in their infancy, it’s necessary to always try new ways of succeeding. However, it’s important we all understand how the model works, its merits, as well as its shortcomings as failing to do so, can be disastrous. So here are a few things to think about when distributing your music.

1. Don’t underestimate the value of being present on all platforms, including Spotify.

I see lots of independent artists stating they are ”boycotting” Spotify and won’t be putting their music on the platform, their reasoning behind this is usually either simply their view that the royalty rates aren’t equitable or that Spotify is an evil corporate giant intent on exploiting musicians and keeping all the profits or a mixture of both.

Unless you have an alternative method of reaching this audience, then withholding your tracks from Spotify is a little illogical. Two of the highest profile artists who had well-reported negative views of Spotify (Taylor Swift and Radiohead) have both since done u-turns. When negotiating her contract, Taylor Swift even made Universal Music Group include an agreement to pay their artists a greater share of the money raised from the sale of their Spotify stock and the dividends from the remaining stock regardless of whether or not their existing contract gives them this right.

Other artists think they can bypass the streaming platform without harming their income, or even make more money without them. “What about Adele?” I hear you shout… didn’t she snub Spotify and still go on to sell huge numbers of CDs despite some people in the industry saying she was making a mistake and one particularly brutal writer calling her “dumb and uneducated” for overlooking Spotify? Doesn’t that prove you don’t need to put your music on Spotify?

Sort of….maybe….but probably no, not really.

At the time it was thought that her risk paid off, she sold 1.7 million physical copies and one music business publication declared it a victory based on that figure alone, stating there was “literally zero chance” she would have made as much money from streaming. However, the album was eventually made available on Spotify and very quickly became the most streamed album of the year and now the streaming income is more than half the overall income, making it more profitable than the CD sales of the same album, despite the CD being available earlier.

Another great example of this is Jay-Z, having just purchased Tidal, the Hip Hop megastar thought that by making his new album “4.44” exclusively available on Tidal he would be able to steal away some of Spotify’s subscribers.

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Something very different happened, subscribers to Spotify, Deezer and Apple Music didn’t want to pay for a 2nd subscription in order to hear the album instead they chose to download it illegally. In the first 72 hours after its exclusive launch on Tidal, the album was illegally downloaded nearly 1 million times (971,196 to be exact, according to piracy monitoring specialist MUSO) that number includes Snoop Dogg, who admitted he had a friend “bootleg” it for him rather than join Tidal. During the 7 days that the album was exclusively on Tidal, there was no spike in subscriptions for Tidal as expected. By the end of the week, the album was available on all the other sites and platforms (except Spotify).

I think Adele played it right, initially releasing just on CDs and buy-to-download sites like iTunes, then later making it available everywhere. I believe she would have made less money had it been released everywhere simultaneously, will that tactic work on the next album? Maybe, but it will be harder to sell CDs next time around as a lot of modern computers (especially Macs) are shipping with no CD drive. Home hi-fi is moving towards wifi systems like SONOS and Bose Soundtouch, that stream music directly from the internet or network-enabled hard drives and smart devices connected to your home network. It’s also worth pointing out that while “25” sold around 22 million copies worldwide the previous album “21” sold a whopping 31 million copies just 4 years earlier.

2. Don’t use click/streaming farms or any type of “pay-for-play” service.

Boosting stats with bots isn’t a new thing, it’s probably about as old as the internet itself, now it’s thought that around half of internet traffic is bots. People are paying for these bots in “click farms” to boost their likes and plays on sites like YouTube and more increasingly, Spotify. The reason people do it varies but usually it’s just for the optics, it’s a good look to have lots of views and/or likes on social media and conversely having too few views can undermine your promotion efforts.

You’ve probably seen ads from services offering guaranteed streams and followers and others offering to “boost” your streams. Some of these are genuine promotion services and the others are some sort of cheat or hack that is almost certainly breaching the terms of use of the site they promise to boost. So how do you tell them apart?

If they are music promoters they will not be able to offer any guarantee of any kind, a promoter’s main currency is their contacts but they cannot force them to like the song and support it, so while they can get your music in front of the right people what happens next is out of their control. There is nothing wrong with hiring a promoter or plugger, if you can afford it, and are realistic about what they can achieve.

If they are offering any guarantees in terms of increased followers, plays or playlist placement then they are almost certain to be operating some sort of scam. Another telltale sign is their insistence that it is “safe” to use their service, which seems like an odd thing to make a point of saying, no legitimate promoter or plugger would feel the need to say their service was “safe”.

What is likely happening is that they create fake listener accounts and then create playlists (as they have created thousands and thousands of fake accounts all their playlists have large numbers of followers, their fake listeners are then set to listen to the playlist constantly. This gives you the playlisting they promised and an uplift in plays.

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Footage recently emerged of what appears to be a “streaming farm”

Social media sites have been trying to fight against this type of fraud for a while, to protect the integrity of their sites, back in 2012 YouTube deleted around 2 billion streams from high profile artists like Rihanna and Justin Beiber, this was a result of an audit of views which is something all the streaming platforms do regularly now.
It can be tempting to pay a few hundred dollars to get a few hundred thousand plays, but in terms of any financial return the best you can hope for is your money back and the worst case scenario is that you and your music may get removed from the site altogether. This is what happened to one band who got 79k plays in one month only to be banned after an audit. They claim they got the plays legitimately, by encouraging the fans on their extensive mailing list to listen on Spotify. However, the data suggested those plays were not real as nearly all the plays came from newly created accounts that only listened to one artist, didn’t follow any artists at all (not even the band they were “listening” to) and never paused or skipped tracks. 

Some people think this type of fraud is OK as it only harms Spotify’s earnings, but actually, that is completely untrue. As discussed earlier Spotify doesn’t pay per stream, instead, they pay out 70% of all revenue from subscriptions and advertising regardless of how many streams occurred. By creating fake free accounts, they are not increasing the revenue but are increasing the number of streams which just dilutes the payout made to all artists.

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You may have seen the above message posted on Facebook or Twitter, it was probably inspired by Volfpecks silent album “Sleepify” an album that contained no audio but racked up 5.5million plays before being removed from the platform (it’s unclear if the band ever received any of the royalties). The post instructs people to play their friend’s music on mute on Spotify and Apple Music in the hope of generating some extra plays/royalties, the reality is that if a large number of people actually did this at the same time it would almost certainly cause red-flags to go up. (I’m not sure why the post would say put it on mute anyway? If you really want to support your friend’s band actually support your friend’s band, play the music with the sound up!)

Basically, any attempts to game the system puts your music at risk of being removed and jeopardises your access to what is currently the largest revenue stream for recorded music.

It’s not worth it.

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The Truth about Spotify. Part 2

In part 1, I went over the basic principles of how Spotify works and addressed some of the talking points around the audio streaming giant. In part 2 I’m going to look at what steps you can take as an artist to make the most out of Spotify and how to monitor the performance of your releases. I will also go into the things you should not be doing, in order to not jeopardise your ability to benefit from the platform.

What to do…

The first thing you need to do is claim your Spotify profile. To do this you just need to sign up for Spotify for Artists, as well as allowing you to edit your artist profile you will also have access to in-depth statistics.

Spotify for artists can be accessed via a computer or using the app (available on Android and iOS), some of the higher level functions that we’ll get onto later only accessible via a computer. You can also grant access to your profile to members of your team such as managers or bandmates.

You need to have a Spotify account to access Spotify for artists, during the verification process the user account merges with the artist profile and your fans can see, and follow, your listening habits. This can be a useful tool to help create your brand and artist identity. You can make playlists of the songs and artists that influenced you, or make greatest hits playlists of your own back catalogue.

You can have private listening sessions so fans can’t see everything you listen to, but it may still be a good idea to have a separate account to avoid accidentally revealing any secret favourite songs you’d rather your fans didn’t know about.

When you are verified on Spotify you get the blue tick.

So here’s a step by step guide of what you can and should be doing with your newly verified Spotify artist profile, and other steps you should take to make sure you get the most out of Spotify.

1. Clean up your Profile

Previously, in order to get your profile verified, you not only had to have a certain amount of followers you also needed to make sure no other artists tracks appeared on your profile. This is no longer a requirement for verification, but it’s still a really good idea to make this your first step. If there are errors in the data for any of your tracks then you need to contact your distributor to help tidy this up, they will submit a metadata update to Spotify.

If you notice tracks on your profile that are by other artists or vice versa, you can either contact your distributor or send an email to the Spotify for Artists Support Team and let them know the errors.

2. Update your profile picture/Create a photo gallery

By default, your profile picture will be the cover of one of your releases, which may not make the best-looking profile picture. From the Spotify for Artists desktop site or app, you can upload pictures into a gallery and choose one to be your main profile picture. Or choose exactly which of your previous releases you want to use the artwork from as your profile pic.

3. Add/Update your biography

If you don’t have a biography on your profile then add one, if there’s one there then keep it up to date. This a really good opportunity to tell your story and establish your identity. The biography can be up to 1500 characters. The biography can contain links to other web pages and content. Much like the profile pic and photo gallery, having an up to date biography on your profile will help it to stand out from the rest.

4. Create playlists and choose an “Artist’s Pick”

You can use the “Artist’s Pick” section to promote one of your own songs or concerts, or you can select a release from another artist and have this featured on your profile. This can be useful to promote side projects, for example, a member of a band went solo the new solo profile for the member wouldn’t benefit from the existing audience unless they promoted the new release to them via other mediums. You can make the release the Artist’s pick, and it will be displayed on your profile for 14 days or until you change it. You could also make reciprocal agreements with other artists to promote each other’s releases in the Artists Pick section.

5. Promote your profile on social media

Specifically, promote your profile and encourage people to “follow” you. By doing so your new releases will appear in that users “Release Radar”, new releases will also feature in the app and appear on the personalised release emails sent to that user. Followers will also see your upcoming local tour dates, on the concerts tab inside their Spotify app and in their concert recommendation emails. You can find the various sharing options under the (…) symbol next to the play and follow buttons on your profile. You can even use the code provided to embed sections of your profile into your blogs and web pages.

6. Submit forthcoming releases for playlist consideration

By default, all tracks are available for the automated (algorithm created) playlists such as Discover Weekly but the playlists curated by humans are far more popular and therefore more lucrative and beneficial to appear on. However, getting your tracks on these playlists, for anyone other than the highest profile artists, is extremely difficult. That may change very soon as one of the most exciting features of Spotify for Artists is the ability to submit your songs to the Spotify curators for playlist consideration.

This can only be done with unreleased tracks and must be done at least 7 days before the release date. So, you will need to set a release date at least 7 days in the future (although I would allow an extra few days for your distributor to process the tracks, so set the date at least 10-14 days in the future). Once the track has been delivered to Spotify by your distributor you will be able to see your forthcoming tracks in the “Catalog” section of Spotify for ArtiTheserests under the “Upcoming” tab.

If you have upcoming releases there will be a “submit a song” button next to each release. If a track is selected for a playlist it will appear on that playlist on its release date, there’s no set time for how long it will stay on the playlist, that will depend on how it performs. Tracks that do well will stay on the playlist or better still may get moved to a playlist with more followers, those that do not perform as well as expected will often be removed from the playlist.

A few things worth noting;
  • Submitting a song doesn’t guarantee a place on an editorial playlist, but does give it the better chance.
  • It’s only possible to submit one song per artist profile at a time (even if you have more than one scheduled release).
  • You need to be listed as the main artist on the release to submit. The option is not available for featured artists or compilations.
  • Spotify reserves the right to creative control for their selections. This means they may choose to feature a different song from the release on their playlist.
  • It’s totally free to use, and it’s not possible to pay to increase your chances, nor can any external parties influence the editors.#
Line-In, Over and Out!

The first draft of this article had a whole paragraph on a tool I found just a few months ago called Spotify: Line-In.

This tool allowed any Spotify subscriber to log in and submit changes to any release on the platform, this could be correcting errors in the titles or artist names or could be adding tags and moods to the music to give it a better shot at being added to automated playlists.

However, when I went back to Line-In to double check my information and to get some links I was saddened to discover the tool has been shut down.

The news came as quite a surprise to me as the editor was only launched earlier this year and I had noticed an improvement in my statistics after updating my own tracks.

I hope the shutdown is because they are planning to add some of the functionality of Line-In to the Spotify for Artists app, but no details of any future plans were given in the announcement it was being shut down.

In the 3rd, and final, part of the article I will be going into the “what not to do’s” of Spotify.

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The Truth about Spotify. Part 1

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Streaming accounts for 37% of all the revenue from recorded music and with over 220million subscribers and a market share of 36% Spotify are by far the market leader in music streaming. In fact, more than 1/8 of all the revenue from recorded music, including physical sales and downloads, comes via Spotify. So it’s really important, as independent artists, to fully understand how the platform works and how to get the most out of it.

Part 1. Hit or Myth?

First of all, we need to dispel some of the myths around Spotify. Many of the reasons people give for not using Spotify, both as a listener and as an artist, are generally false often based on a lack of knowledge and understanding of how the streaming site actually works. The aim of this article is to try and correct some of the misconceptions and offer some practical, actionable advice on how to make the most of this platform, so let’s start with the myths.

Myth 1. Spotify algorithms favour tracks by major artists more than independent artists.

One of the biggest myths around Spotify isn’t even to do with how much they pay artists and other such hot topics. It’s all about the user experience, probably the most repeated falsehood about Spotify is that their playlists and playlist suggestions are programmed to favour the biggest artists. Many people give this as the reason they refuse to sign up as a listener, they have a specific taste in music that they don’t think Spotify will cater to.
This may be true of other streaming platforms but on Spotify, the algorithms that pick the songs do not unfairly favour bigger artists.

I have used both Spotify and Deezer as a premium subscriber and had a very different experience with the two streaming platforms. Deezer allows the user to both like and dislike artists and songs, this is supposed to improve the search results and suggested playlists such as Deezer’s “Flow” feature.

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I had only searched for reggae, soul and 90’s hip hop yet the app kept suggesting and playing things like Little Mix and Zayn Malik, despite me clicking dislike on both artists and also on associated artists like One Direction. I even got bombarded with emails promoting the Zayn Malik album around the time of its release. It was obvious that Deezer had been paid to push this particular artist on listeners, and it prompted me to cancel my subscription.

I joined Spotify and the experience was like night and day compared to Deezer, after using the service for about a month it started to “learn” my tastes and the suggested playlists like “Spotify Weekly” are now full of great songs I love, both ones I know and ones I’d never heard before. Even if I wasn’t an artist, I would still be a massive fan of Spotify as a listener.

Don’t just take my word for it, sign up to Spotify and see for yourself, it takes a few weeks for it to learn your taste so try it for at least a month (there’s usually a free trial that lasts about that long anyway)

Myth 2. You can’t get many streams on Spotify unless you are a famous artist (and/or are on a major label)

This is partly a continuation of the previous myth, if the platform favours major artists when recommending tracks to listeners then it must be really hard for an independent artist to get a look in, right? As we’ve already discussed, the algorithms aren’t weighted in favour of bigger artists but that’s only 1 of 3 kinds of playlists on Spotify. The other 2 types of playlists are made by humans, there are the “editorial” playlists made by Spotify staff and there are also user created playlists.

The playlists created by Spotify are definitely hard to get on to and certainly do feature more high profile acts. I think for many of the playlists it’s inevitable that they will feature more famous acts and tracks, listeners clicking on those playlists will be expecting to hear certain artists and songs and if they don’t they’ll just select another playlist. For those listeners who want to explore and discover new music, there are quite a few editorial playlists that feature emerging and lesser-known artists.

How many is many?

It really all depends on what your idea of “many” is and what your expectations were, my own tracks on Spotify have over a million plays and I have around 19,000 monthly listeners, not record-breaking numbers but pretty decent nonetheless.

When I look at my own statistics, 42% of all my streams came from personalised (algorithmically generated) playlists such as Spotify Weekly. One particular track has clocked up more than 16,000 streams in the last 28 days with 82% of those coming from personalised playlists.
I have also had one of my tracks selected on a curated “editorial” playlist, the track eventually clocked up over a million on its own but still, only 22% of my overall plays came from being on the playlist, the same amount again came from them adding the tracks to their own playlists and listening again outside of the playlist.

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To be clear, I (and the independent labels I have licensed my music to) have never paid for plays, likes, follows or playlist inclusion on any platform so these stats are unadulterated, and shows that you can get playlisted without being a famous artist on a major label.

Using Spotify for Artists you can now submit your upcoming releases for playlist consideration so it may get easier to find your way onto one of the playlists, I’ll go into more detail on that and the other things I’ve been doing to try to boost and maintain my own statistics in the next part of this article.

Myth 3. Spotify makes millions while they pay artists next to nothing.

There are 2 parts to that statement and they’re both false. Firstly, Spotify is yet to actually make any profit, despite reported revenues of $4.6billion in 2017 they posted a loss of $426million. The main reason they are making a loss is that their business model is to pay out 70% of their gross revenue to the owners of the recordings, regardless of their other running costs. Which with the company experiencing annual growth rates averaging 30% year on year, it shouldn’t be more than a few years before they do start profiting, assuming that running costs don’t increase at the same rate.

Secondly, they have absolutely no responsibility to pay the artist anything at all. Spotify, like all other retailers and streaming platforms, only have an obligation to pay the “recording rightsholder” this is usually a record company, who then pay the artist based on the terms of their recording contract. For reference, most major labels keep about 85% of the money and the remaining percentage has to be split between all the contributors. Only in the case of self-releasing artists, when the artists are also the rightsholders, does Spotify pay the artists directly, and even then it’s almost always through a distributor or aggregator.

Supplying the demand

To have any kind of successful business you need 2 things, supply and demand. Demand can be created through advertising but without a supply, you have no business. To make sure they had that supply Spotify had to agree on deals with the owners of the recorded music they intended to feature on their service. That meant negotiating with the 3 major labels (who between them account for about 75% of all the commercially available recorded music worldwide), the biggest publishers (who are also owned by the major labels) and the “Collective Management Organisations” (CMOs) that look after the rights of the music such as PRS for Music, ASCAP and BMI.

Right now, Spotify is one of the biggest players in the music industry so to a large degree can call the shots and negotiate deals on their own terms, but that wasn’t always the case. When they first started out they were nobody, they had no bargaining chips and nothing to leverage. The music industry had no reason to accept a deal that didn’t benefit them. So make no mistake, the payouts initially agreed by Spotify and the major labels are at a rate those labels agreed to under no pressure and 70% of gross does seem like a pretty decent deal.

Share and share alike

They did also accept a number of shares in Spotify as a result of the deal. SONY recently cashed in half the shares they received in that deal for an estimated $750million! It’s unknown how much of this money actually found its way to the artists on those labels whose music was distributed on Spotify although SONY had pledged to pass it on to their labels and artists regardless of the stipulations in their individual contracts and whether or not they have recouped their advances whereas Warner and Universal have said they will only pass it on to artists when it stipulates in their contract.

Although now it seems that following her signing to the Universal Music Group, Taylor Swift has negotiated some sort of payout from this money for her and her labelmates regardless of unrecouped balances.

You down with OMM?

It’s also worth noting that Spotify didn’t invent this business model, it’s based on the “Open Music Model” which was the result of many years of research at M.I.T. and is regarded by many economists and industry commentators as the future of digital distribution.

It correctly predicted the failure of online music distribution systems based on DRM (Digital Rights Management), this is evident in the sharp decline in paid downloads and major retailers like iTunes dropping DRM and venturing into streaming.

So while it’s not perfect, it’s the best model we have right now and there’s no real indication it’s imperfections are the result of an agenda to rip off artists. It may be some years before the payouts reach a level that pleases most people, but that’s not unlike the early days of any new format. It was decades before all the necessary laws and industry infrastructure was in place to enable creators, writers and performers of music to cash in on vinyl in the early days of that format and a similar transition period is occurring with streaming and the subscription, and ad-supported Open Music Model.

In part 2, I’ll get into what I’ve been doing in an effort to boost my numbers on Spotify.

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5 pieces of really bad advice people keep giving musicians…and musicians keep listening to.

1.”Keep” your publishing.

The first piece of advice I ever got given is that I should “keep my publishing”.
On the surface, this seems like good advice. Keeping something sounds positive, especially when it’s yours, and publishing sounds quite important. So, keeping your publishing seems like pretty decent advice.

The only problem is that your publishing, like most things, has no value until it is sold or exploited. In order to make money from your publishing your songs need to get “licensed”. IE synchronised in TV, films, computer games and other licensed platforms and media. When that happens all the correct paperwork must be done and the fees from the usage accounted for properly

Self Publishing

You can do a lot of this yourself by joining a performing rights society for composers. Such as PRS for Music in UK, ASCAP/BMI/SESAC in USA or APRA in Australia. However, they don’t remove the need for a publisher. They don’t promote or pitch your works for usage, and some of the societies can’t collect all of the royalties due to you.

So, unless you are equipped and experienced enough to publish yourself, “keeping” your publishing will no doubt make you much less money than doing some sort of deal with an established publisher.

There are many advantages to signing with a publisher, not least of all that some are willing to pay advances. The advice should really be to make sure you get a good deal, that isn’t too long, when signing your publishing.

2. You need to sign with a big record company if you want to be successful.

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The common misconception is that the big record labels have the fool-proof formula for chart success. If you sign to a big label, or better still a “major”, then you’re guaranteed to be a big star.

The truth is the big labels are not able to “make” you a star. They are no more in possession of the secret formula for success than the next viral internet star.
They may have the infrastructure, resources and connections to make sure the music gets out there but they can’t force people to like it.
The cost of releasing an album on a major is very so high. In most cases you have to go at least silver (60,000 units) just to break even.

When will I be famous?

Based on the ratio of artists that signed major record label deals in the UK compared to those whose albums went gold (100,000 units) your chance of being a huge success with a major label is just 5.7%.
Even if it does sell well, will you make much money? Major labels will generally sign artists on deals that give the artist around 15% of gross profits.

Dealer price is roughly £6.50 so the artist share is about £1. That is shared between all the contributors that are contracted to receive royalties. So after paying producers and collaborators the artist might end up with 50p per unit sold.

So a gold certified album might net the artist £50,000. Considering the album would have grossed £650,000 that doesn’t really seem like such a good payout.
Smaller independent labels tend to do 50/50 net profit deals. Once all the production, manufacturing and promotion costs are recouped the artist and label share the remaining profit equally.

The Indie Option

The budget for making an album with an independent is a lot lower, but then so is the breakeven point. An artist on an independent label could potentially make the same £50,000 payout from just 25,000 units.

Independent label deals also often include a clause that transfers the “masters” back to the artist after a period of time. Major deals usually transfer master rights to the label for perpetuity (forever). Also, the more money they invest in the artist the more control over the output they will expect, so this isn’t ideal for anyone who wants creative control of their music.

This isn’t entirely bad advice. Going with a label may be a good move for some people but it’s certainly no guarantee.

3. Don’t Get a Record Deal, Just Do It Yourself.

So if going with a label is no guarantee of success, and profit then the other option is to go it alone.
It’s true that record labels keep as much as 95% of the profits to themselves, even independent labels will take around 50%. So, surely cutting them out of the equation is going to boost the money the artist makes? Maybe.
First of all we need to ask a few basic questions.

Why do we need record labels?

For most people, this question has a simple answer, money!
The label pay for recording costs. They pay for top producers to oversee the process. The label also pay for promotion, manufacturing and tour support. They may pay an advance so you can enjoy the rock star lifestyle before a single record has been sold.

….but what do they actually do?

In our haste to free ourselves from the record labels, many did so without finding out what it was they actually did all day. The image is often of fat cat record executives sitting around smoking expensive cigars, in corner offices, just watching the money roll in from the hard work and creativity of the artists. The truth is the record labels performed many essential roles, roles that many self releasing artists are oblivious to.

I have spoken to many self releasing artists who don’t even see themselves as record companies. It’s little wonder that many of the things a record company should do are being neglected.

Many of these things, such as registering with a neighbouring rights society, have a revenue stream associated with it.  For many record labels neighbouring rights income makes up around 40% of their overall revenue. Yet for many self releasing artist this money goes uncollected. Nearly half of their potential income, left on the table.

That’s just one aspect, there’s also chart registration, awards submissions, accounting, radio and TV promo, legal, the list goes on.
It’s understandable that many musicians overlook many of these tasks. No musician got into music to fill in forms, file documents and study statistics.

They want to write, play and record music, everything else is just an unwanted distraction. So unless you are also business minded and don’t mind doing a lot of paperwork, consider partnering with a label or hiring some people to do the admin for you.

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“Founded a label now I’m drowning in paper…work” Suffa (Hilltop Hoods “I Love It”)

4. Record/Mix it yourself and Spend The Money You Save On Mastering.

As a sound engineer this one probably causes the most concern, not least of all because I hear it so often. So far we’ve dealt with advice that is incomplete or misleading, this is just plain wrong.

Without going too deep into the mastering debate, mastering isn’t supposed to change the way your music sounds on a creative level or fix imperfections of your mixing or recording skills. It was designed to prepare your tracks to make a production master for manufacturing. Which is why it’s called mastering in the first place.

That doesn’t mean you can’t enhance your recordings with the right mastering processes. However, the results are limited to the quality of what there is to work with.

To put it bluntly; Shit in = Shit out.

“You can’t polish a turd” , or so the saying goes. In truth, you can not only polish a turd, you can also roll it in glitter and tie a bow around it. It will, at the end of the day, still be a piece of shit. A shiny, sparkly shit with a bow around it, but a piece of shit none-the-less.

You wouldn’t hire the best chef in the world and expect him to cook you a michelin star worthy meal with nothing but a tin of tuna and a can of squeezy cheese. So, why expect to get good results when hiring an expensive mastering service to work on your homemade recordings made with whatever equipment you can afford or borrow?

It’s a better idea to focus on the source. Get the best musicians you can and keep recording until you get the best possible take.
Go to a decent studio if you can afford. Consider hiring a couple of select high-end units for your studio.

Pay attention to the tone and timbre of the instruments while recording, don’t expect to “fix it in the mix” or cover over the mistakes afterwards.
Try to get your mixes as close to sounding  like the finished article as you can. By that point the job of the mastering engineer will be minimal, and it will reduce the time taken to complete the job, ultimately making mastering cheaper anyway.

5. Don’t put your music on streaming sites, they just rip off artists. 

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You’ve probably read, or been told about, at least one of the myriad of horror stories about scandalously low payouts artists receive from music streaming sites like Spotify.

The first issue with these stories is that they tend to focus on just one revenue stream for just one of the contributors on a track.
The streaming platform makes 2 payments each time a track is played. One to the “recording rightsholder”, usually a record label, via a distributor and another smaller payment to the composers via a performing rights society like PRS.

The recording rightsholder will then be responsible for paying the artists their share. This will be based on the royalty split agreed in their record deal. As I stated earlier, the split can be as low as 5% and is rarely higher than 50%, this then has to be split between everyone on the track.
It’s obviously going to seem small when you look at just a fraction of the money.

Also, the label has just as much to do with the amount the artist receives as the streaming service.

The other issue with these stories, and the way many of us think about streaming is that we are looking at the numbers all wrong. We hear someone had a million plays and only got five grand we are shocked.

If that artist sold 1 million singles, even as downloads they’d make at least a half a million right?
If they got played 1 million times on the radio they’d get a massive payout from PRS or ASCAP, right?
Both those statements are true, but a million plays on a streaming service isn’t the same as million single sales, a million downloads, or a million plays on the radio.

We need to recalibrate.

If i buy a single and listen to it 3 or 4 times a day I’ll hit 100 listens within a month.
So a million streams could just be 10,000 people listening to it 3 or 4 times a day for a month.
10,000 sales would get you about 5 grand.
1 million streams means up to 1 million people heard it. A national broadcaster like the BBC can reach more listeners than that with just 1 play of the song.
1 play on the BBC will get you a few quid, much less than 1 million streams on Spotify.
So over time streaming is at least as profitable as sales and far more lucrative than radio play.

The main difference in the income from streaming and sales is that with a sales driven model the majority of earnings from an album, or other release, would be soon after the initial and then slowly decline over time.

There may some uplift when the singles were released but generally the sales would start high then slope away.  With a streaming dominated model there will be no such initial peak, in fact it will probably be the exact opposite with revenue starting relatively low and then building over time as more people hear and share the song.

If the revenue from advertising and subscription increases so too will the money received by the writers, performers and record labels. All the negative stories around will just discourage listeners from paying, why would they if they thought the money wasn’t being fairly distributed?
It’s actually in the interest of all professional musicians that a service such as Spotify (or an alternative) is successful and can create a sustainable model.