Digital Industries 2: Music Distribution: What determines an artiste’s visibility?


Last week, I discussed the feasibility of selling records as an artiste. There are various ways in which one can sell their music in whichever form it comes in. The infographic, I posted last time demonstrated how many copies of music one has to sell in order to derive a decent living as an artiste. According to the charts shown, the best case scenario would be to press an LP and sell 149 copies at 14.99 each. That way you can 1160 dollars a month. This, in most countries, is an amount that would suffice for a decent living. The worst case scenario would be to try and sell your work through Spotify which has a terrible revenue plan for artistes.

Unfortunately, despite these facts, the market preferences point to the least rewarding distribution avenue as being the one most preferred by fans. Spotify offers the most attractive terms to fans with a free account offer where you can listen to streamed music from any artiste for up to 10 hours each month and a premium offer which allows one to pay 5 dollars a month and download all the music they desire. This is a pure case of over served demand at extremely low pricing. The supplier (artiste) gets a raw deal.  Because of all these dynamics in the industry different species of artistes have emerged.

Artistes signed to a major label


The key advantage of having a record label to back your music is that you get very good quality recording and a very wide distribution plan. A wide distribution may hopefully have you selling 500,000 copies of your album and, from 10 -15 percent of sales, earning 500000 to 750000 dollars a year. But the reality is that most people earn far less. The biggest problem that these artistes face is competition. There is massive competition in the market for each artiste promoted by a large music corporation and similarly there isn’t enough space at the label which prevents every good artiste from getting signed. The key is always to differentiate one’s work whilst still appealing to the masses. This often ends up stripping the artiste off any creative entitlement to his music.

Independent musicians


Indie musicians tend to take home a bigger chunk off their sweat especially when the artistes are in charge of their own label. They do the music their own way. An indie label in a sense is much like a musical start up. The idea is to introduce each new artiste in the very essence of his creative inventions. Because of this, indie products tend to be more risky to place in stores and this limits their distributorship value. However with the advent of digital distribution this is less of a problem. And looking around one can see successful cases of indie labels making it in the billboard charts. But this also demands massive investment in independent marketing methods to gain a fan base.

The Hobbyist

This is the artiste who would prefer to go against every grain and fabric of the industry structure to spread his music. This artiste might opt to give his music out for free online or at live shows if it came to it. His is a mission to communicate art and have it unhinged from barriers of trade and market forces. Sometimes artistes who have already made sufficient success in their career choose to go down this path in order to explore new artistic characters. For instance, Radiohead chose to release their album In Rainbows on a ‘Pay what you want’ offer which allowed the fans to freely determine its market worth.


Youtube has become a popular platform for such artistes and these artistes have gained huge followings by creating value free of charge via the cheapest of resources. The advantage of this route is that one gets to market test his product before choosing to commercialize it through signing into a label, hosting gigs or otherwise.

Gigging musicians

Gigging musicians rely mainly on live performances to spread their music. With such a work structure they are assured of income before delivering entertainment value. The growth of their market will mainly be determined by their live sets and hence their income is a true indicator of how good their music is. Their main focus is not to record their work to sell records but to share it in person at shows. When they do record, it is in the hopes that they will be able to attract larger crowds to their shows hence radio airplay is crucial for them. Such artistes normally invest in singles which act as marketing tools that are distributed to radio stations as opposed to record labels. Artistes signed to major labels on the other hand launch tours and do live gigs in order to promote their released albums to fans.


As you can see it is quite easy for a musician to transit to any different category amongst these four types of artistes since access to a sizeable market is part and parcel of each model.


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