Jonathan Coulton has a great metaphor about the current state of the music industry: “you can’t see inside the cow; you can only build one, feed it music, and wait for it to poop”. Not all of your revenue from a music release will happen in one fell swoop and not all from one source. Nowadays you really need to diversify sources of income from your music. We all have heard by now that Spotify doesn’t pay. Physical sales are dwindling to nearly almost non-existent. Digital distribution is currently the best route to go for music sales and iTunes is the king of sales numbers. In comparing my own record label’s digital sales with other independent artists, iTunes sales far exceeds that of other digital retailers. Zoe Keating has been gracious enough to provide a Google Doc which breaks down the statistics on her revenue.
While not mainstream by any sorts, Zoe made a respectable living off of music over the past year with a total income of $84,385.86 before taxes. While streaming is just a very small percentage of her income, Zoe believes that it doesn’t pose a threat to her sales income. Casual listeners were never going to buy the music anyway so streaming shouldn’t be viewed as a lost sale. More than ever streaming has supplanted radio as a means to expose listeners to new artists and the more exposure, the greater chance that you’ll gain a true fan that wants to purchase your music. However, radio royalties still pay better than streaming.
Your best option as an artist: cut out as many middle-men as possible between you and your fans, cross-promote your Bandcamp and iTunes albums as much as possible, use streaming as exposure, and of course keep writing new songs.