Everyone in the music industry is looking for some magical solution to hit it big. Musicians are told that if they want to be successful they need to give music away for free, or focus on touring, or crowdfund their album, and many fail trying to fit these one-size strategies into their career. Karmin was successful with YouTube covers, but does that mean that everyone will be? Amanda Palmer raised a huge amount of money on Kickstarter, but does that mean that you should rush out and start a crowdfunding campaign?
The truth is that the music industry is not a one size fits all business, especially today where artists must pave their own paths. In the past, there was a more standard navigation through the industry. You needed to be signed to a label to reach your fans and the labels used standard methods such as radio and retail distribution to connect the artist with the fan. Today the internet provides nearly endless opportunities to reach and connect with fans. The internet allows niche genres to prosper and grow, and it allows amateur musicians to find their fanbase, find their voice, and grow into a professional. The name of the game is differentiation, and your strategy should reflect this.
Many artists have succeeded by going against some of the “rules” set by the music industry. Touring has received a lot of press coverage in recent years. Musicians are told that they can’t make a living from recorded music anymore and that touring is their main revenue stream. Alex Day does not tour. He makes 100% of his income from YouTube and recorded music sales. He found the solution that worked for him. He probably doesn’t make as much as the big pop stars, but he is able to live his passion and support his lifestyle with his music, something many musicians strive for.
Even if you do tour, your main revenue stream does not have to be from ticket sales. Some musicians can make more money from their merch table than they make from the actual show. You can sell anything from shirts, to posters, to keychains, and yes, even recorded music.
Music does not always need to be free. Many artists today will simply give music away for free and make their money at the live show, but that is not the only way. The internet has lowered the price of music, to a certain extent. Many people will simply download music for free or find it illegally and never pay a cent for a song. On the other hand, the internet has raised the price of music. The internet allows you to sell products targeted at your superfans, like box sets, bonus tracks, or signed albums. This was never possible, or financially viable, in the world of retail music stores.
That’s not to say that you can’t be successful by following what the industry says you should be doing. You should do something because it is the best option for you and your music, not because someone else was successful doing it.