In 1999, when file sharing sites like Napster started to become popular, the music industry was a thriving market with over $14.5 billion in annual U.S. sales alone. Fast forward to today and music sales have declined by nearly 50%-a catastrophic loss by any standards. The ease and convenience with which music fans can get free music has permanently changed the rules of music marketing and promotion. While this bad news for major record labels, it has created big opportunity for unsigned artists.
As the music industry fights for its life, many internet-savvy artists are starting music blogs and marketing their music directly to fans. Ironically, the key to their success is not in selling music, but making their songs available as free downloads on their own blogs. Taking a page from entrepreneurs like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (who amassed a fortune of over $ 4 billion giving away “free” web pages), these artists have learned how to make money in music by giving it away. Here’s how it works:
The first step is starting a music blog. Using free WordPress software–a powerful, yet extremely ease to use blogging platform–artists can easily create a blog on their own domain names without having to learn a single line of code. Since the software and domain names are free, their only overhead is the monthly fee charged by their web hosting company (typically less than $10 per month). The entire process can be done by a complete novice in less than 10 minutes. After another 1/2 hour or so spent choosing a free theme and installing free plugins, they have a fully-functional, professional-looking blog.
Next, they set up a few web pages. An artist bio, a contact page and page where fans can listen to and download MP3s are pretty standard. Photos and videos are optional, but definitely recommended. Depending on the amount of content you want to add initially, this can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.
Finally, they set up several revenue streams on their blogs by signing up for various advertising networks and affiliate marketing programs. This allows them to earn money from the actions of fans who visit their site to download the artists’ songs.
With this basic framework in place, all that’s left to do is start publishing and promoting more music-related content. If properly executed, the artists can start generating web traffic (and money) in a matter of few days.
It’s a near-perfect business model for unsigned artists. Music is used as a form of social currency–“MP3 money”, so to speak–which artists can use to “buy” fans. The more fans they can attract by giving away free MP3s, the more passive income they can earn by fans clicking on ads posted by various companies in their advertising network or buying products from the affiliates.
With a solid understanding of internet/music marketing and promotion, even mediocre artists are managing to earn a living from music while completely bypassing commercial radio, mainstream media and major record labels.
Obviously not every unsigned artist will be successful with this approach. Most don’t have a clue how to go about it. But for the ones that take the time to learn, they stand to make a lot more money online than many popular artists earn from record sales these days.