I don’t believe that it serves independent artists well to release their entire catalogues to the streaming platforms.

While there is a benefit to having a presence on these platforms, (for purposes of engagement and music discovery), if your goal is to SELL albums then making that album available to your fans for free will certainly hurt your chances.

Because here’s the reality… No one is going to buy your music if it’s already in their pocket.

I realize that this flies in the face of so much of what you hear out there, but I think this is yet another example of independent artists copying what major label artists are doing because they simply don’t know what else to do. Streaming has its place, but it’s minimal in the “Direct to Fan” model.

But why is selling albums important? Isn’t the whole point that we no longer need to worry about selling music because streaming has replaced it?

In short, no. As independent recording artists, we absolutely need to stay focused on selling albums (and other items) directly to our fans if we are going to succeed.

Because here’s the thing that a lot of people miss . . .  There is an “all or nothing” dichotomy in the traditional music business.

Record labels are not in the business of developing thousands of artists and making a small amount of money from a large number of sustainable careers. They have shareholders to appease and as such, they are in it for the big wins. In order for that to happen, they need to go where the market is and attempt to dominate that market. That means that they cannot ignore streaming.

In order for something like streaming to be lucrative, you need to have tens, even hundreds of millions of streams.

Multiple articles (like this one and that one) have recently broken down examples of artists getting incredible numbers of streams only to make (give or take) about $5,000 per ONE MILLION streams (this number will vary). So to make even the equivalent of the average American salary, you would need to receive approximately 10,000,000 streams per year.

10,000,000 streams only happens as a result of a heck of a lot of interest and awareness.

Unfortunately, most independent artists can’t afford to engage in six figure branding strategies, and luck… well, that’s not a strategy.

If you have the attention of your audience, they will spend money on your music, no matter what the format is.

And here’s the thing…

The average dollar earned per LISTEN is infinitely higher when people PURCHASE our music in album form, rather then if that music is listened to via a streaming platform like Spotify. This is especially true when you are an independent artist who is not benefiting from millions of impulse or curiosity-streams or being added to untold numbers of playlists as most mainstream artists are.

Just to illustrate the point, as most of us are aware Adele chose not to release her album “25” to the streaming services initially. Despite the stated reasons why, this was almost certainly so she (and the label) could maximize profits. Fair enough. Of course, after sales died down the album was released to Spotify and the like.

According to the old interweb, Adele’s album “25” would have needed to be streamed 16 Billion times in order to make the same amount of money she made in initial sales of that album (which was $115 MM dollars).

So I tallied up all of the streams that “25” has received on Spotify over the last 13 months since the album was released on the platform (let’s just call it a year to make the math easy) and it appears that “25 has been streamed 1,468,340,709 times as of this writing. That’s nearly 1.5 BILLION streams. Not bad right?

That would mean… and get ready for this…

It would take 10 YEARS and 10 months for her to make the same amount of money on Spotify as she did in album sales. I’ll give you a moment to get your jaw back into position.

Furthermore, just under half of those streams were generated from a single song (Hello), which she still could have released to Spotify as a single without releasing the album. If you remove “Hello” from the equation this would increase that figure to over 21 YEARS.


If album sales generate more money than streaming… and you have a loyal following of fans that will support you when you ask them to (which you WILL need in order to succeed as an independent artist regardless) . . . Why in the world would you release your entire album to the streaming platforms when doing so would likely kill any incentive to buy that album?

Answer: You shouldn’t. At least initially, and/or in its entirety.

Now, none of this is to say that streaming does not have its place. 30 million songs in your pocket (the most recent number posted by Spotify) is fantastic for the consumer and as such, the platform can’t be ignored completely. Moreover, music IS being consumed on the streaming platforms, and money IS being generated. It’s become a necessary part of those “all or nothing” major-label branding campaigns. And there is also value there for independent artists in terms of music discovery, fan engagement, and the chance that you might get lucky and get added to a few big playlists. After all, you don’t want your fans NOT to engage with your music just because it can’t be found on their favourite listening platform.

The solution is to withhold your album from the streaming platforms, initially…

Instead of releasing the entire album for streaming, my advice would instead be to make just a single track or two available. As such, you can insure that your album will generate maximum profit when sold directly to your fans. And in time – as album sales slowdown – you can consider releasing more (or all) of the album to the streaming platforms.

Note*** This is accomplished with digital music distributors like CD Baby by declining streaming distribution on your album, and then re-submitting a single or EP exclusively to the streaming platforms.

So in short… despite what the recent studies from BuzzAngle and Nielsen revealed about the predicted growth in the music industry in 2017 – which was pinned directly on the 10% growth in streaming that we should see by years end – These statistics have little bearing on the average musicians chances of actually making a living from their music.

So what should you do?

Look, here’s the deal. If you are one of those artists who believes that “the cream rises to the top” or “if you build it they will come” and you are just not interested in actively marketing or promoting your music and brand, then honestly… stick with streaming. Get your music up there because you are counting on success to happen of its own accord. I mean it sincerely when I say, “good luck with that”!

But if you are a musician who embraces the value of marketing and is willing to take deliberate action to influence your chances of success… Here, in a nutshell, is a basic approach to generating income from your music that I think will serve you much better . . .

  1. Put all of your focus into creating an engaged audience of email and, to a lesser extent, social media subscribers and followers.
  2. Be so interesting, entertaining, and exceptional that you effectively EARN the right to ask your followers for a bit of financial support every few months. Ask your fans to show that support by purchasing albums, merchandise, tickets, access to a membership site, or by backing a crowd funding campaign.
  3. Release 1 – 3 tracks of each album to the streaming platforms (so that you have a presence there) but withhold the majority of the album until sales have slowed down and/or you have moved on to promoting the next album.
  4. Seek additional revenue streams from touring and licensing when possible.
  5. Feed your music business with paid advertising so there is steady growth regardless of touring activity.

If the ideas expressed above resonate with you and you would like Emergent Behaviors to show you HOW to build the system described above and generate income from direct-to-fan sales instead of relying on streaming revenue (which tends to pale by comparison), then consider  getting in touch!

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