Digital Distribution vs Touring – How Do Indy Artists Make Money?


When an artist goes on tour, there is an unbelievable number of unexpected expenses. With a band, all the members must get paid as well as managers, agents and those invaluable roadies who carry their road equipment cases. The money is there, but it doesn’t all go to the artists. These days, many fledgling artists perform for free just for exposure, but this shouldn’t be the case. With the right merchandise (CD’s, T-Shirts, etc.) you can recoup your expenses, meet some new people on the road & get back to home-base without breaking the bank. But beware of sketchy promoters wanting more than you can bring to the table.

Not every artist can draw arena-sized crowds, and many of the smaller venues expect to get something for nothing. There are also transportation costs to consider. Vans need fuel, and band members and roadies need places to stay and put the road equipment cases and instruments away until they are ready to be used again. If you are looking to tour, check out SKB’s case finder tool to find the perfect road cases for your guitar, amp, mic, etc.  Be aware there are many costs that add up when touring, aka: Promoting your shows & insurance for your stuff. It’s possible to sell lots of tickets on tour and lose money due to gas/food/van breaking down half-way thru tour. Richard Jackson from Enation strongly recommends budgeting a tour very carefully before you leave  and tools like everydollar or mint  will help with planning and tracking expenses.

iTunes, TuneCore, CD Baby (Digital Distribution Services)

In the pre-digital past, the recording industry pocketed the majority of money made from albums and singles and artists, outside of the most popular ones of their time and those who wrote their songs saw very little of it. iTunes took that same one-sided setup and extrapolated it onto digital media, so other companies sprung up that started offering the same music but with better terms for artists: CD Baby, TuneCore, etc. These services offer Digital Distribution across various platforms like iTunes, Amazon, Google, but there is one problem, while your  music might be on all of these other services,  how do music listeners find you?

The truth of being on iTunes is that as an artist you have no idea who is buying your music. This is a serious issue because as you know, receiving your fan’s contact info to follow up and build your fan-base is much more important than receiving ninety-nine cents per track.  Back in the early 2000’s when iTunes was just coming into fruition and YouTube was still finding its footing, it made sense for Artists to sell their music from this new music platform which seemed to be revolutionizing the music industry. It was edgy, speckled with cool design features and user-friendly buying features. To add to this luster, it had Steve Job’s comeback stamped all over it.  Now, iTunes has faded into the background and become one of many voices vying for the attention of the new DIY (Do It Yourself) musician.

Fact: While you might be on every distribution platform offered online, no one will work harder at selling your music and building your career than you.

The margins of selling in an iTunes store are not jaw dropping and an artist has to sell a lot of copies of a song or various songs just to make ends meet. On iTunes, the artist/label split is 60/40 in favor of the artist by going through CD Baby, but a deal with a major label will be much more favorable to the label and iTunes. And iTunes isn’t even the industry giant anymore, losing market share hand-over-fist to Spotify and YouTube, as well as alternative music stores like tuneport. This might be bad news for the industry, but artists stand to benefit from releasing their music on a variety of digital platforms as well as selling music directly from their website. Main reason: None of these options carry the costs associated with conducting a major, nationwide tour. Touring might become little more than a piece of a marketing strategy for your online revenue.

Touring & The Digital Age: Meeting In The Middle

To conclude, digital distribution is continuing to be a game changer in the industry. This is exactly why artists everywhere need to equip their online presence with a tuneport store to reduce buyer friction when selling their beats and songs online. It’s harder now than ever to get discovered, so you need every tool at your disposal & you need to focus on building your business, not someone else’s. With a little work, you can be in complete control of your music career. Here’s a simple DIY marketing strategy for you: Focus on funneling most of your music sales revenue through your website. Start thinking of yourself as more than just a band/artist: You are your business. Engage, connect and build relationships with your fans on Facebook. Messenger is a very powerful relationship building tool! Use it to get to know who your fans are, put aside 5 hours each week to be social. When engaging with fans don’t just promote your stuff. The first thing you learn in sales is, “Make it about the other person, not YOU.” In other words, have genuine conversations and build your fan-base organically. Pretty soon you’ll have a niche group of fans around the United States who you can then ask to play a show in their area and they will promote you! It comes down to a simple formula: Building your business online is an extension to building your business offline. Combine the two & you will be leading a successful career as a touring and DIY digital artist in the new music business.

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