This infographic depicts the number of sales
that must be made in order for a solo artist to make "minimum wage" in a month. The graphic is obviously meant to be a bit shocking, but even the slightest bit of digging turns it into more of a shoulder shrug. First of all, it is a bit misleading in that it compares not quite apples to oranges, but apples to apple slices to apple sauce to apple juice -- all in one chart. It compares albums and singles and streams all on the same scale, which is a bit unfair. If you sell 1 album for $9.99 (that had 10 tracks on it), then of course you would expect to have to sell (roughly) 10 times as many tracks for $0.99 to make the same amount of money -- that's not really much of a revelation. By looking at the data
, we can compare apples to apples and get a better sense of what is going on:
|format||average retail price||musician revenue||sales to earn min. wage|
|iTunes Album Download||$9.99||0.94||1,229|
|cdbaby Album download||$9.99||7.49||155|
|Retail Label-backed CD||$9.99||$0.30||3,871|
Clearly, it's difficult to make a living simply by selling albums, but it's always been that way. Musicians have long known that in order to make real money, they'd either have to be U2
big, or tour. However, it's very interesting to note that in the new, digital era, artists actually make more
off of their album sales in iTunes than they did in the old, physical world. And selling albums digitally through cdbaby, without a label, stands to bring in much, much more money for the artist -- and frees them from the headache of distributing a physical product. The band Pomplamoose, for example, is making a perfectly good living doing just that
Moving on, the data claims that to make minimum wage, an artist would need 4.6M plays on a streaming service like Spotify. While that might be technically true, it's a pretty meaningless calculation. It does not take into account the promotional value of streaming -- and unlike selling 143 CDs, getting 4.6M plays of a digital track would certainly lead to significant revenue elsewhere. Surely an artist would be able to translate that much attention into successful live shows or their own CwF+RtB offering. After all, we've seen time
again that focusing on something as narrow as money earned per track sold (or streamed play) is a limited way to view a musician's earning potential.
So, while at first glance, this infographic may seem pessimistic, digging a little deeper into the data gives the real story. Exciting opportunities still abound in the world of music for those creative enough to seize them.