If you are an music artist, your original music is your loss leader. Unless you’ve either been insanely lucky or worked hard for 20+ years, you can literally make more money doing almost anything other than selling your music to fans and companies.
In a perfect world, people would pay a fair price for the music of a few thoughtfully chosen favorite artists every time they released music, and an artist could make a decent living from just album sales. That world doesn’t exist, and no one in the music industry thinks it’s is going to change anytime soon.
The problem isn’t just that music is a loss leader. The problem is artists don’t prepare their business model to compensate. Many of the artists I know aren’t commercially successful because they’ve been sold a lie: great music creates fans, which creates album sales, which creates sustainable income.
Here’s the cold hard truth: this isn’t true for almost all artists.
As musicians, we have to prepare as if we’ll make zero money at music for the first 15-20 years. That doesn’t mean you can’t make some money at music, but be prepared to pour all of your earnings back into creating music (yes, you still need to create quality music), marketing, management, and building your brand.
You are a company, and you have got to find other ways of supporting yourself long term that will keep you financially stable while you build your music career.
I wish it wasn’t this way, but I won’t lie to you. This is what I see every day in the most successful music making city in the world. It’s possible to be commercially successful in music, but it has very little to do with talent and everything to do with good financial planning, multiple streams of income, and setting and pursuing long term goals.
Every business has a loss leader. Gas at gas stations are loss leaders (most stations make just a few pennies for every sale, if anything at all) but they’re still called gas stations. The difference between them and us? They’ve accepted and compensated for their loss leaders, and musicians (for the most part) haven’t yet.
The sooner we accept and start planning for reality instead of what we’d like reality to be, the better shot we have at achieving our dreams.