It's a strange time to be an artist in the recording business. It's pretty easy to see what NOT to do these days, but less obvious to know what's right. As I find myself free from the bloated bureaucracy of major labels, finally able to do whatever I want... well, what is that? What is the "right" way to release records, treat your music and your audience with respect and attempt to make a living as well? I have a number of musician friends who are either in a similar situation or feel they soon will be, and it's a real source of anxiety and uncertainty.
I'd like to share my experience releasing Saul Williams' "The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust" and what I've learned from the process. Perhaps by revealing of all our data - our "dirty laundry" - we can contribute to a better solution.
A quick history: Saul makes a great record that I produce. We can't find the right home at a major label. We decide to release it ourselves, digitally. Saul does not have limitless financial resources so we shop around for a company that can fulfill our needs. We choose Musicane because they are competent and are willing to adapt to what we want. The results are here: niggytardust.com
We offer the entire record free (as in totally free to the visitor - we pay bandwidth costs) as 192 MP3s, or for $5 you can choose higher fidelity versions and feel good about supporting the artist directly. We offer all major CCs and PayPal as payment options.
Here's what I was thinking: Fans are interested in music as soon as it's available (that's a good thing, remember) and usually that's a leak from the label's manufacturing plants. Offering the record digitally as its first appearance in the marketplace eliminates that problem. I thought if you offered the whole record free at reasonable quality - no strings attached - and offered a hassle free way to show support that clearly goes straight to the artists who made it at an unquestionably low price people would "do the right thing". I know, I know...
Well, now I DO know and you will too.
Saul's previous record was released in 2004 and has sold 33,897 copies.
As of 1/2/08,
154,449 people chose to download Saul's new record.
28,322 of those people chose to pay $5 for it, meaning:
18.3% chose to pay.
Of those paying,
3220 chose 192kbps MP3
19,764 chose 320kbps MP3
5338 chose FLAC
Keep in mind not one cent was spent on marketing this record. The only marketing was Saul and myself talking as loudly as we could to anybody that would listen.
If 33,897 people went out and bought Saul's last record 3 years ago (when more people bought CDs) and over 150K - five times as many - sought out this new record, that's great - right?
I have to assume the people knowing about this project must either be primarily Saul or NIN fans, as there was very little media coverage outside our direct influence. If that assumption is correct - that most of the people that chose to download Saul's record came from his or my own fan-base - is it good news that less than one in five feel it was worth $5? I'm not sure what I was expecting but that percentage - primarily from fans - seems disheartening.
Add to that: we spent too much (correction, I spent too much) making the record utilizing an A-list team and studio, Musicane fees, an old publishing deal, sample clearance fees, paying to give the record away (bandwidth costs), and nobody's getting rich off this project.
Saul's music is in more peoples' iPods than ever before and people are interested in him. He'll be touring throughout the year and we will continue to get the word out however we can.
So - if you're an artist looking to utilize this method of distribution, make of these figures what you will and hopefully this info is enlightening.