The digital revolution has brought about the age of the DIY musician, or as Sonicbids.com founder Panos Panay calls it, the “artistic middle class.” With technology, artists are able to produce and distribute their work easily while maintaining creative control. But big record labels, despite their floundering, still appear to be the way for an artist to go from anonymity to platinum-selling success. So how is this middle-class musician Panay speaks of making money and supporting his or her craft?
Traditionally, artists have had several income streams. These include income from record sales, live performances, performance/mechanical royalties, songs used in television or film, merchandising, and endorsement deals, just to name a few. But it can be difficult for an independent musician to access some of these streams without the help of a well-established label.
New business models are springing up all over the Web to help independent musicians get revenue from their music. The Future of Music Coalition recently highlighted some of these in its “Music 2.0” series at the 2009 FMC Policy Summit:
- Internet radio. Internet radio, which is seeing an increase in listenership, plays more artists in more niche genres than traditional radio would ever be able to. Last.fm and Pandora both stream independent music and pay royalties to performers and songwriters.
- Fan sponsorship and patronage. New online services such as ArtistShare and Kickstarter help artists raise money to fund projects and underwrite some of their expenses. Fans can donate money to their favorite artist through these sites and get access to part of the recording process, such as a songwriting session. Depending on the amount donated, incentives for fans can include everything from a free download to getting executive producer credit on a CD.
- Corporate sponsorship. Recently Gap, Coke, Burger King, Converse, Jeep and Jansport have all posted listings on Sonicbids looking for independent bands and artists to sponsor. The site’s founder, Panos Panay, thinks this is because brands realize today’s young consumers are more skeptical when it comes to traditional advertising and seem to connect most with the authenticity associated with independent artists.
It’s an exciting time to be a musician. There are new income opportunities on the Web, though the examples above will most likely be supplemental income streams for most musicians and not a significant source of revenue. For the artistic middle class — like any middle class — vertical mobility can be difficult. Hopefully this won’t always be the case.
Kelly Manix is a graduate student at the University of Washington in the Master of Communication in Digital Media program. She is an independent musician and music marketer. Her EP, Emerald City, was released this fall.