Copyrights, Money, and Beautiful Music

I’ve had to think long and hard about what to do with my music.

A lot of my concern has come from the American expectation of making a buck off of everything. Read any “how to” on the web about music, and it’s generally about how to keep your music career on track. How to turn your artistry into a successful business.

There are some very blunt discussions on the web about how the recording industry has collapsed, particularly in the classical recording world. The sites that imply otherwise are typically selling something that they say will help you become successful, like CD Baby and TuneCore.

I ran some numbers and talked to people, and they all say pretty much the same thing: I can easily afford to record CDs on a “vanity label” — meaning I pay for it myself — and with just a little effort, I can probably make back my costs.[1] Probably. And I can publish for free on the Web. But unless I’m willing to enter the music business as a full-time go-getter, it will never make substantial money for me, and even then, it’s a crap shoot, about on a par with driving to Hollywood to become a Movie Star.

I don’t even want to be a Movie Star.

So the only real question is: do I want to make-no-money hoarding my music behind outmoded copyright laws and digital rights management, or make-no-money and let people enjoy the beautiful music that has come through me?

That’s an absolute no-brainer.

I’m not completely happy with the music page I’ve put up, and I’m open to suggestions on tools and presentation formats. I have a friend who is putting together a killer web site for me, just for the music, and I’d love to incorporate your suggestions into it.

It’s a start. Listen and enjoy. Share my music page with your friends on Facebook. Download the music and put it on your iPod.

Sing along!

And check back from time to time: I’ll post more music as I write and record it.


[1] Here are the numbers.

CDs through CDBaby cost about $2 each, and that includes graphics and some kind of printed sleeve. I can make a run of 100 for $200 or so. If I do the digital mastering and the artwork myself, they’ll look and sound pretty nice. I could sell them for maybe $8 each, and make $600.

A professional sound engineer costs between $300 and $600 per hour. So a day of mixing and tweaking and getting it just right could be as much as $4800. My run of 100 would cost me $5000.  To break even, I’d have to sell them for $50 each, which would fly like a brick with feathers. I’d have to sell 500 of them to get the price down to $12 each, and they’d probably be worth that, because they would sound fabulous.

I know I could give away 100 CDs. I’m not so sure I could sell 100 CDs. Selling 500 would definitely take some marketing.

Now let’s say, just for fun, that I could sell 10,000 copies of my CD. I haven’t been able to get good numbers on typical sales volumes of different genres of recordings, but a “silver album” is only 100,000 copies. So we’re talking a tenth of the way to silver — big-time success for a first album by a no-name composer in a classical/instrumental/choral genre. Production costs would drop to maybe $1 per disk, so I’d make about $11 on each CD, for a grand total of $110,000, minus the $4800 for the sound engineer.

That’s a nice income. For a year. Not for ten.

It would take a ton of marketing to sell 10,000 copies. Marketing ain’t cheap.

The other route is to let other people make the CDs and worry about sales. In that case, they would owe me royalties. For the Missa Druidica, which runs 18 minutes performance-time, they’d owe me about thirty-three cents on each CD (the rate for a “mechanical license,” which is what applies when someone else performs and records your music, is set by law). If they sold 10,000 copies, I’d rake in a little over three grand. That’s great beer money. It’s not a living wage.

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