Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Three-quarters of musicians struggle to make a living from their art

With hundreds of thousands of new songs appearing daily on streaming platforms, it seems harder than ever to break through... or simply to break even for musicians

Published: May 31, 2023 03:18:10 PM IST
Updated: May 31, 2023 09:01:16 PM IST

Three-quarters of musicians struggle to make a living from their art75% of artists make a loss when they release music, reports Pirate.com. Image: Shutterstock

The music world is a crowded place, where only a few lucky artists hit the big time. And with hundreds of thousands of new songs appearing daily on streaming platforms, it seems harder than ever to break through... or simply to break even.

So suggests new research from the industry website Pirate.com; specialized in studio rentals. The company surveyed over 1,000 musicians, producers, rappers and MCs from the USA and the UK about their financial situation. It turns out that most of them are not doing all that well, since 75% of those surveyed said they had made a loss trying to get the word out about their creations. In fact, their revenues from the sale of recorded music (streaming, CDs, vinyl, rights for radio broadcasting, etc.) failed to exceed the sums they invested in promoting their tracks.  

This is because the vast majority of artists surveyed market their music themselves, without labels or record companies. This independence makes them all the more dependent on audio-streaming platforms, but also on social networks. The survey reports that nearly one in two musicians use Instagram, Twitter and the likes more for promotional than conversational purposes. In other words, they see social networks as a professional tool that can help them break into an ultra-competitive market.

Also read: How should music streaming services pay artists?


The age of the artist-entrepreneur

Musicians mostly use Instagram to promote themselves and their songs to the general public (88%), followed by YouTube (69%), Facebook (58%) and TikTok (42%). These social networks create a permanent "campaign" where image is everything. Artists have clearly understood this, with 56% of them planning to create visuals to accompany their future musical releases.

And visuals usually involve music videos. While this format has long been associated with television (and especially the American network MTV), it has become even more widely accessible on the internet thanks to YouTube. Many music videos have been viewed over a billion times on the platform. But YouTube doesn't have a monopoly on music videos: clips are also a big hit on TikTok, the Chinese social network that has become a veritable career accelerator for artists. So it's hardly surprising that 76% of those surveyed by Pirate.com plan to make a video to promote their next single.

But artists who choose to strike out on their own face a number of difficulties, according to Dan Davis, head of community at Pirate. "As an artist doing your own promo, it’s both harder and easier in the social media age," he said in a statement. "Platforms reward a constant stream of content which takes a lot of work, the payoff is that you can build your own audience rather than just trying to break through gatekeepers."

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