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Comparing being an unsuccessful musician in the '80's, '90's and now

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This is a rough, as its from memory mainly, overview of what I paid out, not us as a band. In the '80's I was in a band with friends so we shared the costs, but for the '90's it was my bands so I paid for everything, though any earnings we made I shared out equally.


Gigs in the more famous London venues on the whole cost money maybe £50 to be aloowed to play. With some promise of getting money back if more than 50 people turned up. We never managed that. They were always hellish gigs, embarrassing and expensive.
Song listens: 5 gigs x 10 songs x 20 people = 1000 listens

But we also put on our own gigs in a hotel a few times and we earned money and people came to see us. We played a birthday party and best of all we played a squat party in Balham Post Office with hundreds of people dancing – brilliant, no money but well worth it.
Total: £0
Costs (petrol etc..): £100
Song listens: 1 gigs x 10 songs x 200 people = 2000 listens, + 1 gigs x 10 songs x 50 people = 500 listens

Initially in bedrooms, and then in Practise rooms – always expsensive, 3 times a week at about £7 each.
Total: £600

Expensive, even when cheap if you see what I mean. Bad studios still (seemed great at the time) cost money. We did it 3 times. Apart form a few friends, no one heard these recordings.
Total: £300
Song listens: 20

Though initially starting with a second hand Woolworths bass I quickly moved on and bought 2 brand new basses and 3 brand new amps over 5 years.
Total: £2500

Time:3 years
Income: £0
Expenses: £3500
Number of tracks/songs heard: 3500
Cost per listen: £1 per listen

1990s part 1: '90-'94

Gigs in the official venues around north scotland paid, but no one would turn up on the whole
Song listens: 20 gigs x 10 songs x 10 people = 2000 listens

But we also put on our own gigs in a hotel a few times and earned a couple of hundred pounds each time and organised a tour of village halls. Some went well others were awful. The tour cost a lot (ferry to islands, buying a van, hand printing t shirts, selling a single) about £5000. But it earned about that too
Total: £5600
Costs: £5000
Song listens: 4 gigs x 10 songs x 200 people = 8000 listens, + 20 gigs x 10 songs x 5 people = 1000 listens

Then we moved to Edinburgh and got a manager who got us better gigs (ie supported Radiohead for their 2 Scottish Dates amongst others). Sometimes we were paid £50 or so.
Total: £500
Costs: £100
Song listens: 200 gigs x 10 songs x 30 people = 60000 listens, + 8 gigs x 10 songs x 200 people = 16000 listens

Lived in the country so practising was free, but then in Edinburgh paid for a lot of practises
Total: £1000

We did it 3 times.
But we also printed a single and stuck on our own labels, which we sold at gigs (earnings included in Live) and sold a few in shops. We also signed up with PRS and got a few radio plays.
Recorded 1 CD album:
£600 studio and £1000 for 500 cds. = £1600
3 vinyl singles x 500 = £1800

For CD album through Plastichead distribution – 250 for £2.50 = £625. So getting  distribution did not cover the cost of making  them in  the first place, but it was nice to get it (via our manager) and it lowered the pile under the bed.
Plus sell 100 single @ £1 = £100
Plus sell 50 cd @ £5 = £250

A couple of second hand guitars and pedals, plus recording equipment
Total: £3000

Radio & TV
We made 2 videos (by students for free, in  the pub i worked in  at the time) and got 5 seconds played on a music tv program.
We did a couple of sessions for Scottish radio (the more musicians in the room doing stuff the more you get paid).
Song listens: 5 airplays – 60,000?
Total: £300

Time:3 years
Income: £7375
Expenses: £12500
Number of tracks/songs heard: 145,000
Cost per listen: £.08p per listen

1990s part 2: '95-'98

A variety or venues, plus a few big gigs supporting Tindersticks, Mogwai, Seahorses etc...
Song listens: 20 gigs x 10 songs x 30 people = 6000 listens + 2 gigs x 10 songs x 500 people = 10000 listens
Total: £500
Costs: £100

A lot of practises
Total: £2000

We borrowed an 8 track and 2 mixers and effects and recorded at home over 6 months, on second hand tape. Plus 2 record labels paid for more recordings – again on our own
Total: £0
Earnings: £600

Some pedals
Total: £200

Time:3 years
Income: £1100
Expenses: £2300
Number of tracks/songs heard: 16,000
Cost per listen: £.14p per listen




Record at home on a computer as a multitrack. Recorded 4 albums.
Total: £0

Some pedals, but bought and sold on ebay
Total: £0

Gave away music on many sites for free over the years:, garageband, vitaminic,, indisonic,, soundsky, live365, peoplesound, avantnoise, besonic, museek, Intomusic, Podsafe, Myspace, Indiestore, Lastfm, bandcamp, amazingtunes, youtube.

I used to keep a rough score of how many listens and download I had – in the region of about 100,000 up to about 2003.

But I also offer music from my own site floppyrecords and the stats for which are here:, kept from 2003. the total number of listens/part listens are: 388,079 (though not all my music – the majority of tracks downloaded are)
Sold: 13 albums @£10 = £130
recently dropped price to £5

The Floppy site offers all tracks for free at 128kbs. The theory was that I wanted everyone to hear it but that people may pay for a higher quality cd version. Didn't really work. But I do worry that there are people listening to poor quality versions so I suspect that I will upload higher quality version soon.

Tunecore since October 2006.
An album costs about £10*<sup>NB</sup> per year, over the last 3 years thats cost about: £100
Income from sales and listens: £50
Album Sales: 2
Song Sales: 62
Streams: 822
Recently added 4 albums to Spotify via Tunecore, which will be interesting.
*NB: as of 22 Nov, just noticed that Tunecore upped their yearly charge for an album from $19.99 to $49.99. $200/£125 per year for 4 albums. I can't really justify that, so, i am off to CDBaby if possible - $39 per album one off charge plus 9% of sales.

Jamendo since September 2010
486 listens
Cannot sign up for the Pro account as need to leave PRS/PPL/MCPS (which I have been meaning to do for a year)

Bandcamp since August 2008
645 plays

Last FM since 2008 (jugding by old address in admin)
1,437 plays
99 streams (not sure what the difference is here)
Earnings: .33p (Cool!)

2 videos so far: 295 views

Time:11 years
Income: £230.33
Expenses: £100
Number of tracks/songs heard: 488079
Cost per listen: £.0002p per listen, ie 2 hundreths of a penny.

1.Going to leave PRS/PPL. So I can try Jamendo Pro. Though also because I am sick of them extending copyright
2.Youtube – upload all tracks as screen capture videos. Seems to be a thing people do
3.Jamendo – pro , having left PRS/PPL/MCPS
4.Think about signing up with free merchandising sites – perhaps??
5.Continue recording albums

It may be different in other countries but here in the UK people do not go to see new music in small venues.
But if you can make it something special, somewhere special, then they will. Our best gigs (except those supporting bigger names) were always of our own making.

Managers make a big difference. Our biggest moment, in the late '90s when we had labels and publishers and music solicitors and managers phoning us up, coming to gigs, getting us to come down to London, paying for demos, was probably messed up by me (not the brightest spark). There was a moment when we sat at a desk of a very well known manager who turned a piece of paper towards us to sign and we walked out. I think we were right to (because as a couple we stayed together), but that was a key moment.
Other times when we had managers we got good support gigs etc..
But how you pick one – I have no idea.

The Internet
Has made a huge difference. I realise I could be doing lots more than Give-away-and-Pray, but I do get listens. I am too lazy to communicate, what little time I do have I prefer to try and make music. But I am not too bothered. I have listens and I am not losing money any more.
In all its more enjoyable and more hopeful.

initiated Nov 4, 2011 in Economics by Tom Fraser (570 points)   2 3 4
edited Nov 22, 2011 by Tom Fraser

7 Responses

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Very informative post.  I would think there's a few things you could do since you're on a busier schedule.

Twitter:  It doesn't have to be a huge post, or even something amazing, but just having a place that people can come to talk to you or try to get to know you or ask questions might be a good place to start.  You don't have to use every last social network, but a good 3 (IMO) might be a forum, Twitter and Facebook.  Maybe later, having some of your live performances posted by fans could let them spread the word and do the work for you.

Also, Topspin seems might be able to assist with the free merchandising.  It seems you have a good head for these things and I'll be giving a listen in the near future.
response added Nov 8, 2011 by Jay (580 points)   1 2 5
@gindil Hi, thanks for commenting. Topspin! i couldn't remember the name, i'll give them a go, though coming  up  with interesting  artwork.... i guess its album covers for the moment.
Twitter and facebook, yes,  i should. I was also thinking  of remaking  the floopyrecords site in  Wordpress and allow comments there.
Thanks again. tom
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HI Mike

I guess i am talking about before anyone is willing  to pay money to see you (which for most bands is most of the time). It has to be more than just some dirty small venue which, as it sells alcohol, wont allow a young audience in  anyway. Probably starting  with a birthday party, then a party somewhere legal like a friendly hall or hotel or cooler: illegal, like a squat. A few of those, and if you  are any good , then maybe just maybe you  can start to hand out or sell music, t shirts - or something different??

I dont know anything  about Eventful. I would presume that would work if you  had some sort of history or existence over a bigger auduence (used to play in XXX etc...)

Unless you  are a covers band or do some music other than rock/pop, ie folk, dance, country, then thinking in terms of money and income is a non-starter. It just is not going  to happen for a new band, its better to concentrate on  getting  an audience or as labels call it - a buzz.

Just in my opinion as there are no rules.
response added Nov 18, 2011 by Tom Fraser (570 points)   2 3 4
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"I am too lazy to communicate..."

I think I found your problem. Music is a social event and to be successful, a musican has to be socialable. Your band need its own website and you (the band) need to post a blog every day. Tell your fans what you're doing. If you're not doing anything, tell them your "war" stories, that is, how you struggled in your early years (like you did for this article). This is not just creating a presense but forming a social link between the band members and your fans. And it's this link that will sell your music.

response added Nov 20, 2011 by shawnhcorey (620 points)   1 3 8
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i think you  are right. i have started blogs in  the past, but they die off, though my boredom perhaps, or worry that i am really saying  very little new.

i wonder (a it seems to take me 5 years for each album) whether posting  early versions, mixs and ideas would work.... or just be embarrassing.

but thanks, its worth thinking  about
response added Nov 20, 2011 by Tom Fraser (570 points)   2 3 4
@tomwgf Tom, I'd say go for it with the early versions and ideas, it gives the fans an insight into how your songwriting / composing works and also helps them just how much effort goes into the finished article.
It also provides a little bit of that exclusivity that people value (think of the whole "I liked ABCDE before they were famous" thing) in that they're getting something that's not for general release.
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Really interesting post Tom, thanks for the insight. I guess the last sentence is a pretty important one for me. Agree with you completely on people going to see new music in small venues unless you make it something special. The challenge there (both financially and from a time perspective) is making every gig special. Haven't got my head round that one yet.

Out of curiosity, how did you get your managers? Did they approach you or vice versa?
response added Nov 18, 2011 by drew stephenson (3,370 points)   3 10 22
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hi drew. The venues thing is difficult. Endlessly playing  the local venues to no one is demoralising (and expensive. And you  immediately become 'another boring  local band'. If instead you  can create one cool gig,  somewhere different, then it becomes exciting and you  become exciting. Fewer gigs but better. Then ty and do it in  the next town - with another band (or something  else??). Just be different, its the only way to stand out and is much more fun.

As for managers - they came to us. Our first 2 were venue managers/friends who took over the role really. The third, international sized manager who we turned down, came about after a bizarrely successful demo we sent out. I don't know if that sort of thing  can happen any more.

As for my last sentence, by 'hopeful' i dont mean dreams of making  it big, i mean being  heard for the rest of the life of the internet/forever. Which is quite cool.
response added Nov 18, 2011 by Tom Fraser (570 points)   2 3 4
edited Nov 18, 2011 by Tom Fraser
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Interesting discussion on gigs.  Is there any value in using something like "Eventful"?  I remember reading about how Jonathan Coulton used Eventful to make sure shows were profitable.  That is, he wouldn't do a show unless he knew enough people would really come out for it by signing up at Eventful.   Or, I wonder if there's a Kickstarter-type model for gigs, where gigs only happen if x number of people actually buy tickets..
response added Nov 18, 2011 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160

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