Do you want to sell more of your music?

I am flying home from Wellington as I type this, and in my bag I have a CD purchased from Rough Peel records in Wellington. The album is Mantis.

Lately I have been purchasing more albums (including downloads) and supporting writers and artists on crowd-funding sites – I have become addicted to paying for music because it makes me feel good and, I am hoping that my theory “what goes around comes around” is proved right.

Someone told me that we have the most singer-songwriters per capita in the world. We are awash with them. There are organisations which support songwriters in schools, battle of the bands abound, there are government agencies set up to help fund  the making of music as well as shows like X Factor or NZ’s Got Talent. We are producing musical talents by the bucket load -  when I say bucket load I should say tsunami.

It is, of course, everyone’s right to write and perform music if they want to. I have been a musician and songwriter all my life and can’t think of a life without music.  I do, however, know from experience it is soul destroying to realise that your music career is going to be confined to selling a couple of albums to your mates and playing to empty rooms. (I played to two people once in Upper Hutt  – the promoter and the bar manager – it didn’t feel good)

The “music career” reality for most is empty music halls and average record sales of around 200 if you are lucky or have a big family who will buy them off you for Christmas presents to other relations.

In the ‘90s, when I recorded my first two albums, I was signed to a major record label, Warner Music. They invested a major amount of money in my albums in the hope there would be a major return. This meant I was able to flex my creative muscles and make two albums, which I am still immensely proud of. Although my sales were substantial compared to today’s market, I didn’t shift enough units to warrant their further investment, so they let me go. However, I still have the music I recorded for Warners  ( although I don‘t own it ) and I can still perform the songs I wrote for these albums – for this I am forever grateful.

Extremely low records sales these days mean that record companies are not going to take a risk on young musicians and nurture them as they build their career – there are no resources to support young talent because it is highly unlikely an artist will hit the big time and pay dividends. The bottom line is, unless you are likely to make a profit it is doubtful any one is going to bankroll your album.

The average muso in NZ has to figure out how to raise their own funds to record and market an album today. Some may be briefly graced by the hand of NZOnAir, who can swing a few dollars so you can record a single and make a music video which might get  4 spins on a music TV show – but mostly you have to do it yourself.  So yes, lots of independents are making albums and selling them to friends and family, while radio argue that the quality of local music is not good enough to deserve airplay.

When I was “fulltime” playing music and selling albums I also  worked at the Warner Music warehouse by day as a packer.   We shipped 1000’s of vinyl,cassettes and CDs. I remember asking someone in sales how many albums New Zealanders were buying and I was told on average 2 albums per household per annum.

Now that doesn’t seem like a lot to me – but it was enough to sustain international record companies here and enable them to nurture and invest in new talent locally, which they did. It was also enough to sustain indie artists or at least ensured they sold a couple of thousand albums, which would cover costs and ensure they could produce more works.

So all you independents, this is a question for you  – wouldn’t it be great it you could release an album today and sell a couple of thousand of them?

Which brings me back to this – if we do have more songwriters than any other country and  the average number of albums selling is in the very low hundreds, then what this tells me is;

  1. Hardly anyone is buying albums
  2. Households are buying less that two albums a year
  3. We do not have a very supportive music industry

Kant said  “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law”.

The bottom line is this:  if you want to sell more albums then you have to buy more albums, and ensure you buy an absolute minimum of two per annum.

So yes I am going to buy more albums. I am also going to happily pay entry in to small indie gigs.

I am going to support as many music writers and performers as I can because I would like them to support my music.

If you want people to buy your albums and tickets to see your show then you need to think long and hard about your attitude and whether you are supporting your fellow musicians. Do you always ask for you name on the door? You shouldn’t.

You also need to let your friends, fans and families know that the best way to support your music is to support everyone’s music.

Encourage everyone to buy music.  Two albums per household a year could return us to the halcyon years of record sales and all of us will be a lot better off.

Let me know when you purchase two albums and let the artist know – they will appreciate it. You might even get a card. ( Well you will from me.)

Jan Hellriegel’s Music Store