In keeping with the spirit of an album release, today we’ll talk about how to price your album. There are many different factors to consider when establishing a price, such as how much money you put into the making of the album (studio time, artwork, photography, advertising); how much money you hope to earn from sales of the album (after dividing money between band members, paying income tax, manufacturing overhead), and ultimately, what you think the album is worth.

Manufacturing Overhead: Overhead is the cost of doing business. So you rent a studio space for $500 a month, it costs you $750 to press new merchandise each month, and your entire band needs a cost of living wage; so when it’s all said and done, your overhead is likely several thousands of dollars per month.

Income Tax: Taxes paid on all incoming revenue. If you are a solo artist or sole proprietor, or your band is a co-owned LLC, you would generally pay the IRS your income tax quarterly as an independent contractor.

Many artists calculate what they’ll sell their album for by starting with the product cost. What I’ve heard a lot of bands say is “the CDs each cost $2 to press, so we need to earn at least $2.” This is called break-even pricing. What this strategy vies for is earning enough revenue to cover the cost of manufacturing. What it doesn’t take into account is how much money it cost to record the album in a professional studio, how much the photographer was paid, and how much time each band member spent practicing, recording, and promoting. Unless you’re opting for the freemium model (which we’ll discuss later on), this is the best worst-case scenario.

If you want to earn a profit on the sale of your records, what you’ll likely want to do is markup your sale price. Cost-plus pricing is when you consider the initial cost of manufacturing and add (plus) your desired profit. So it takes $2 to press each CD, and you want to earn a minimum of $5 profit per sale, so you sell each album for $7. In today’s economic environment, is this the most realistic price? If every other musician on the planet is selling their album for only $5, and you are selling yours for $7, who do you think the audience is more likely to support? Unless you have added value (bonus tracks, free downloads online, music videos, etc.), your competition is likely to prevail. Competition-based pricing is just that- pricing your products at the same price or lower than your competitors. I’m sure you’ve seen gas stations across the street from one another lowering their prices by mere pennies just to gain market share; well it’s not much different in today’s music industry where supply greatly outweighs demand.

Gross Profit: This is the amount of money you make before paying off your band members, income tax, and using the band fund to cover costs such as hotels and meals.

Net Profit: This is the amount of money that you earn after all expenses are paid. So you sold $1,000 worth of albums, but after living expenses, taxes, and per diems, you’ve got about $40 bucks.

With the increase in streaming programs such as Spotify, Pandora, and Rdio, many consumers, especially die hard music fans aren’t even buying much music anymore. Sure, they might pick up a vinyl record or download an album on bandcamp to support an artist they love, but in 2014, several artists surpassed over one billion plays each on Spotify. With this technological shift in the way we consume music, many bands, especially indie ones, are opting for pay-what-you-want or freemium pricing strategies.

Pay-what-you-want is so simple that it makes you wonder why no one thought of it years ago. Radiohead was one of the first bands to successfully execute this model with the release of In Rainbows in 2008, which saw millions of downloads worldwide. Many indie artists are using the PWYW method as a gamble. Realistically, most people will probably download your album for $0, but every once in a while you might get a very generous benefactor. I remember one time I was hawking my old band’s EP for $5 at a Warped Tour stop in New Jersey, and after hearing us, a young woman offered $20 for the 5-song EP that we recorded in our singer’s basement. She was heavily intoxicated and clearly incapable of making financial decisions, so I declined her offer as many times as possible before she simply shoved the $20 in my face. I gave her $20 worth of merchandise and sang her a few tunes on my ukulele, making damn sure she got her money’s worth, as that was the first (and last) time anybody paid me $20 for my music.

Finally we’ve arrived at the current trend in indie music, the freemium model. When I was going to university for marketing, I had always heard a term called “loss leader” which is a strategy that works well for major corporations. A loss leader is a product that the company sells for a low price or gives away in order to drive consumers to their establishments in the hopes that they will buy other items on which the company will profit. McDonald’s sells $1 large drinks in the summer in hopes that the customers will buy Big Macs and whatever other expensive crap they sell. It usually works. In the music industry, time and time again artists are realizing that the best money they’ll make is on the road. And how can you guarantee that people will come out to see your concert? Well, you can’t really, but giving them free music is definitely a start.

Recently, U2, one of the biggest bands of time immemorial, released their latest album for free on iTunes to all of its users. In all of my years avoiding pop radio and television, I suddenly found myself with a copy of an album which I had previously gone out of my way to avoid. I’d be lying if I didn’t enjoy the U2 tracks that came up on my shuffle, but will I ever go see them live? Probably not, but if it were a local band whose concert I could afford attending, I would definitely be more inclined to go than if they were charging me $10 to listen to their album.

We’ll touch on pricing again as we get into the 4th P, Promotion, covering topics such as discounts and incentives, but for now this is most of what you need to know in order to start pricing your album. Tune in next week to read about place; also known as distribution.

As an artist, you are your product. Your album, your live show, your image, your prose. Out of all of these factors, recent studies show that musicians earn the most income on the road. I’ve always been more of a studio geek than a stage presence, so in this article I’m going to focus on one of the most important products in the music industry: your album. First of all, let’s define album. Is it a single? EP? Full length? Is it digital, or on CD, or vinyl? You’ll likely want to choose the right kind of format for your genre; for example country artists are still moving CDs, many indie artists are selling large numbers of vinyl records, and digitial releases have never been more successful.

Once you’ve figured out what your release will be, you’ll want to start focusing on packaging. Packaging is the visual and physical representation of your product before it hits listener’s ears. Important aspects of packaging consist of cover art, track listing, and liner notes. Cover art is easiest to achieve with digital releases, as you often only need one image to act as the cover of your album. Track listing is also as simple as writing up a text document of the songs included on the album, which order they’re in, and each song’s length. Liner notes may take a little longer to create, as they include lyrics, credits, art and photography contained within a .PDF document. Barriers to physical releases (CD, vinyl, cassette) consist of creating front and back album art including barcode/UPC, designing the actual CD face, and artistically creating the layout based on the format’s physical space limitations. Not only are physical releases more costly to produce, but they often take longer to complete.

discmakers
DiscMakers has about a million options for physical packaging

In order to create a successful product, the music, lyrics, and recording quality need to be good, but I’ll leave that topic alone in the hopes that you’ve already achieved those traits before preparing for release. When you are finally ready, you can use the checklist below to narrow your focus.

– Your album is a single, EP, or full length
– Your product will be released digitally, on CD, vinyl, cassette, or all of the above
– You have album art/professional photography, track listing, and liner notes

Above all, you should only release your album once it’s ready. If the songs are poorly performed, or the art isn’t appropriate, the audience will recognize that and respond accordingly. One question I always ask myself is “am I proud of this?” If I am, then I can move forward. If I’m not proud of my work, I go back and tweak every little thing I can until I’m satisfied. I encourage you to take pride in your work and never try to run before you can walk.

Next Phase: Learn How to Price Your Album

Marketing is often known as selling or advertising a product or service, but it’s actually part of a much larger process. The marketing mix, or “4 Ps”, consist of product, price, place, and promotion; individual concepts which we will explore further in future blog posts. When you are ready to begin the marketing process, the first step is to define your target market. Your target market is the group of consumers who have common traits, needs, and desires. The essential question you have to ask yourself is, who are my customers? Males aged 18 – 25? Hispanic women? Jewish pre-teens in New York?

Marketing MixThe easiest way to define your target market is through demographics. A market’s demographics often consist of age, gender, race, occupation, and location. Other statistics included in a target market’s demographics are how they buy what they buy, where they buy what they buy, etc. If you’re a musician, how will your target market access your songs? Will they have enough money to purchase a vinyl record instead of streaming your album online? Do they live in the location in which you’re touring? Are they old enough to get into the club that you’re playing this weekend? These are all important things to think about when trying to increase your visibility among your target market.

Visibility is exactly what it sounds like. How visible is your music? Do music fans even know you exist? How can you increase visibility? Visibility goes hand in hand with reach. Reach is the total number of people that have been exposed to your music at any given time. Thanks to the internet, reach and visibility are limitless, providing millions of ways to get your music out to fans and gain new ones. Websites like Facebook, SoundCloud, and BandCamp allow for you to connect with consumers socially in ways that you never could have before, guiding them toward your brand and your products. Unlike the internet, geographical location can drastically limit your reach. For example, if you live in a small town of 5,000 residents and you’ve played the same bar every weekend for a year, your overall reach starts to dwindle as you begin to tap out your market. This is why touring is the most lucrative industry for musicians right now.


One last thing to think about before you begin your marketing campaign is branding. Your brand is who you are, what you represent, and what you hope to sell to your audience. A brand can be a lifestyle, a logo, or even a political or religious ideation. Just off the top of my head, California punk rock band Black Flag’s logo is something that has nearly transcended the band itself, representing “rebellion and anarchy” in the punk community and beyond. Branding can be one way to increase visibility, and acts as an overall component of every successful marketing campaign.

Black Flag logo
Next Phase
: A 4-Part Series on the Marketing Mix

Zach Frost, 2003
Frost at a reenactment in 2003.

When I was a kid, I knew a family who were Civil War Reenactors. Their son was around my age and played the bugle. What their reenacting unit lacked was a drummer. At age 12 I “joined up” and began learning the basic drum calls and cadences. The most important and by far the easiest was the marching cadence. This was a simplistic ruff and flam cadence meant to provide a beat for the soldiers to march to.

“Sir, they are beating the long roll.”
“What is the long roll for?”
“The long roll man, the long roll! Get your gun; they’re beating the long roll!”
-Sam Watkins, Company Aytch

Another common call was “Assembly,” which was meant to gather the troops into immediate formation. Yet again, the call was simple and easy to learn, consisting of rolls and flams in the same order as the marching cadence. Finally, I learned the most popular tune of the war, Army 2/4 or “Biddy Oats.” This was written to accompany the fife, as each military unit was supplemented by a fife and drum corps. These songs were meant to cheer the soldiers up and on, in times of peace and times of war. While I cannot play the fife, I have recorded these three drum calls in all their glory below.


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What Else Did Drummers Do?

Coincidentally, at the first reenactment I ever participated in, another drummer my age showed up to join. Having only one drum, this meant that we took up different duties whenever the other was playing. The only major battle that took place on Ohio soil occurred on the Ohio River near the West Virginia border. This battle, the Battle of Buffington Island, was very important to Ohio reenactors as it was our only claim to fame: being our only battle site and a Union victory as well.

I participated in the reenactment of Buffington Island around its 140 year anniversary, making it an especially grand event. Fate however had something else in mind, and 13 year old me was crushed to find out that it was not my turn to play the drum that weekend. This meant that I could be acting as a messenger, flag-bearer, ambulance corps assistant, etc. As many drummers before me had, I served as a messenger during the battle, relaying orders from one general to the next.

Who Were These Drummers?

Much like my experience, many drummers of the Civil War were between the ages of 10 and 15. Defying the odds, the most famous drummer of the war was a 9 year old from Central Ohio named Johnny Clem. No Ohio regiment would accept him as they deemed him too young, so he ended up following a Michigan regiment until he was officially allowed to enlist in 1863. Later that year at the battle of Chickamauga in Georgia, Clem gained notoriety for being surrounded by Confederates, shooting one of their Colonels, and then escaping; earning him the nickname “Drummer Boy of Chickamauga.” Clem went on to be promoted to Sergeant and had a lengthy career in the United States Armed Forces.

Johnny Clem
Johnny Clem being a badass.

Gear & Specs

For those of you who have ever held a drumstick, you know that weight, length, and even wood type can make the slightest difference. In the mid-1800s, there were little options to choose from. I opted for the most common, the Cooperman Civil War #50. While these are the average length of the modern drumstick, they are nearly an inch wide at the base. Playing in the traditional style, this certainly took some getting used to. You can still purchase these drumsticks, and I challenge any modern drummer to try them out.

Civil War Drum
A typical Civil War drum.

What Have We Learned?

If you made it this far, you’ve probably learned that drummers of the Civil War were usually children far from home and often in harm’s way. From acting as a messenger to shooting enemy forces at close range, being a drummer was never more difficult. It’s easy to take for granted the little issues modern drummers face, but when I think about kids like Johnny Clem, I realize I’ve never had it so easy.

Support:

http://www.civilwar.org/