18 December 2021

The Monetization Model for Musicians

From a consumer perspective, music is something that every single individual consumes in some way, shape, or form. But, it’s also a hobby that is pretty easy to get into these days as well. With the rise of Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) such as Ableton and FL Studio for music production, the barrier to entry for music production has been significantly lowered. Before these DAWs existed, music production required analog hardware for producing music, often with a high price-tag attached to it. DAWs levelled this playing field, allowing anybody with a laptop and headphones to enter the music production game. It is no secret that with the popularity of Soundcloud and other music streaming platforms, there’s been a rise in music producers, both professionally and at the hobbyist level. When it comes to making money as a musician though, it gets pretty difficult. For producing a song, not only do you have to clear any samples used for the track, if you collaborate with another musician (like a singer or rapper), you will also have to split the money. And that is not including the share that the record label also takes. After everybody’s piece of the pie is accounted for, you may be left with crumbs.

There’s an analogy that’s always used that during a gold rush, don’t go digging for gold but sell the shovels. This same idea is being applied in unique ways within music production these days. In this case, rather than trying to strike gold with getting production credits on a gold/platinum song or album, a lot of producers are finding success in recording and selling original sample packs filled with stems, loops, and one-shots of various instruments. Some take it to the next level by selling Virtual Studio Technology (more commonly known as VST) plugins that emulate these sounds. Two of my favorite producers taking this approach are the Kount with his various sample packs for sale and Kaelin Ellis with his sample packs and Drum Sculptr Ableton Live plugin. Thus, by selling these sample packs and tools for music production, these musicians are enabling other musicians to create music.

Of course, this recipe isn’t necessarily something new. Splice figured this out very early on, enabling musicians to sell their own original samples on a marketplace as a way to monetize their talents. But, as with any marketplace, you will also have a lot of competition for being discovered without leveraging marketing. The size of Splice’s store makes it difficult for artists to shine without being featured or promoted. You are also competing against every other artist on the platform. Similar to how we are seeing a renaissance of talented writers building their own newsletters on platforms like Buttondown and Substack, over time we will see more and more producers selling their own sample packs, whether it’s via Gumroad or Sellfy.

With the power of social media, these producers have figured out a great recipe for marketing their sample packs. There’s no need to pay for targeted ads or anything in order to sell these sample packs, Kaelin and the Kount have figured out the recipe for plugging their products – beat videos. Both of these producers are talented in their own right, so they can keep on sharing their beats and videos of them in the studio, which frequently go viral. The only difference is that instead of plugging their Soundcloud, all they have to do is plug their sample packs and tools. The effect of this can be way more targeted than traditional advertisements. Other music producers are following these artists. When these beat videos are posted, they are then retweeted and shared throughout Twitter, spreading to other music producers. And of course, a network effect takes off.

At least for them, this recipe has definitely worked. Don’t believe me? I just take Madlib’s word for it.

As other music producers start using these sample packs, it’s not uncommon to see them plugging some of their favorite sounds from the sample packs on social media as well. And we’re also seeing other producers wise up to the game.

I’m pretty excited with the way music technology is evolving these days, not just in the hardware front but also in the software front. More and more affordable tools and products are being sold to enable others to take the leap into music production. No longer do you need to have some expensive DAWS to make music, when you can buy Koala Sampler for a few bucks and make beats directly from your smartphone. Or you can leverage free options such as Serato Studio to cook up beats as well. With so many tools being offered for music production, folks are going to need a lot of sounds and samples to use in their music. What a wonderful time to be a music producer.

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