From Pirates To Profit
Well, finally, here we are. The storm is over.
The incoming mail has slowed down. The story is off the headlines.
I figured this sub-zero Sunday morning in Chicago is as good of time as any to start putting the numbers together. But before we get to that, I’m going to do a recap of the story. Oddly, I feel like I’m the only one who didn’t tell the “uploading story” yet.
Without going into a huge back-story, after having released on various record labels for over a decade, I decided to release my newest album on my own label. I initially pressed 4,000 digipack CDs which were officially released on January 29th, exclusively distributed through Alphabasic.com. The album is also available from Alphabasic via pay-per-download.
On Wednesday, Jan 30th I was surprised to find that nobody had uploaded my album to What.cd yet, despite that it had been released for over 24 hours. In the past, the torrent appears almost instantaneously, that is, when I’m fortunate enough to not see it leaked before it is released.
A couple weeks before the album was shipped, I was tossing around the idea in my head about hiring someone to spend a day uploading the album to torrent sites the day of release. Accompanying the music files would be a small non-intrusive html document that would offer a list of options pointing out where the listener could support the artist, if he/she was so inclined. It was also to skew the current copyright law that is increasingly fining and imprisoning people without much merit.
So, without seeing any sign of my album uploaded on the net, I went ahead and quickly wrote up a document, then uploaded a torrent to What.cd. About 4 hours later an admin of the site told me that he was a big supporter of what I was doing, and offered to put “free leech” status on the album uploads with my permission. I mulled it over and decided that it really couldn’t hurt, and away we go. He posted a message on the homepage linking to the album…and the ride began. Almost immediately, the album became the most downloaded file of the week. Within 48 hours it became the most downloaded album/torrent/file of all time on the network, which had me in utter disbelief.
Whew! Donations started piling up, my site’s bandwidth weakened, and I became addicted to constantly monitoring the entire situation instead of sleeping. Then a bunch of interview requests starting coming in. Some smaller, some HUGE. As many of you know, I’m not a big interview lover. So I spent hours with my publicist picking and choosing which to do and which to kindly decline. For the first time, PR became an actual strategy that I had to take on. I decided to refuse the big articles as they wouldn’t really cater to people who are already interested in the issue and genre. Most importantly, I don’t want to be known as the artist who hates iTunes (which I probably didn’t avoid anyways). This situation is interesting and beneficial to a lot of different players in the game, but I’m still a musician at the end of the day.
So the first official interview went out to Torrentfreak.com
I knew that since the story broke out so quickly, a lot of people would have a lot of challenges directed at me. I loved Torrentfreak’s interview questions because it gave me a chance to explain specifics that I knew would ultimately be blown out of proportion.
A few hours after the story went live, I start getting bombarded with text messages from people I haven’t heard from in years. The story was #1 on Digg, and a whole pile of other viral news sites.
Of course, now the story had completely shifted into a controversy involving iTunes, which meant that an army of Apple fanboys were about to distort it further and push the real story out of the light. It did create yet more bad press for Apple, but I didn’t mind this, since I think Apple somehow has spent years cleverly dodging bad press for treating it’s loyal customers like shit. Anyways, now that the story was controversial, the attacks came on as strong as the praise. I shut down and stopped doing interviews, reading news sites, reading emails or Myspace messages. It wasn’t even emotional…I guess that’s what I was trying to avoid. I think the cold-interface of the internet showcases the world in a really nasty and nonobjective manner. Any publicity that happened after the Digg article was pretty much pointless and not worth paying attention to.
Then, as fast as it came on, it seemingly ended. Life is back to pretty much normal, whatever normal is. The donations have slowed down…so here’s what we got:
It would be absolutely impossible to come up with an accurate statistic since I have no way of finding out how many people on the internet downloaded and listened to the album. I’ve taken the stats from 4 sites that I believe to be the top contributors. As of this morning:
What.cd had 8532 downloads, Waffles.fm had 432, Idmtrade had 2144, and Piratebay had 1238. These 4 sites add up to a total of 12,346 downloads of the full length album in either V0 or FLAC format. This is definitely estimating low, as this blog and Alphabasic.com had hits in excess of 150,000 per day last week.
If we are to assume that ALL pay-per-download purchases were from people who downloaded the album “illegally” (very unlikely), then 0.55% of downloaders bought a pay-per-download copy of the album. Surprisingly, I only sold 69 digital downloads in February for a total of $673.73. The expenses run around $130 a month to maintain the download server, so after transfer fees I’m hanging out at around $500 without touching another 3rd party service. Not bad, not good either.
The donations turned up a little better.
1.83% of downloaders donated. Those 227 people donated an average of $11.02 each, totaling $2490.97.
The total percent of people who either donated or purchased a digital file (under the assumptions I’m making…that definitely side on the positive end) is 2.38%.
If only I could somehow figure out what is going on with that other 97.62%. How many of them thought the album wasn’t any good? How many of them were too broke? How many didn’t have or feel like setting up a Paypal account? How many simply don’t pay for something they can get for free?
Now compare this to the gross income from the CD sales, which from 1429 total CDs sold chimed in $21,435. I’m not going to attempt to figure out if the torrent ordeal helped or hindered CD sales, but before the album was released, I had 969 preorders…which is beyond double the sales I had in February.
So, did I do good? Is piracy helping my income or hindering it?
Well, if you don’t count the cost for gear, hiring musicians, or any of the other expenses that go into making, manufacturing, or shipping an album…I have grossed $24,598 in the first 2 weeks of it’s release without spending a dime on promotion. I’d love to say that my little torrent experiment brought me to that number, but the bulk of that sum was in CD preorders.
Again, without calculating expenses, it is like earning $12,229 annually or $235 weekly. If I had a bunch of hipster roommates and lived very very modestly, I suppose I could get by from just writing and releasing albums (which is probably my life long dream).
That being said, me playing about 10 shows or licensing/composing for 1 big ad campaign brings in more money than that “whole year’s work”…so until my album sales go way up, I’ll continue to divide my time working in television and flying around the world clowning out my art.
Wait! Before you say it…
I’m not bitching! I understand that there’s plenty of people who wish they were in my shoes. Although I do admit that I often envy those with boring office jobs, as they allow the person to not only enjoy the benefit of a guaranteed paycheck, but they can separate work from their passions. I hate to admit it, but even writing this article waters down the innocence and purity that comes with writing music.
…which I guess is my point. You probably think that 2.38% number is disappointing. But it also allowed me to expose my life’s work to, at the very least, about 10,000 new people. By running all these numbers I expected to add to the argument that the music industry needs more creative business plans, which I’m not sure if I have or haven’t done…
I’m too distracted by the content feeling when looking at the numbers. It reminds me that after all the labels, tours, contracts, and bullshit…I’m still making albums for one reason…because I simply fucking love writing music.
Thanks to all those who have helped and challenged me. I hope this continues to pan out into something positive.