The Numbers Behind Indie Music

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If you are a person that loves music, loves finding new artists and enjoys discovering new music, then read on. I’ll try to help you realize the importance of supporting the music you find; discover and enjoy.

So, we’ll start with this. You stumble upon a song you like from an artist you never heard of before. You decide to check out more from that artist. You listen to a few more and hey you enjoyed that! In the digital age, it’s said that the average person’s attention span is around 9 seconds. Guess what? You moved on and you’re off finding other music or the next thing that grabs your attention. Hold on, slow down, don’t move on to quickly!  Remember that you just discovered a new artist that you never heard of before. Take a minute and give some support to that artist. They make music that you like. This article will give you an understanding of what some artists put into their music and why your support is essential in today’s digital age of music.

Everyone has their own musical tastes. You probably won’t consider supporting music you don’t like. It can be difficult to find good music these days. It seems that anyone that has a computer can upload a song to the internet and “voila” they are an indie artist! That doesn’t mean you are going to enjoy it. That means there are millions of indie artists. So, when you do find a song or artist that you appreciate you need to understand the efforts they put into their music and consider supporting their music. I’m going to show you some math behind an indie artist. Then I’ll touch lightly on the challenges an indie artist has in getting their music heard. I’ll close with what you can do to help the artists and music you like.

Ok, so I’m going to approach this from the perspective of a reasonably sane human being. Music as most people know adds so much to the human experience. That’s the reason music is used for so many applications. A few examples are movies, games, television and even TV commercials. Imagine the next movie you see without any music. Imagine the credits at the end of a movie scrolling by without music. Music enriches our lives and adds a soul, an attitude and feeling. Try living without it for a while. No really! Turn off music any time you hear it. That will be a challenge, but try it for grins. Feels kind of empty doesn’t it!

Now imagine being an independent music artist. You are relatively unknown except to those that know you including local and regional audiences that have discovered your music. You have managed to get your music added to some internet music platforms. Your music has been played on platforms like Spotify, iTunes and Google Music. Listeners can discover your music 24×7. Your music has been played on internet radio stations around the globe. You would think you are doing pretty good, right?

Well, here’s some of the reality behind being an independent songwriter in the digital age:

The above example shows 14 total plays/saves for a month (via Google Locker) and you received .0039 cents in this instance. Divide 14 into .0039 and it translates to .0002786 cents. Now imagine you get one hundred thousand plays/saves (per Google Locker)! You’ll make $27.86. Imagine you get extremely lucky and your songs gets one million transactions like this. Guess what you get $278.60.

Wow! Does that not seem to be rather deflating? Remember that you were imagining you are the artist.

Here are some numbers behind what an average indie artist might experience, in order to get their music recorded, sellable and streamable. Keep in mind my examples here are very modest and not exorbitant. Many artists bear far more expenses then in this example.

Remember, you are the artist! So, you’ve learned enough to write a song. You’ve already invested your time in that process. You also invested in instruments and everything surrounding your ability to be ready to record music for others to hear. You set out to record 10 songs and want to get the best sound you can in your recording.  You are fortunate because you already have the ability to record and produce your own music. That alone saves you a bundle, but don’t overlook those expenses. For now, with this example we’ll exclude those costs.

You start a recording project and here’s how your project flows.

You spend roughly 300 hours recording, engineering and producing your music. That might sound like a lot of time, but divide it by everyone involved in the process and it’s reasonable. If you just use minimum wage for that time then you’ve invested $2175.00. Here’s the math, 300 hours x Minimum wage $7.25 = $2175.00

You bring in specialized musicians with the talent to help your music sizzle. You pay them $50-$75 per song for their help = 10 song x $75 = $750.00

You get your mixes down and sounding good. Now you need to send your music off to have it mastered. If you don’t know about the mastering process then the most important thing to know is it that it’s essential to a good recording to sound it’s best.

You spend $30.00 dollars per song and spend $300.00 for the mastering.

Now the mastering is done and you want some hard copy CD’s to sell and use to promote your music. You have 100 CD’s made and that costs $320.00

You received your CD’s and now you want to get your music online. Services like CD Baby will set you up to sell online and get your music to sites like iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and several other places. They also save you a lot of time compared to you doing it all yourself. Using round numbers that costs you another $75.00

You achieved your goal! Your online and selling your music!  Your project total cost you $3550.00.

Guess how many streamed listens you would need to recover your investment at (Google Locker) price of .0002786 cents per listen. The answer is 12,742,283. Wow!

Guess what! You’re in luck! Spotify pays .00385 per play. So in that case you only need 922,078 listens to break even.

It’s even better than that! iTunes pays .021 cents per streamed listen. Now you only need 169,048 streams to break even. Remember this is just to break even and this doesn’t include the cost of things I excluded earlier or other expenses that an Indie artist can typically incur, like a website.

Pharrell’s song ‘Happy’ had 43 million streams on Pandora in the first 3 months and only made royalties for that of $2700.00. Don’t worry too much about Pharrell. He got a Grammy, lots of support and contracts that keep him financially well off. However, look at that number. $2,700.00 doesn’t even cover the $3,550.00 that an average unknown, self-supporting indie artist invested to get their music out.

Anyway, getting back to you being the indie artist. So now your music is online and available for anyone to hear and buy. You even sold a few full downloads most likely to a few of your friends, loyal fans or even a few people that just happened across your music.  Here’s a little more math. If you could sell 5634 full downloads at .64 per download you break even. That doesn’t seem too tough does it? Well it is tough for two reasons. First is that people can stream it, so why pay 99 cents for a song (that nets you 64 cents) when they can stream it 30 times or more for the same price. The second issue is that nobody knows about you. You’re an indie artist, remember. How do people find your music?

The indie artist can also make money gigging. It helps support the CD’s sales and helps to get their music in front of people. The fact of the matter is indie artist need your support especially if you enjoy or appreciate their music. How can you help you ask? If you enjoy the music of a particular artist then make sure you do some things to help promote their music. They don’t have an army of promoters working on their behalf so your help is essential.

Start supporting artists by introducing your friends to their music. Consider buying a couple of their songs online or even order the full CD. Help by posting information about them or their songs on places like your Facebook page, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter. You can even use the old fashioned way of verbally telling others. Add them to you favorites or song list on places like Spotify or Apple Music.  If you like their music, then you know there are probably a lot of others that will like them as well. Spread the word about indie music you enjoy and keep indie music alive!


  1. Thanks for telling it like it is!
    This should be recommended reading to anyone listening to music… meaning everyone!

  2. Thank you, Rick Lally, for giving us the lowdown from an artist’s perspective. I’ve been working for MusicMafia Radio for a year now. Not only do we spin independent artists, we do our best to promote on social media & in many cases, we have a personal relationship with our artists. However, I don’t think any of us – staff, listeners & fans – have any idea just what it really takes to produce those precious gems called albums. I appreciate breaking it down & telling it like it is. For me, it has ignited my passion for spreading the word about amazing independent artists – like you – even more. I think articles like this, from an artist’s perspective, are invaluable and I hope to hear more from you in the future – through song AND writing!!

  3. Terrific and very informed post! The key to making a living in this day and age I think is going to have to be volume – an artist will realistically need hundreds of songs, all of them pulling in at least $5 to $10 apiece every week, in order to make music full-time. Which is obviously easier said than done.

  4. This is a well-written article with a great message! It is so important, especially in todays day and age, for everyone to support musicians and artists. Cheers!


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