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“Steve, Why Is Your Music So Cheap?”

December 4th, 2013 | No Comments | Categories: New Music Strategies |

So, at the end of my post about the FingerPainting Sessions best-of albums, I said I’d blog about why I sell my ‘complete works‘ USB Stick so cheap.

It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot. It’s even caused some skepticism about the contents from people who can’t work out why 24 albums, a 45minute live video and my novel on a USB stick would *only* cost £25.

There are a couple of different reasons, but the existence of the question, I think, stems from a somewhat strange anomaly of the old recording industry. That of there being VERY few artists as unknown as I am that have extensive back catalogues. It’s growing, because the internet makes it possible for people to do what I do (it’s made it possible for ME to do what I do!) and more artists are taking advantage of that, but it’s still pretty rare to have put out 34 albums as an artist who still sells on average a few hundred copies of anything they release… Mostly, with a label, you got to try and ‘make it’ with your first album, or sometimes two or three, but if you weren’t selling quite a few thousand by then, it just wasn’t feasible to go on making records. The fixed costs were too high…

So all of our perception of what people do with their back catalogue is based on what famous people do with their back catalogue. and for a large number of those famous people, they or their label are trying to squeeze yet more money out of their uber-fans. Boxed sets are often remastered, repackaged, even reformatted (DVD-A/Blueray Audio/108gram vinyl etc) to try and get people who already love the music to buy this ‘exclusive’ version again.

And, buried in there is often the desire on the part of the person selling it to not have to make any more music like that. If I can sell enough of these premium packages, I’ll be able to retire… Which is great if you’re Led Zep, or The Eagles or whoever.

If you’re me, the story’s a little different:

  • I don’t have anywhere near enough ‘super-fans’ to make creating ‘product’ just for them remotely viable. The wider community of people who are interested in what I do runs to several thousand. The inner core is just a handful (as far as I can tell!)
  • I have neither the desire not the likelihood of being able to retire on the sale of my music.
  • I’m actively involved in making more and more music. I’ve released over 10 hours of music in the last year, and will probably put out another 4 or 5 albums in the next 6-12 months.
  • Most of my gigs are house concerts, and at house concerts, I’m generally playing to people who haven’t heard me before but who mostly have had a fantastic evening by the end, and would often like to take some music home. A £180 25 LP set isn’t going to be that…

So a USB stick allows me to bundle it all up, at a pretty low unit cost to me (the USB sticks work out about £6 each, which is about the production cost of 3 short-run CDs) and because I put the music on them myself (it takes 8-10 minutes per stick to load them up) I can keep adding to what’s on them – I’m not stuck with those 24 albums until I’ve sold out of the current stack of merch. I can keep adding things as I release them.

But most importantly, I can make my ENTIRE back catalogue an entry point. It’s a thing that someone whose just seen me playing a support slot might buy (that’s happened a few times), it’s something that people on Twitter, who previous have downloaded an album or two for free, or for a couple of quid, might buy (that happens a lot). And at £25, it’s even an investment worth making to save yourself the trouble of downloading it all off Bandcamp. You get the stick, plug it in, drag all the music off it, and you’re left with a perfectly useful 4Gb USB Stick :)

£25 for 24 albums is an invitation into my musical world, a ticket onto the bus. It’s a chance to catch up, to drop it all into iTunes and put it on random while you work, switching to album-mode when you hit on a track you REALLY love. There are PDF sleevenotes, and the aforementioned video and novel. I’m sure I’ll add more as I go along.

But at it’s heart it’s a friendly, sustainable way of getting lots of music out to curious people. So it works perfectly for me. 

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