Tech Tip:Reality Check: How the Music Business Really is and How you can Survive it.

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Reality Check:
How the Music Business Really is
and How you can Survive it.
by Tim Sweeney

©2000 Tim Sweeney. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The True Tale of Two Bands Reaching Their Dreams Until Reality Strikes.


To protect the innocent, we will call our two bands, Group A and Group B. Here's the story of Group A.


Group A has been a hard working band for the last 5 plus years. Over that time (with the use of my first book, Tim Sweeney's Guide To Releasing Independent Records), they put out their own CDs, toured regionally, courted the press and built a respectable fan base. They even tried to get a major record deal by constantly updating the various A&R folks. For it was their dream to be signed.


They just knew that if they worked hard enough, they could capture the attention of the majors and get the deal they wanted. Last year, their dream came true. Now Group B.


I had been personally working with them for 2 years. They too built up a regional base. Over time, they drew over 900 people per show, sold over 11,000 CDs in the two years and received praise from both commercial radio stations and the elusive press. They too reached what they believed a the time was their dream, a major label deal.


While some people would like me to stop here and say this story had a happy ending, I just can't do that. Read on....


Group A's album was released last year. To their delight, it charted in CMJ, Gavin and even received airplay on 50 plus R&R radio stations. The band toured with known up and coming national acts, playing to audiences which sometimes reached into the thousands. They enjoyed their travels to distant cities and interviews and lunches with the press. As the shows came to an end and the airplay died out, they were horrified to find out that all of their hard work and media attention, amounted to a total of 1,500 units (CDs) sold for 1 years worth of work. Even in their home market, where they had been previously popular, they had only sold a little over 100 copies.


Group B was in for a similar fate. They too received the accolades of the media with major airplay and media attention. They toured nationally with various artist and as part of a multi-artist national tour designed to capture music fans interest as it had in the previous years.


From all of their hard work and exposure, they had sold 50,000 units (CDs). While rejoicing in their growth and increased sales, they were horrified to find out that they would not be receiving any royality payments because they had not sold "enough" CDs to warrant it. Even more to their dismay, they soon after were dropped from their deal for that same reason.


While Group A will soon have another release coming out through their major label deal, they ponder as to what is the purpose of it. To sell another 1,500 units?


Group A's problem is that their memory is like a chalkboard. Once the problem was how to get the attention of major labels. That was solved through building a successful regional foundation. Airplay, press, retail, direct promotion and constant touring in markets they could get to on a regular basis, helped them reach their goal. Once they achieved their goal, they erased the chalkboard and their memory of all the hard work they did to get there.


Only after I showed them that they would have been better off staying independent, with a regional base and continuing to build from there, they understood the mistake they made in setting their goals too low. After all, they threw away 10,000 CD sales of their own and an income of over $100, 000 for the major label promise of national touring, media exposure, fame and fortune for 1,500 CDs sold and the reality of going back to working day jobs at the local mall. After all, you don't expect the label to pay them, after the company has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote them to only sell 1,500 CDs do you?


Group B's future is actually brighter once they got dropped! While initially they were depressed, I helped them soon realize the benefits of the situation. You see, Group B, while not liking it, prepared for this day. One thing I taught them was to get the contact info and/or email addresses of everyone who came to their shows. Considering their national touring with known artists and their commitment to doing this, they have email addresses of 250,000 people.


Now picture this. If you had an email list of 250,000 people who have already seen you play and you are an independent artists who can record your own record and sell it direct to the people who already know your music, how many CDs could you sell? How much money could you make?


Lets say 10% of the people bought a CD and $10. At a $1 a CD to manufacture, that would be $9 profit per CD sold. In simple math, that's $225,000 profit for the band that did not get paid for selling 50,000 CDs. I would say their future looks brighter now that they are an independent again.


The moral to the story. It is not reality to expect fame and fortune from just signing a major label deal. The reality is that major labels destroy the careers of hundreds of artists they sign every year. Reality is that less then 3% of the artists on their labels ever break even.


Your dream should not be to get a record deal. Your dream or goal should be to expose your music to new fans, sell your CDs directly or through retailers, to a level where you can write and perform your music full time. Then when a record comes along, simply say, "What can you do for me that I can't do for myself?"


You can learn more about Tim Sweeney, TSA and his International Best Selling books, Tim Sweeney's Guide To Releasing Independent Records, Tim Sweeney's Guide To Successfully Playing Live and Tim Sweeney's Guide To Succeeding At Music Conventions by visiting his web site at,


Besides the fact that you have seen mentions and detailed write-ups in hundreds of articles while being the most talked about man in interviews with artists (whom you may call your influences), it may not be completely clear to you who Tim Sweeney is and what services his company (Tim Sweeney and Associates) offers independent and major label developing artists like yourself.


To put it simply, Tim Sweeney is an independent music consultant. He is one of the music industry's most highly sought after experts in the areas of artist development, radio promotion, record distribution, retail marketing and publicity. He has helped dozens of record labels both major (Columbia, Epic, MCA, Revolution, Hollywood, Capitol, Mercury, Polygram, Warner and their sub-labels) and independent (Restless, Skunk, Screaming Goddess, amonst others) develop some of their most promising and successful artists of all time. In fact, Tim has personally worked with and developed the careers of 1,300 artists and groups to date.


Tim's 16 year career in the music industry spans from his days as an artist himself, to almost every position at a major label to becoming the President of a successful management company, to becoming the author of one of the best-selling books regarding the music industry today: TIM SWEENEY'S GUIDE TO RELEASING INDEPENDENT RECORDS.


In 1997, Tim surprised the music industry by conducting over 60 free music business workshops across the country at his own expense. His goal was to re-educate as many independent artists and musicians as he could in all the regions. In the countless weeks of touring, Tim accomplished his goal of presenting the recent changes and developments of the industry and how the independent artists could personally benefit from them, to audiences totaling well over 10,000 people. His extensive touring "cemented" the labeling of him as the "Father of the Independent Music Movement" by industry professionals, press and record labels across the country.


Tim's impact on the music industry was so evident in 1997 that the national publication, The Musician's Trade Journal, not only featured Tim Sweeney on the cover of their December/January issue, they presented him with the award of, "The Hardest Working Man In The Music Industry."


Today, in addition to being the President/CEO of TSA and the artist development consultant to thousands of independent artists, he is the private consultant to some of the industry's leading Presidents and CEOs. They value his creative abilities to develop their artists and companies using new techniques and strategies to make them profitable.


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