Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 1: Odds, Facts and Figures

Breaking an artist is a “one in a million” shot.  With artists like Justin Bieber, Death Cab for Cutie, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Soulja Boy, and Ok Go gaining getting discovered and earning millions through artists websites, fan pages, peer-to-peer networks and YouTube, the fantasy of getting discovered is seemingly becoming a realistic possibility for many wide-eyed aspiring artists.  Despite these underdog stories, however, breaking an artist in the digital age still takes an incredible amount of time, money and luck.

A simple internet search for new artists will yield millions of highly (and not so highly) talented artists trying for their shot of fame, or at least trying to make a living off of their music.  But to the music industry, talent alone is not enough.  In order to get the attention of major labels, and often times indie labels, an artist must remain established insofar as the artist has a substantial fan base.

The digital age has allowed underground and indie artists to reach bigger audiences; and the expanded reach is boundless, transcending city, state and international boundaries.  Although artists now have the advantage of gaining vast recognition that was difficult, if even possible, a decade ago, artists are equally faced with an increased amount of competition within the aspiring talent pool.  Setting one’s self apart from other artists, thus catching the attention of record labels and the media, takes risks, money, time and a flawless marketing plan.

To begin, the artist must have star quality.  All elements of the artists (i.e. music, personality, stage presence, etc.) must showcase talent, charisma and longevity.  Artists must show progression and growth, being able to grow and develop as both a talented artist and a captivating entertainer.  With the interactivity and faced-paced nature of the Internet, especially with generations being raised online and living their entire life connected, artists are only successfully if can they can build a constant profile outside of their music.

In the mass consumption nature of digital media, an artist’s profile must provide up-to-the-minute promotion, increasingly changing and adequately entertaining to retain the short attention spans of the new music fan.  Artists must consistently put on great tours, provide innovative merchandise, and master the latest trends in online interactions like webisodes, ustream events, virtual concerts, social media sites, etc.

Once an artist has gained a substantial fan base and gets signed to a record label, the artist must work even harder to gain media attention.  Getting signed to a record label is not the “be all and end all” to stardom.  Major labels alone have a roster of over 4,000 artists, with the amount of artists signed to indie labels reaching into the millions.

According to International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, one in four artists signed to a record label are within the past 12 months.  Of record company expenses, record companies in the United States spend an estimated $5 billion per year developing and marketing new artists, with about 16% of their annual revenues going to artists and repertoire and 13% on marketing.  In other countries, such as the UK, this figure is often higher with A&R reaching up to 23% of the record companies’ revenue.   Surprisingly, however, record companies on average spend considerably less on research and development as compared to other industries highly focused on R&D, with the American record companies spending only an estimated 4.4% of annual revenues on R&D.

Once an artist signs to a label, record labels expend real money to break the artists to the world.  According to Ged Doherty, Chairman and CEO of Sony BMG Music Entertainment, UK and Ireland, it takes upward $1.5 million to break a pop act into one country, with rock acts costing record labels around $1 million.   The average cost to break a new artist is broken-down to a $200,000 advance so that the artist can focus on making music and developing his or her artist persona, $200,000 in recording expenses, $200,000 to film three professional videos, $100,000 for tour support, and $300,000 on marking and promotion of the artist.

For pop artists, video budgets are higher because of the visual popularity for pop artists, especially given the widespread popularity with music television, social networking and video sites like YouTube.  Rock artists often have expend more money for tour support, as live performances are usually in higher demand by rock fans.

Once an artist has made it in one country, artists and record labels often look to break the artist into other countries.  Like initially breaking the artist, this too takes time, money and luck.  Breaking international barriers also carry new obstacles: overcoming cultural and geographic barriers.  International marketing teams often try to find unique opportunities to introduce artists to foreign audiences.  These include collaborations with local artists and producers, booking tours with locally acclaimed headliners, and promoting artists at corresponding lifestyle events such as pro and armature sport events.

For any artists, breaking into the American market is one of the toughest feats.  The American market is the biggest in the world, is very difficult for foreign artists, often requiring foreign artists to spend a great deal of time in various cities in the US and costing artists a significant amount of time and money.


4 thoughts on “Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 1: Odds, Facts and Figures

  1. Pingback: Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 3: Branding 101 | Music 2.0

  2. Pingback: Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 4: Factoring the Branding Figures | Music 2.0

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