At the beginning of the pandemic, like many musicians all over the world, I lost my job. One minute I was on a tour of the United States, with about 100 shows scheduled for the rest of the year, and the next I was twiddling my thumbs back in Nashville, watching my savings evaporate.
With no chance of support from the government and no fallback plan in place, I made a decision that at once seemed logical and also just a little bit crazy: I would release an album on my own label and sell it as a physical only product.
Why do this? When everyone streams these days? For the pure and simple reason that most people in the music industry know but few want to admit: for most artists streaming is nothing more than a marketing tool.
Unless you are one of the lucky few generating millions of streams, the income generated from these platforms barely covers the cost of making a record, let alone allows for the artist to pay their living expenses. And so began my campaign to release Blonde on the Tracks as though it were 1992. The album would be sold on vinyl, compact disc and cassette.
The pushback came thick and fast, mostly from folks employed in the white collar, office worker side of the music business, whose jobs are not dependent on the touring economy to survive. “But this is 2020!” they tech-splained. “You’re going to need to be on streaming services if you want anyone to hear this record!”
I rolled my eyes and rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I lovingly pressed 300 copies of the album onto orange vinyl. When pre-orders for that sold out, I pressed 200 copies onto green vinyl. When that sold out, I moved over to classic black vinyl. I used a similar strategy with cassettes and cds, pressing in small numbers and then replenishing as needed.
I released a series of animated music videos to accompany the singles and sent the record out to music journalists and radio DJs all over the world. Slowly, but surely the album started receiving positive reviews. More people started to hear about it. More pre-orders came in. And then, when the album was finally released on August 14, to my surprise and delight, Blonde on the Tracks landed in the ARIA Top 10.
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It turns out that I had unknowingly tapped into what would become one of 2020’s biggest music business trends: the boom in sales of vinyl records. I also tapped into something that many musicians seem to have forgotten in these days of rampant digital consumption: music fans will buy your album, if you let them.
After over half a year of selling this record in traditional formats, Blonde on the Tracks goes to streaming services today. Some folks will consider this a cop out, and others will consider it a savvy business move.
Stream Blonde on the Tracks:
For me? It’s both. I’m not so naive as to pretend that streaming isn’t an important part of an artist’s career these days. I’m painfully aware that boycotting these services seems, to an industry that is largely indifferent towards paying artists a living wage, rebellious at best and amateur at worst.
But at the end of the day, I’m not just a musician, I am a worker. And guess what? I’m also my own boss. So before giving it away, I made sure I got paid.