How Top 40 Radio Works

Can a Recording Artist Make it Without a Top 40 Hit?

For some musicians, having a Top 40 hit is not the be all, end all of musical success. There are artists who are quietly content in recording, producing, and selling their own music. Yes, you heard it right. You can produce your own music, sell it yourself (or through independent music stores and other distribution networks) without the contracts, legal bills, and headaches found in dealing with major, mini, or even independent record labels. While this is not every aspiring music star's dream, for some it's a perfect compromise. They maintain control of their music, make decent money, and still see a little spotlight time.

In "The Musician's Guide to Making and Selling Your Own CDs & Cassettes" by Jana Stanfield, Ms. Stanfield explains that she got tired of waiting for her big break in the music business, so she went on without it. All it takes is a little hard work and some alternative marketing ideas -- and, of course, the requisite talent.

If you read How Music Royalties Work, you also know that the money musicians make from their recordings is usually less than you might expect because much (and sometimes all) of the costs of production, promotion, touring, and other expenses come out of the artists' royalties before they can be paid. And, unless you also write your own songs, you don't see royalties from performance of your music on the radio or other broadcasts. Advances that recording artists received prior to making the album must be also be paid back out of those royalties. If you compare that to selling your own CDs at local and regional concerts, music festivals, clubs, and other smaller musical arenas, you may find that you make decent money doing it yourself. Jana Stanfield states in her book that her five self-promoted and self-sold albums pull in about $30,000 per year.

Thousands of artists have been successful this way -- you may not have heard about them, but they may be making more money than they would have had they signed with a major label. For example, rather than getting 8% to 12% royalties on their sales of CDs, they keep all of the royalties. Rather than splitting performance royalties with a publisher (if their music is played on the radio), they keep it all. Rather than giving away the rights to their music so that a record company can ultimately shelve it when something "better" comes along, they keep complete control.

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