Derek Sivers

Entrepreneur, programmer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Is your album a starting line or a finish line?

People often asked, “How much does the average artist on CD Baby sell?”

Others would take the numbers on the “about” page and divide them: $85 million paid out to 250,000 available albums = $340 earnings per album. Now we know how much the “average” album sells!

Problem is: the numbers are right but the answer is wrong because it groups together two completely different types of approaches to an album release, giving an inaccurate average for your type.

For some artists, releasing an album is like the starting line in a race. The gun goes off! They work it! They spend hours a day pushing, promoting, selling, striving. For the next few months, they never stop. Reaching new people by any means necessary, whether playing live for strangers in strange venues many times a week, or joining new communities online.

For those types, I'd say the average income (through my one little store) was $5000. (And 50 of them earned over $100,000 each.)

But for many artists, releasing an album is like the finish line in a race. They've always wanted to make a record. They did it. It's done. They give some for free to friends and family, and glow in the compliments. They might do a record release concert and make a website, but in terms of effort spent, they're done. (Sometimes from satisfaction, but sometimes from entitlement: “Now that my brilliant album is done the world will recognize my genius!”)

For those types, I'd say the average income was $20.

The people who would ask about the average were usually artists trying to predict how well they would sell on CD Baby.

Because 50% of all sales on CD Baby were returning customers just browsing for new music, it was possible to sell a few albums without doing anything at all.

But the important thing is it's up to you which kind of approach you want to take.

Is your album a starting line or a finish line?

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