This blogpost is written and edited by me, Hjalti Þór Kristjánsson. After spending hours to set up this blog on several different platforms unsuccessfully, due to technical issues. I have finally gained access to my partner’s website for use of this blog post.
In the modern audio professional world there are various clever ways to capitalize on your art. Among the first few things that come to mind are streaming services. But, are the revenues that eventually reach the artist so great? Are they fair? One could easily argue that the revenues artists receive for their art from big streaming platforms such as Spotify, iTunes and Youtube are almost shameful. For example, on average, Spotify pays most artists between 0.003 and 0.005 US dollars. That’s 0.0025 to 0.004 Euros per stream.
There are platforms in this field that artists can benefit more fairly from, like Bandcamp. Bandcamp delivers much higher revenue rates for the artist than the other platforms mentioned. When you make any purchase on their platform an average of 82% of the revenue reaches the artist or label you purchased from. Even better, since the pandemic halted public events, one Friday per month they have something called “Bandcamp Friday” where, on average, 93% of revenue from sales goes directly to the source.
Quite a difference from the 0,0025 euros from Spotify, isn’t it?
I will do the math for you.
Let’s say you purchase one track from your favorite new release on bandcamp. The “norm” is you pay at least 1,5 U.S. dollars per track. On Bandcamp Friday the artist/label you purchased from receives, on average, 1,4 U.S. dollars. That’s the equivalent of just under 600 streams on that very same track on Spotify.
600 streams. One track
Bandcamp is quite different from the others mentioned, as it focuses on physical and digital copy sales, rather than the streaming. So it is an interesting comparison. But these are solely focused on revenue from just the music product itself. There are so many other aspects and professions that are included in the process of creating that final product that awaits your generous contribution of 1,5 bucks or 600 listens.
Mediums like fiverr, Skillshare and Guru are also a new and modern way of earning some extra bucks for producers, audio engineers and of course so many other individuals from countless other fields. On these 3 examples, at least, you can advertise yourself as a professional, and charge for your services. Fiverr, specifically, is not a job site, it’s a marketplace. Instead of employers posting ads for freelancers, it works the other way around. You, as a service provider, create a storefront offering your skills as service and your clients choose from which service provider they need that specific service. Do you play bass? Offer your bass slapping skills as a service for an ambitious bedroom producer in a marvelous hunt for sexy grooves.
When it comes to capitalization or monetization of your skills and/or art there are countless different strategies to build revenue. Copyrights, sync deals and selling the rights of use for beats are amongst many other precarious ways to go about this.
Are they realistically enough, though? Enough for you to pay your rent in an Altbaum apartment in Berlin, for food in the fridge, fruits in the basket and a few vinyls per month, or even better, some hardware equipment for your mini-studio setup on top of it all?
Is there a way for me, an eager and ambitious audio engineering student and enthusiast from Iceland, to make a living in this extremely competitive field without becoming the next big DJ name playing at gigantic festivals hosting numbers of people greater than the whole population of my cold, but beautiful country of origin?
Somehow it is very hard to take, or even find the steps necessary to make a living from our work. It always seems like a distant pipe-dream. Working through the hustle of independent mini-jobs seems like an unavoidable effort. And if you don’t want to avoid it, by all means go for it, and become the queen, king or anything in between of Fiverr.
But this blog post is based on me, myself and I and how “we” want to go about this grand journey of becoming an audio professional, comfortably affording rent, food with a little bit extra on top, maybe. And doing so with enjoyment and eternal sunshine raying from our heart.
That is at least our concept of “making it”.
Our ultimate goal, and we assure you we are absolutely the only ones on planet Earth with this goal, is to be our own boss. Original and inspiring, right? Guess you have never heard of it before, then.
Jokes aside, I, as an artist and audio engineer want to have complete control of the whole entity, from conception to consumption.
When I say entity, I mean something in the realm of a company, almost like a label, but bigger and wider reaching. A system that receives all of the revenue and pays the salary of everyone involved, from producer to mastering engineer to lawyers, and pays for all expenses necessary to push the art forward.
A system that works sufficiently as a multimedia platform for everyone involved to release and portray their artistic expression, as long as it follows the set framework of the whole entity. Which is set and decided in the early stages of the conception of this idea of a system. As this is the ultimate goal, it obviously requires a massive amount of effort, time and steps for it to become a reality.
To get a better understanding of how a system like this could work and become reality, I spoke with Daði Freyr Pétursson. An Icelandic artist who has very recently made quite a big name for himself on the european pop music stage, as he became an internet sensation in 2020 with his Eurovision Song Contest submission that exploded well beyond just that competition; “Think About Things.”
I was already aware of his business model, and therefore my ideas are inspired by his methods. The important thing is that he is capitalizing on his art on a much larger stage than most. He is an emerging artist in the world of pop, so he has a very special perspective on evolving from working for scraps to dealing with an excessive amount of revenue and success. And quite recently so.
He has a company, called Samlist (a noun meaning “art together” in Icelandic), that is run by him and his wife and collaborator Árný Fjóla Ásmundsdóttir. Through Samlist they make sure that everyone involved in their artistic projects gets paid a salary in context with the revenue made, this even includes Daði’s manager, their lawyers and of course Daði himself. They are all equal in these respects.
“We make art together, so we named the company exactly that.” he explains, simply.
Samlist works as a record company, production company and much more. In reality it is a company that meets the artistic demands of Daði and his collaborators.
“Everything that revolves around our music projects is paid by Samlist. Video productions, photo shoots. Any services we need to pay for to get the projects done, actually.”
“All revenue generated from the projects goes directly to Samlist, and we have salaries, so the money that we make in excess to that is kept by Samlist and used for future projects.”
This is a safe and healthy way to distribute the revenue and make sure that there is always space to continue. Even when there is less revenue coming in, they have made sure that past incomes are distributed evenly for the future.
Additionally, when it comes to paying taxes, there are few better methods to simplify the process to make sure everything is accounted for. As the revenue for an artist in Daði’s position comes from a great number of different sources. It is obviously better to keep all that traffic to one source, rather than all the individuals connected pay individual taxes and so on.
It’s a completely honest business model. Of course, it requires someone as humble as Daði at the steering wheel, but then again he is a great role model for you to model your business and even behaviour after.
But that is Daði’s biggest obstacle. His biggest challenge. The more traction his projects receive, the more paperwork follows. And as his instagram handle indicates, he makes music. In our interview we discussed challenges that he faces both as an artist and as a company.
“The work that I put in to make sure all of my tax returns are correct and accounted for is bigger than some of the glaciers we have back home.”
After a brief moment of silence, he continues; “Accountancy is a much, much larger part of this than I ever could have imagined. Just making sure the company is accounting for all the different revenue streams that we have going on is the biggest challenge I am facing on a regular basis. It won’t be long until I hire someone to do this for me and us, because it is getting overwhelming.”
It will soon become way too much work for Daði to take care of this himself. So he will need to hire an accountant. How will he pay for that, I wonder. Well, of course! Samlist! This is something that they desperately need to pay for in order for Daði to have more time and mental space to continue his work. But making sure everything is legal and accounted for is extremely important.
“You can lose a huge amount of your money if you don’t do this correctly.” Daði explains to convince me that this is an integral part of the whole system.
In order to make sure that the work that you put into your art is paying off as much as it can, you need to put in another level of work just to make sure you are getting what is rightfully yours. It might sound counter-productive, but as Daði told me;
“It is overwhelming to begin with, but then, like with so many other things in life, you get used to the process and you take care of it. But, if the paperwork keeps growing, there is no way I can take care of all of this by myself, I won’t have time to be with my wife and daughter, or make more music, so the whole thing would crash like the Icelandic banks in 2008, wouldn’t it?”
This is just the perspective of someone that has very recently started dealing with huge revenues, as his music projects exploded in 2020. So this is the viewpoint of someone that very recently has had massive success. With all this success follows the same equal amount of responsibility. So Daði is still quite new to this whole process, but it is valuable knowledge for people in my position that are striving to reach this level of success.
“It’s a long, boring and an almost unnecessarily complicated process. I sometimes feel like they make it so complicated just to make sure you make mistakes and therefore make more money off of you.” Daði says half laughing, but dead serious.
We as artists or audio professionals, that are focusing on production, mixing, mastering or whatever it may be, usually don’t have the knowledge or tools to deal with all of these legal formalities and paperwork that follows after the success that may come from our endeavours.
So it is, and I can’t emphasise it enough, extremely important to have people close to you, whether it be friends with the correct knowledge and/or experience and employees, to deal with these responsibilities that come with this kind of success.
You can’t deal with all of this by yourself. So here’s an idea of a “chain of command” that would work efficiently when your enterprise starts taking off.
- You/me/artist/audio professional
Daði explains that, in theory, he would get away with just talking to his agent. And before he made that point he expressed to me the importance of who and how your agent works with you. He asked me if he could go off-topic for a few minutes only to explain the importance of his agent, which I of course accepted.
“I’ve had a few agents over my career. I can’t even explain how lucky I am to have my agent as my right hand to deal with this explosion that has been happening over the last months. Before this Eurovision adventure my success was pretty much just getting popular as a musician on the Icelandic market, and as we both know, that is a very small market. And there are so many people trying to take advantage of the select few that become successful in the music industry on this tiny little island. The competition is fierce and it breeds competitive people.
I don’t want to get too much into detail about that subject, but let’s just say my current agent shares with me the vision I have for this project that reaches far outside the realms of our island. It is vital for my career to have a person like this by my side, because he wants to see me and my family, who have become his close friends, capitalize on the massive amount of hard work we have put in to be in this position.”
Daði then continues to explain to me that if he has any inquiries and before he makes any decision at all about anything the project is connected to, ranging from which song should be released next to which contract to sign, and further, he will talk with his trustworthy agent.
His agent will help him, accordingly, with which contract to sign, why and when. Because the agent shares the long-term vision with Daði and his company. It’s not a way to make money for his agent off of Daði’s success, it’s a collaborative effort which they share with the company, Samlist, that Daði and his wife are running.
It can be immensely overwhelming for an artist to decide between all these different offers from different distributors, sync deal companies etc.
Their strategy is not to tie themselves down for years to come with just one massive long-term deal, rather to sign multiple shorter contracts, so they can react accordingly to what is happening with both Daði’s musical projects and the company that he’s running to control the revenues.
One could easily argue that this is definitely the smartest way to work with the challenging pandemic situation that affects us all so severely these days. You seriously could not have foretold what would happen in the next few months or even weeks for more than a year.
So again, his agent assists Daði greatly in deciding when to tour and how to do so, and with whom. Daði has gained a huge audience in the last year and he has booked, and subsequently been forced to delay multiple concert tours around Europe.
And how to deal with all of these adversities, Daði has his trusted agent by his side. Árni, Daði’s agent, makes sure that Daði is getting everything for his penny in all contracts signed, and he stays true to the plan that Daði has painted for the whole system.
The importance of lawyers must be stated, as well. The ones that have seen all these kinds of contracts thousands of times, the ones that speak the special language of legality and formality. They make sure that the contracts that Daði signs are fair and worth every penny.
“It is unbelievably important to have someone like this that has this much experience in reading contracts. Without my agent and lawyers I would sign so many contracts without questioning what the contracts consist of. They make sure that the company can keep working, keep rolling even though eventually, maybe revenue stops coming in.”
“As much as I appreciate my agent and everything he has done for us, the first thing I would recommend to anyone going into a project that is even close to this, is to hire a lawyer to go over the contracts.”
Further challenges that we might face as audio professionals could be more political, rather than financial. It can prove to be complicated to express opinions or take stances as artists on such a public platform for artists such as Daði.
“We as a whole team, for example, did not participate in the Eurovision song contest preliminaries held in Iceland, because the finals were supposed to be held in Israel.” Daði confidently explains.
Instead of making a public statement against Israel’s occupation of Palestine, they decided to withdraw their participation in the Eurovision song contest in 2019. Therefore they did not take any part in anything that was even remotely connected to the conflict that is taking place in those respective areas.
“I’m not a political person by any means, but if there is an injustice towards people that are supposedly free people, which jeopardizes that freedom, I feel obligated to not partake in any affairs affiliated to that unjustice.”
For what it’s worth, Iceland’s representative that year in Eurovision in Israel was Hatari. A self proclaimed “BDSM anti-capitalist protest dance act” where they infamously waved the Palestinian flag on live television in Tel Aviv.
“I am very careful and aware of what I say, and don’t say in these regards.” Just the fact that Daði and his team decided to withdraw their contention in 2019 still haunts(so to speak) them to this day.
Even when they took the very peaceful tactic of simply not participating in the event Daði receives personal messages, e-mails and comments on his personal instagram consisting of pictures of the Israeli flag. A constant reminder of the decision they took, and in the opinion of those who decide to harass him, taking side with the enemy.
I asked Daði if there were ethical factors that played part in which collaborations or contracts they deal with. His answer was simple; “The first thing we always do is to look at the clients of the powers that be to deal with, to make sure that we wouldn’t partake in anything that our morals do not align with.”
They make sure, before they even think about the money that is at stake, that they do not unwillingly support something that they would, in any case, not want to support. Because, if you look at the big picture, the consequences that could come with “accidentally” endorsing or being part of a system that represents something that you are against could prove to be catastrophic for your image, and eventually your business.
These are the responsibilities that follow when your audio professional career takes flight on an enormous public platform. Looking at Daði’s experience from exploding onto such a big stage, one can easily see the pressure build up faster than your Mokka on a monday morning.
But Daði, Árný and Samlist are a very special example. An example of if your music takes you to such success that you barely believe exists when you’re still just sitting in front of your laptop trying to figure out what to EQ and why.
I have taken Daði’s business plan and idea as an inspiration for my ideas to move forward with my career. However, there are a few very important details that do not align with my direction. First and foremost, I do not produce pop music myself, although I’m open to mixing and mastering inquiries. But when it comes to my vision of my business model, which is heavily inspired by how Daði does it, I want to keep my focus on Techno.
And not just Techno, but mixing and mastering for clientele, like labels, artists or other personal inquiries within the less “mainstream” music market. And try to keep those smaller gigs within a larger entity. A company, tailored for my directions. Of course, I would never be alone in these tasks, and I would have to assemble a team.
To take a better look into the more “traditional” audio professional way within the realm of electronic music I contacted Charles Accarisi, also known by his artist name Chlär.
Chlär is a young, aspiring producer, DJ and audio engineer soaring from Geneva, Switzerland. He has already established himself as one of Berlin’s up and coming artists to keep an eye on within the realm of Techno.
He is extremely busy these days to keep up with the work that is requested of him.
I had a very informal conversation with Chlär about how he makes his living from his skills. I asked him how he was able to build a network of clients so quickly, as he has recently graduated from our very own catalyst institute.
“Well, the dance music community in Geneva is very tightly knit. As soon as someone within the area is doing good work, it will be recognized. I started out doing people favors of mixing or mastering their tracks, but I didn’t start to charge for it, or do it professionally so to say, until I had studied the craft to a great extent.”
So, already from a young age, Chlär was building his network of future clients and connections.
Eventually Chlär would become the co-founder of the Geneva/Berlin based label Bipolar Disorder Records.
“Nowadays, I am actually the mastering engineer for multiple labels, but it started with my own label; Bipolar Disorder.”
Chlär is rarely seen relaxing or wasting much time as he keeps himself busy managing the masters demanded by his many clients that he is provided by a few different labels that he masters for. Along with that he is constantly working on his next releases, so he somehow manages to use his time so efficiently that he can produce his own tracks, DJ for podcasts (and parties before the pandemic froze the whole entertainment industry), master for his clients and co-manage his label with his tight knit community from Geneva.
Even though I use Chlär as a much smaller sample size of an example, what he is doing is exactly what so many other aspiring audio professionals aspire to achieve.
“Networking. It is the most important thing, aside from the music itself of course. But your music will still never be heard without connections.” Chlär advises me.
You see, what these two individuals have built are two sides of the coin which I want to merge into one big juicy bill.
Daði coming from the world of pop is managing the overwhelming amount of revenue that comes from his work in an efficient and sustainable system.
And Chlär coming from the world of Techno and taking on the role of an absolute workhorse and collaborating and working for multiple different labels and sources, while also working on his own artistic image through his artist profile “Chlär” and his label Bipolar Disorder Records.
My vision is to combine the elements of these 2 audio professional business models into one.
My ultimate goal is to have the management of Daði Freyr’s business system combined with Chlär’s productivity and musical directions.
Just think about it; control all the revenue to one platform, which shares it between those who work as a team with the work ethic and dedication needed to take it further and further.