– How much does a New Age music artist make? a reader asked me. I had to admit that it was an interesting question. Is New Age music still a genre of easy money? After talking with industry insiders I have an answer to give. It is not the complete answer though, since an artist’s income depends on many variables, but it gives an overlook over the money in the New Age music business – in the 1980s, yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Once upon a time, when New Age music was really new, there was a lot of money to be made in this genre. The 1980s was the Golden Age. With only a few genre radio channels available, music was largely a physical product. The fan had to buy an LP, cassette or CD for an average of 12 dollars. And since the genre was fresh and popular, even minor releases could easily sell 100.000-150.000 copies. A major release could triple this number in a few months time. This was the era of the New Age music money makers – or the New Age music charlatans if you will.
When looking at the business today it is an entirely different economical landscape. In the last 10 years the music economy has changed so much that it is almost like we are witnessing the music business on an alien planet. It is all different. First the illegal music download services changed everything in the late 1990s, and then iTunes and other legal download services paved the way for a new ecconomy.
After this music on demand services like Rhapsody, Spotify and Napster (now legal) changed everything again. How has this affected our genre in particular?
The most interesting aspect though is the fact that artists that debuted in the 1980s still controls the market. They have a name to show for. New Age music is not very different from rock and pop in this respect. Names created in the 1970s and 1980s still rocks, while artists that came on the scene in the last 15 years does not have the same position and fame. The new medias, with Internet and Facebook, have changed the landscape. It is no longer up to record labels to create stars, and the number of active artists and releases are so much higher. You do not need a studio time, technicians and a promotion company to release an album these days. Even on a mobile phone one can produce studio quality music.
In terms of copyright and ownership, New Age music is a bit different from other genres because we don’t have a lot of the usual songwriter/performing artist issue. In New Age music the artists usually have the ownership of both the songs and the actual recording. This means that the artist get all the royalties, minus the label’s cut (if there is a label) – depending on the record agreement. In a normal year only 3-5 albums within our genre is published by a major record label. The dedicated New Age music labels are all indie labels.
Besides the major artists of the 80s, who is making real money in New Age music today? A few artists have managed to find a niche in the big relaxation, meditation and spa market, for instance by selling collections of 100 downloadable songs for 9,99 $. Here a handful of largely unknown artists have sold 50.000-150.000 downloads or more.
Based on this there are three levels of New Age music artists in terms of money:
1. Major label artists that debuted in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s. These are high profile artists. Number of artists: about 10.
2. Artists that debuted in the last 20, 10 or 5 years, with a successful marketing strategy – but with little or no fame to show for. About 50-75 artists.
3. Artists that debuted in the last 20, 10 or 5 years, with limited monetary success. Low profile. Impossible to estimate. Likely number; 1.000-3.000.
The major artists we are talking about under 1. are easy to pinpoint;
* Mike Oldfield
* Jim Brickman
* George Winston
* Tangerine Dream
To estimate what these stars make is hard, but not impossible. Their income depend for instance if they have a new album out. Enya seems to continue to sell no matter what, while Mike Oldfield keeps re-releasing old material to keep the discography updated while waiting to release new albums. According to sources, Enya makes about 10 million dollars a year (see information here) – and is in many ways in a class of her own. If the superstar is touring, like Yanni, that will also affect how much he or she is making. With licensing and record sales, each the above artists will make from “a couple of millions” to 15 million dollars a good year. Since they have an established name, their old material is still selling too.
Level no. 2 mentioned above is far more interesting, because these artists came on the scene mainly after the Golden Age of the 80s. Their market has largely been digital (or should I say brutal?) Since 2000, the value of recorded music has fallen, and there are so many new sources of music. You now can get 20+ million streaming songs for a few dollars a month. Minor artists, like most mid level New Age artists, earn little in the streaming world. YouTube is also a massive source for free streaming music, which for the minor artists give little or nothing in return. A major star George Winston is reported to have earned $ 85.000 from Pandora radio.
Over the last 10 years there has still been a market for physical CDs. Many mid level artists have made an income by selling 5.000 to 10.000 CD copies here. But in the last two years, this market has fallen 70 to 90 percent. Soon there will be no reason to print CDs. Even radio stations and reviewers have stopped accepting physical CDs. There will however still be a market for premium edition LPs and CDs, but the artist or label will only print a very limited number for the hardcore fans. These will also most probably be sold with a loss.
For mid level artists the recent change in the music economy, from paid downloads to streaming, have been less than lucrative. The iTunes styled 10-15 dollars an album could in time have become the same as the now-dead CD market. But streaming is an entirely different game because you need such a high volume to earn something close to what the CD brought home. You will now need over 350.000 playbacks for what you made from selling 1.000 CDs. That means that you will need almost two million streams for what 5.000 sold copies gave you three years ago. The good news is that as the streaming services are taking over, the prices per stream is likely to rise.
Here it seems appropriate to say a few words about radio playback and music licensing. Artists in level no. 1 above will have no problem in getting their music on the air, and their music will almost automatic be used in TV and movies. This because of their fame. Artists in leve no 2 and 3 will have to work hard to have their music heard. There is money in both radio and music licensing, but it is much less stable for a minor artist than a record buying fan base. That said, success in music licensing may open for a career in making music for TV and movies. I have seen artists abandon their artistic careers because they now make music full time for media business.
Back to the main question; what does a successful mid level New Age music artist make? On the music alone, he or she can expect to make $ 150.000 to $ 300.000 a year. If the artist also does meditation classes, private healing seminars or similar, the artist will get another substantial income as well.
But, generally speaking, these artists will most likely never make above $ 500.000, because of the fundamental changes in the business. On a bad year, the artist can make $ 75.000 or less.
In category no. 2 are also a number of very successful spa, meditation and chill out compilation producers. They consider themselves more like business people than artists, and they sell self-help products more than heartfelt artistic creations. These artists are extremely market oriented, and their pay depends entirely on a successful, well-placed product in a jungle of similar products.
Now it is getting even more interesting. What are artists in no. 3 above making? These are the average New Age music artists, and make $ 10.000 or less. An industry insider said to me that $ 5.000 is a likely number, included licensing. This is after the death of the CD format, before the paybacks are better in streaming. These are largely not professional artists. A good number of the current active artists here are retired from other businesses, or have family money.
So what about the future? Since not all fans subscribe to a music on demand service, there will be still a market for paid downloads – and there will still be a limited market for CDs and other physical products. But the future pay of the New Age music artist depends on the number of streams he or she is getting. Success in social media is vital. It was easier however to track the sale of 10.000 CD copies than an album’s success rate on many different streaming services. Social media is also difficult because they require a constant focus from the artist. You have to stay updated and fresh, or you are forgotten next week.
These days it is better than ever to be a music fan when you have 20 million songs available on your phone. The life of a music artist however is harder because of the changes in music economy. There is money to be made here, but the time of big cash in New Age music is long gone.
(When talking about New Age music and money we must not forget Peter Buffett either, who has made about 60 million dollars on his music. But that is nothing compared to the Buffett family fortune, which is one of the largest in the world. He is easily among the richest artists around. That said, he made his music money all by himself).
See our tips on promoting New Age music here.
Picture copyright Norebbo – Bigstockphoto.com