Here’s an interesting thought for you to consider or just completely ignore. Even bands on fairly major labels within their genres can presell less than 50 units. Not only that but 98% of releases on major labels don’t actually make their money back. This isn’t even touching on the fact that some 99% of records don’t sell 100 copies and the millions of unplayed songs on Spotify or undownloaded songs on iTunes. This doesn’t even just speak to the the artists lack of a team, just throwing the music out there, it has so much more to do with the fact that no matter what you do people just don’t care, and if you’re running into a lot of struggles I wouldn’t worry too much, at least not at first. There are a lot of ways to push yourself forward and realizing that not everyone is going to be able to sell a thousand copies of their new record is a key if you want to be able to go anywhere. When it comes down to it – even when people tell you they are going to buy – they won’t buy.
In other words – when you’re getting ready to order your records, be they on vinyl, CD or what have you, don’t think that you’re going to get very far by printing up a thousand and expecting them to sell. That’s not how things work – people don’t care about that. People don’t buy into the whole myth of records anymore, they have no inherent value. Hell – if you can’t even get people to stream your usic on Spotify, FOR FREE, why do you think that someone would be willing to spend money on your album other than to make you feel good? And why should they make you feel good? They want to use their money on something that will make them happy, like a beer. I have seen countless bands order hundreds if not thousands of copies of albums that no one has ever wanted to buy. It’s simply not a quality product most of the time – who wants a cheaply packaged CD of music written in 2 months and recorded in your parents basement? Certainly not me.
This also means that if a label is trying to print up a ton of product for you that might working against you. It’ll just put you in a ton of debt to the label as they move it through their various distributors. Even if the product isn’t there for them to give to you to sell on the road it doesn’t mean it’s selling. It could be locked down in a warehouse somewhere – yet another silly waste of time and money going to hurt what you are trying to create. I have seen countless bands fall into this trap actually – thinking that the label really believes in them because they are printing a ton of units, but then finding that they are stuck struggling under a punishing debt ceiling. It leaves the bands suffering and angry, unable to escape the bitter realities of their record contract and not allowed to go back in the studio to record another album which could maybe be the start of them pulling themselves out of the rut they’ve worked themselves into.
Something I’ve discussed before but will never cease to emphasize is the importance of having products available that bring an actual value to the customer – even the customers who know you and are fans of your band. Again – just because someone comes to every show doesn’t mean you are ever going to be able to convert them into a record sale. Nobody wants to hear these things. Hell, I’d even argue that most record sales by touring bands in America are pity buys. The people buying those records just want to feel cool for helping a band, they don’t want the actual music, they can just listen to it on Spotify without the trouble of flipping the album. I know you might feel otherwise- but I can tell you right now, a ton of people I know who own labels and have massive collections are in the same boat. Sure nothing matches the record spinning experience, but I can press a few buttons on my phone and listen to any record I want, whenever I want, in surround sound.
Here’s another piece of pop psychology for you that I can guarantee informs how a lot of movers and shakers make their decisions. People would rather see you barely sold out a run of 100 units rather than that you sold 107 of 500 in the same amount of time. Yes, the band who sold 107 will probably make more money off of this current printing since they still have product to shift, but they also can’t put those two agic words next to their reelease. And if you can’t announce yourself as having sold out, then people ar just going to think you’re another band. They aren’t going to dig in and ask how many units you actually sold. I mean maybe they will if they are legitimately interested, but remember, so much of the time in music the first impression is everything. If you’re spoiling that, then you’re just kind of hurting your entire career.
I’m not saying don’t create physical product – I’m just saying to be a little more cautious. A conservative estimate is always going to serve you much better than one where you end up blowing all of your bands money, or putting yourself in debt on units that will never make their profit back. I don’t care if it gets cheaper per unit if you sell 500, you’re raising the price you need to make your money back significantly and shooting yourself in the foot. This isn’t an industry that is very kind to people who screw up, even once, so err on the side of caution, invest in merch that brings value, and watch your success grow.