How Vinyl And Merch Are The Lifeblood of Unsigned Artists

Sales of vinyl records are increasing in the UK, according to a report on vinyl sales by Guardian writer Hannah Ellis-Petersen. Vinyl, in fact, outperformed digital music most weeks, making £2.4m in sales compared to digital music hitting £2.1m total purchases. Peterson’s report also mentions that vinyl sales have increased for eight consecutive years despite “almost dying out around 2006.”

This report is certainly welcome news for unsigned artists, who mainly rely on vinyl to get their music to people, and earn some money at the same time. (It’s great news, too, for record labels that make vinyl records of classic albums.)

A Digital Music News feature on vinyl explains that putting songs on vinyl is an affordable means to make a record. Based on computations by Digital Music News, an unsigned artist needs to spend around $1,750 (£1,314) for 500 records, and if all 500 are sold, that artist can make at least $7,500 (£5,632), which could be enough money to perhaps go on tour or make another record. Even better, vinyl records, says Van Bloom, are becoming more and more popular, in part because many people love collecting physical records as opposed to digital music. She also attributes this “rapid swell in vinyl enthusiasm” to the emotional draw of the old-school vinyl, which for many represents something more than just a mere audio format but a reminder of the past as well.

Van Bloom also notes that unsigned artists can earn some money from selling merchandise like t-shirts, although she is quick to point out that “musicians tend to make about 2 percent of their income from the sale of non-musical physical merchandise like t-­shirts, hats, and posters.” But for an unsigned artist, that 2 percent might be the difference between being able to make more music or bidding good-bye to the industry forever.

Getting a foothold in the music industry to create a large enough fan base is the key to success. The biggest bands in the music industry generate revenue outside of record sales, earning money through big tours and licensing their brand. One recent example of a band who have come back to start earning a lot money is Guns N’ Roses. GNR were able to make the sort of impact with their first album that band’s today dream of. Three of the biggest hits that have continued to be popular thirty years later were on Appetite for Destruction. Last year the original line up reunited with a world tour that has been a massive success. Team Rock reported that the band earned on average $5.5 million (£4.6 million) per show in the first three legs of the Not in This Lifetime tour in 2016. The three legs featured 47 shows across North and Latin America.

Those figures don’t even include merchandise sales. Exact figures are unavailable at the moment, but there is more than enough reason to believe that GNR have earned a considerable amount from merchandise sales too, considering the many fiercely loyal fans of the band and the wide range of GNR-themed items available on the market. The band’s official online store offers all sorts of things, including T-shirts, jackets, ornaments, sweaters, socks, and even bobble heads of the band members.

Another area the Guns N’ Roses have been successful is through licensing out the brand. Not only does this generate more income, it also keeps the band in the public sphere. The online video slot game Guns N’ Roses featured on Slingo feeds on old fans nostalgia by using imagery that is unique only to the iconic rock act from LA, while at the same time also introducing the band to new fans. It is this level of coverage outside of the charts and record sales that keep a band successful and why new unsigned artist struggle.

For every GNR, there are many more music acts on the fringes of the industry, each hoping for a breakthrough, or even just enough earnings to keep playing music. For these artists, especially those in the UK, vinyl will remain a saving grace, a more affordable and pragmatic means to generate income to keep them afloat, both in the industry and in life as well.

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