OK, Ok. The title of this article sounds like one of the many "get rich quick" emails that clog up your spam folder. It is possible to make a million overnight in the music biz. But that is, by far, the exception as opposed to the rule. Most of the successful artists and labels that I deal with are in it for the long haul. They know that today's music business requires an equally creative approach to marketing their music as it does to create it.
In the past few months, I have been working on some very interesting, and off-beat, types of music licensing projects. It made me think about the diversity of opportunities that exists in our modern world. Even though everyone bemoans decreasing CD sales, I would like to describe some of the more innovative revenue sources in the hope that it gets you thinking of new ways to earn money from your music.
1) Greeting Cards: I recently walked into a Hallmark store to buy a card. The last thing that I expected to hear was the theme to "Monday Night Football." But wafting from the back of the store was a tinny, yet clearly recognizable recording of this well-known tune. I stopped my quest for a sympathy card for the death of an employee's pet to find the source.
Turns out it was one of the many hi-tech cards that employ audio devices to play music. Aside from the obvious "Happy Birthday to You", there are dozens of other songs that make a lot of money for publishers and labels. It doesn't take much thought to realize that you can license "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" for St. Patrick's Day and "Jingle Bells" for Christmas. But how about "Pomp and Circumstance" for Graduation Day or "M-O-T-H-E-R" for Mother's Day. THe typical compensation structure for audio cards is a either a per unit royalty or a revenue share of the retail price. Selling a $2.99 card doesn't seem like an adequate substitute for a $12.99 CD. But believe me; it adds up to a sizable sum.
2) Toothtunes: Imagine having an electric toothbrush that plays music that can only be heard when it is pressed against your teeth. A friend of mine at EMI Music gave me a few samples for my kids. One played "Let's Get It Started" (from Black Eyed Peas). Another one had "Wake Up" (by Hillary Duff). The songs plays for two minutes which is how long dentists want us to brush. So instead of selling 500,000 CDs to get a gold record, publishers can sell 500,000 toothbrushes (for a gold tooth??). That may seem like an overly ambitious goal. But just imagine how many parents want to get their kids to brush more often. That has to be way more than platinum level of sales.
3) Online Karaoke: For several years, I have been working with the first (and best) online karaoke service. Most people know about karaoke from the many, cheesy karaoke clubs and old cassette systems. But the karaoke business is a multi-billion industry that, until recently, has consisted primarily of unlicensed content.
Utilizing the sensibility of social communities, a friend of mine developed kSolo.com. Ultimately this was purchased by Myspace and it is now known as Myspace Karaoke. In an age where music publishers and record labels are combatting lost revenue from illegal download services like Limewire, Myspace Karaoke attempts to take the karaoke industry, which has been mostly illegitimate and bring it back to the fold. The revenue model for services like these employ a combination of a subscription and advertising sources. It enables publishers a way to breathe new life into their back catalog of songs. Instead of being able to license only eight compositions per CD-G disc, they can now license 1000's of songs for an online karaoke service like Myspace Karaoke.
I know that none of these sound as glamorous as licensing a song for a national car commercial or a big, studio film. These types of high-ticket placements are proving to be one way for publishers and labels to offset decreases in mechanical revenue from CD sales.
As physical sales continue to fall without being completely replaced by digital sales, music owners will need to find new ways to generate licensing revenue from their existing catalog. I would say that the same Chinese curse is also the salvation for the music industry: "May you live in interesting times." The challenges of the digital age also presents new streams of income. Some of them are wacky and some are simple. All it takes is a little imagination... and a willingness to tolerate hearing TV themes while shopping for a condolences card.