Guilty Downloader Here.
September 1, 2009 4:01 AM   Subscribe

Just curious: If I buy the vinyl version of an album, will the artist be supported just as much as if I had purchased the CD instead?

I listen to (mostly) rap and hip hop, and though I often don't feel compelled to buy albums, when I particularly love one, I feel like I need to support the artist (and that the artist has earned my support).

However, since I've probably already sampled the album via torrent, would it still have the same sentiment if I purchased the vinyl instead? (You know - cooler to have around, maybe I could put it on my walls, etc.)

I suppose this is mainly a question of guilt rather than numbers, because what difference does one customer really make?
posted by the NATURAL to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Um, of course, and you'll be supporting their choice to print on vinyl, which is a dying medium. If you appreciate vinyl, buy it! To the best of my knowledge (from artists I've known who get vinyls printed), it costs a pretty penny to go out on that limb. Support them, or else they won't keep it up. Oh and every single customer makes an absolute difference! You're foolish to think otherwise.
posted by sunshinesky at 4:11 AM on September 1, 2009

Margins on CDs are definitely higher, so short answer is that the profit obtained from CDs is higher... BUT: every artist has a different record contract and distribution. If they are on a big label, there is a good chance most of that profit is going to the label, and only a fraction (regardless of medium) goes to the artist. If it's 100% DIY, the artist proper will get better margins on CDs, but probably would like to see more vinyl sales.

But man, don't let the guilt get you. If you are going to concerts or buying any other merchandise (like tshirts), then you are doing your part. I prefer purchasing vinyl just because getting a CD isn't a huge differences from torrenting an album.
posted by molecicco at 4:16 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

The short answer is that it depends. As noted by both commenters above, each artist's financial situation is different.

But if you mostly listen to rap and hip-hop, you ought to be buying vinyl for another reason. Hip-hop is records. 12"s, really, both because they facilitate DJ'ing (even if you never do it yourself, it still feels like supporting the art form a little) and so that you can get the remixes and whatnot that are usually not available on the albums.
posted by box at 5:51 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your best bet for helping the artist is to buy a ticket to their live show. Or a t-shirt. The financial difference between vinyl and a CD is likely minimal for the artist, since most modern recording contracts are still written as if we were in the vinyl era (high breakage, etc). But most artists who go to the trouble of putting their material out on vinyl would really love for you to buy it on vinyl.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:53 AM on September 1, 2009

It could vary by contract, but the (few) recording contracts I have seen, read and touched did not discriminate by media: the artist receives a (painfully small) percentage based on overall sales volume of "physical recordings", and another for "online sales."

As jacqui says, the best percentages for the artists come from live performance. This is the real reason artists tour, since tours don't really enhance record sales. Quite the reverse.

You could also order something from their website, if it's not part of their label. That's usually all for the artist.
posted by rokusan at 6:35 AM on September 1, 2009

the best percentages for the artists come from live performance.

This only really applies to big mainstream artists.

A lot of smaller independent artists can actually loose money on touring but hope to make it back on the Album Sales that the increased publicity and promotion will provide.
posted by mary8nne at 7:05 AM on September 1, 2009

A lot of smaller independent artists can actually loose money on touring

How exactly do you mean? They lose money on touring if nobody attends their concerts. This is not a reason not to support them by attending their concerts.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:57 AM on September 1, 2009

This is the real reason artists tour, since tours don't really enhance record sales. Quite the reverse.

Really? This is the first time I have heard that, and for smaller artists, I hear much more in the way of reports that the tour is a money-loser. Have any supporting data for this?
posted by grouse at 7:58 AM on September 1, 2009

I emailed a friend of mine the question and this is what he wrote back:

vinyl, which is a dying medium.

This is complicated. More vinyl was sold last year than in any year since 1991. So it's not dying, it's just not as popular as CD or mp3. However, I'd speculate that since vinyl sales are up substantially and CD sales are down substantially, vinyl isn't the dying medium.

This is the first time I have heard that, and for smaller artists, I hear much more in the way of reports that the tour is a money-loser. Have any supporting data for this?

For bands who are unknown, touring is a losing game and promoting their album, or getting signed, is their goal. For established artists, even small ones, touring is very profitable. They make more money on CDs and vinyl sold at concerts than they do on the same items sold through stores. This is usually because the cost is the same but they've cut out the middle man. For instance, your local indie record store will pay about $10 for a piece of vinyl that they bought from a distributor which the distributor bought from the record label. Each of those businesses mark things up so the record might have been $7 from the label and the distro marks it up $3 to sell to the store, which marks it up $3 more and sells it to the listener for $13.

But the artist gets it direct from the label for at least as low as the distro does (if not lower, as per the terms of their contract) and sells it for the same $13.

In the standard scenario of label to distro to store to listener, the artist is getting a percentage of the label's price ($7). In the tour scenario the artist is making at least $6 on the sale of the record. Sale price minus cost.

In addition, an established indie artist who regularly sells out venues (for instance, Bonnie Prince Billy) will make a hefty sum off the concert itself. I can't recall the exact numbers but in a recent article in the New Yorker, Will Oldham mentions the figure, and it's in the low tens of thousands per night. Of course, roadies, band members, etc., all have to be paid. But it ain't a losing game by any stretch. I believe John Zorn's Masada charged $20k per show for his last appearance in Toronto (3 years ago). The band is a jazz quartet and I believe tickets were about $40. Last time I saw BPB tickets were about $30. The first time I saw Oldham play was in 1994 and they were second on the bill--I believe tickets were $7.

As to the original question of whether an artist makes the same off vinyl or cd sales, that will depend on the contract they have, but I would say that yes, in the vast majority of cases they do.

Many labels (especially smaller ones) are including a CD (or downloads of MP3s) in the price of the vinyl these days, so it's clear they want that sale--or at the least don't want to lose that sale to someone with an mp3 player. They wouldn't want to do that if it weren't profitable. Other labels (Blue Note comes to mind) are offering a CD with the vinyl at an additional cost. For instance, they offer the CD at $10, the vinyl at $13, and the vinyl with a CD enclosed for $16.

As for my supporting data, I've worked directly with popular indie bands on promotion and management in the past and I currently run an independent record store.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:21 AM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the informative comment, You Should See the Other Guy, but the part of the previous statement I was challenging was the idea that tours would actually decrease record sales, which is a bit unexpected to me. Perhaps I misread what rokusan meant.
posted by grouse at 9:34 AM on September 1, 2009

grouse, the part of your comment that my friend quoted was about tours being money-losers. He agrees with you that it is for unknown artists but doesn't agree on name artists, even artists just popular in indie sense.

I don't see how concerts can result in a loss of album sales, myself, and don't understand what rokusan could have meant by that.

Here's the New Yorker article--Oldham's max figure for putting on a show is $25k.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:44 AM on September 1, 2009

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