Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Scoop on Billboard Charting

My first gig as a new mum was last Tuesday: a short performance at an Intel conference in San Jose. The days leading up to the gig, I managed to practice in little chunks in between Alex's feedings. Then on Tuesday morning, I tanked him up for the 2 and a half hour drive, gave him a quick feed when we got there, sent baby Alex off with his Dad, rearranged my outfit and played the concert. On the way back home we got stuck in traffic in San Francisco and since it was a nice day, decided to wait it out at the Java Beach Cafe on Ocean Beach.

While we were there, soaking up the beachy atmosphere, I got an email from someone at Billboard inquiring about details for "Into the Trees" for the charts. Oooh! I took Alex back to the van for another feed and called the number.

"What is the record label and catalog number for this album?" the man on the phone asked.

"Er...none", I said, "I released it myself."

"Ok, and what is the retail price?"

"Well, I'm selling physical copies for $14 and deluxe editions for $20, but I sell them from my website so they aren't reported. I guess I'm charting from digital downloads on Bandcamp, which are pay-what-you-want with a minimum of $8".

"Bandcamp?" he asked.

At that moment Alex started crying.

"Hang on a minute! My baby fell off the nipple, I have to adjust him".

I got Alex latched back on and picked up the cell phone again.

"You have a new baby?"

"Yes, he's seven weeks old. I'm nursing him in the car on the way home from a corporate gig".

"Ah...well that's all I need to know. Congrats on the new baby and on making the charts".

The following day, sure enough, there I was on the Billboard classical chart at #7. I was very pleased. However, I kicked myself for not doing all my sales through Bandcamp because none of my pre-orders were counted through Soundscan. Until last week, I was still selling the physical CDs from my site, which means they don't "count". So on the one hand, I was happy to chart 100% from digital downloads and no advertising or PR other than a couple tweets and emails.... but on the other hand, two thirds of my sales weren't reported. 24 hours previously I hadn't cared about reporting sales at all. Now I cared about it.

You see how this goes - its the musical equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses. Before, I was alone in my forest and happy as a clam to be selling any music at all but now I'm comparing myself to others and left unsatisfied (Semi OT: this is one of the things I like about living where I do. There aren't very many people around to remind me that my car is old and I've been wearing the same grubby outfit all week).

I had been revamping my website prior to the album release in a piecemeal fashion (i.e. doing bits of HTML with one hand while breastfeeding) and hadn't gotten around to changing the ordering page. So the day after charting on Billboard, you can be sure I moved all my physical sales to Bandcamp as well (much to the relief of my sister, who handles the mailing of my CDs, and was exasperated with both me and Paypal. Bandcamp has a much friendlier order fulfillment interface).

AND NOW WE COME TO THE MEAT OF THIS RAMBLING BLOG POST where I talk about how many sales figures it takes to chart on the Billboard classical charts.

This Washington Post article is interesting:
Classical artists such as Hilary Hahn chart big on Billboard with little sales

"The dirty secret of the Billboard classical charts is that album sales figures are so low, the charts are almost meaningless. Sales of 200 or 300 units are enough to land an album in the top 10. Hahn's No. 1 recording, after the sales spike resulting from her appearance on Conan, bolstered by blogs and press, sold 1,000 copies."

As delighted as I am to be able to add the tagline to my resume, I was actually surprised to make the Billboard charts because I didn't think I'd sold very many. How many did I sell that week to make the #7 spot? I sold 640 full album downloads (I'm assuming Soundscan doesn't count single song downloads). This last week I sold 709 copies, which put me at #12.

What doesn't get reported though is what I call "purchase enthusiasm". In other words, how many of you opted to pay $20, $30, $50, even $100 for a download of my new album. I've been floored by your generosity (thank you!).

Other bits of data for you to interpret as you wish: on Bandcamp, as of today I've had 71,115 plays (57,789 complete plays, 13,317 partial plays)...1700 Bandcamp album sales and 1988 album pre-orders. Someone also pointed out that my album is on numerous filesharing sites, and one site logs 27,000 downloads of it. This listen-to-buy ratio doesn't seem all that great to me, but then, I have nothing to compare it to.

I'm in this for the long run (the Natoma album has keep me housed and fed for four years) and happy with how things are going, especially given that I've done zero promo. So I won't dwell any more on the numbers but will get back to the more important task of making music. I have a performance with a ballet to get ready for on August 3rd.


Blogger TFATDHQ said...

Congratulation Zoe, its a wonderful album.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You have a new baby?"

"Ah...well that's all I need to know."

Here's hoping this was his way of saying: "I will now stop taking up your valuable time."

Anonymous jim said...

Very interesting look into the business side of your music. Reminded me of this insightful blog by none other than John Mellencamp -

I think it's interesting how Soundscan refocused the business to retail (and skewed all numbers towards what sells in urban markets)

Blogger Nick said...

As an undergrad music composition student who is sometimes frightened and very often disheartened by stories such as the one of Ms. Hahn's album, I must say your story gives me hope for the future of classical music. Congratulations on all your success!

Blogger Christopher said...

I just did my part to put you back on the list. I needed to restock the gift box. You are a superstar :)

Blogger Christopher said...

By the way I said that in my best Saturday Night Live Voice. I am partial to Bill Murray but you can choose whichever you want.

Blogger Jacob said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing this story.

Blogger Unknown said...

You never knew what a Multitasking Diva you were until you had a baby and chose to feed it the right food. Congratulations for doing it all as best you can. It only gets better . . . not easier.

Congrat's on the Billboard Chart placement!

Anonymous Michael Kwan said...

Neil Gaiman's tweet led me to this blog post, which reminded me that I'd put off buying "Into The Trees." So I just did that now. Thanks for the music and for sharing your thoughts. Now all you have to do is to keep making music until Alex gets through college...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that Bandcamp will soon start taking a 15% cut, will you remain there or move back to running your own Paypal order page?

Anonymous lee said...

thank you zoe for sharing your experience and insights about the business side for independent artists online, etc. it is really helpful and encouraging. one thing i was wondering mentioned you had 640 downloads one week and 709 the next. multiplying that times $8 a download, that's about $5,000 a week in digital sales which i think is incredible! that's very inspiring! as someone who hasn't sold on the internet yet, i'm wondering, besides taxes, do you get to keep most of that or where/who does it also go to? i guess for internet sales it goes to the host (itunes, bandcamp, etc.) is that all or is there some other things internet artists have to pay out to? i guess with phycial copies it's the same except the added paying of shipping/labor? basically, i'm wondering, for digital and physical sales, how much of what you/an artist makes do they get to keep and how much do they have to pay to others. if you don't feel like sharing, do you know of any resources online that explain these things more thoroughly?

Blogger helenahandbasket said...

My sales when I wrote this blog were 100% on bandcamp, which at the time took no percentage of my sales. They now take 10% (they take 15% until you've sold over $5000 worth of music).

iTunes keeps 30% for everything sold through them. Then an additional cut goes to your digital distributor (CDBaby, TuneCore, IOTA, etc) unless you can get a direct label account with Apple.

That's a good question as to online resources that list fees...anyone know?

Blogger helenahandbasket said...

Oh, I forgot about PayPal....I do pay 3% or so of every sale through Bandcamp to PayPal.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What was the cost of running your own "store" before you switched to Bandcamp? (ie: selling CDs direct) How do you compare that experience with selling CDs via Bandcamp?

Thanks a bunch!

Blogger helenahandbasket said...

Well, I still run the "store", but the shopping cart interface is hosted by Bandcamp. my sister still sends out the CDs! What is nice is that now I don't have to maintain the code and Bandcamp handles transaction questions and issues.

Anonymous lee said...

thanks so much zoe for sharing your experience, strength and hope ; ) to folks online, etc. it's generous of you to help and share with others learning how to do the music business. know that you inspire others and have our support while you're out there blazing trails and creating new paths!

Anonymous John said...

Re. filesharing, it might make sense to use a different strategy next time. Looks like your album hit the sites within a week or two, but not immediately.

That's a pretty big window of time to upload your own filesharer's special with a text file and 10 sec audio track saying "if you like this album please visit my website and help me make more, no labels involved" etc. Given that anyone could already get the mp3s from your preview, there doesn't seem to be much downside.

Finally, please do a show in LA!

Blogger Unknown said...

Zoe, This just showed up in my RSS feed today :-(.

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