Unless you are already a monster-sized musical commodity, you ain't making any money off of albums. The second it gets out, there's a zillion download links for free all over the internet. The record companies can get the links killed, and do, but never all of them. It is a losing battle when you have content that now can so easily be perfectly replicated and passed on in mere minutes. No amount of spiteful shit lawsuits from the RIAA are going to make a damn bit of difference, no amount of lame buggy copy-protection. Someone will always be one step ahead now, always. Sometimes I wonder if it is karma for the shady way so many record companies ran their businesses for so long. But in the end, the artist suffers, then and now.
So, if you cannot expect to make money off your recordings because it is impossible to control the amount of copies that will be freely distributed no matter what you do, you have to think differently as a musician. One way to make bucks, big bucks sometimes, is to license your songs for ringtones, commercials, movies, videogames, whatever. Of course the chances that your song will be picked to be in an iTunes commercial, therefore ensuring its commercial success is minuscule, as everyone and his grandma has a band. His Grandma would be a good band name. What's left is merchandising and money from touring. But there are costs with that as well, unless you are traveling and sleeping in a van and setting up your own equipment and eating Campbell's soup cold from the can in the van on top of your guitar case.
I think about what I would do if I were a musician today, determined to be able to afford Progresso soup in a tour bus sitting on a padded bench seat. What is it that is important about being a musician? I guess that is different for everyone. I think, for me anyway, it would be about being heard, putting what you do just out there and seeing what happens. I guess I would make any of my songs available free, put out the digital hat if someone wanted to toss me a few bucks for them, try to book a lot of gigs, and keep my day job with its insurance and 401K and hope for the best.
I will watch with great interest how the industry finally comes to terms with HELLO! REALITY! and how musicians keep going despite it all. I see good things in musicians delivering music now with no middleman, taking more responsibility for shaping their careers.
Ray Davies again gets the last word, from 1970: