In the past, record labels were the gatekeepers who decided which bands would have the opportunity to sell their music. Listeners often had to buy full albums in order to get access to the songs they loved.
Things have changed a lot since then. These days it is possible for any band or musician to sell their music online, and more music than ever before is being sold or streamed via digital providers.
On top of this, music listening and discovery habits have changed. Consumers tend to listen more and more to singles rather than full albums, and compile playlists of their favourite songs.
So what does this mean? Put simply, you need to make your music available online for the following reasons:
Access to fans
Lots of people use streaming providers such as Spotify, Deezer or Amazon. If your music is not available on these platforms, you are restricting your own sales.
Discovery and exposure
Online shops use all sorts of discovery tools to help people to discover and stream new music. Lots of money is spent attracting new listeners, and you can benefit from this.
Before you start, take a look at the 5 helpful tips below.
1. What choices do I have?
The way you distribute your music online depends a lot on who you are (musician, band, label or manager), and how far your career has developed. Here are the main options:
- Online digital distributors work directly with independent musicians, smaller labels and businesses.
- Content aggregators work with labels and businesses who have already made releases. Remember that a label can choose between a distributor or an aggregator to represent your music.
- Direct to Fan (D2F) allows you to sell/stream directly from your website, or via free platforms like Bandcamp or Soundcloud.
2. What does a music distributor do?
3. Do I need a digital distributor if I choose D2F?
D2F can be a useful and flexible tool, but it has two main limitations when used alone:
- Not enough website traffic. Y You need thousands of visitors per day in order to generate revenue - a standard musician website usually has fifty to a few hundred visits per day.
- Many consumers have fixed buying habits. If they have their card set up with iTunes and their iPhone, they will not buy from your shop. If they already pay for a Spotify subscription for example, the same problem applies.
4. Which shops do I need?
This is different for every musician, and depends upon the following:
- Where are your fans geographically? Internationally, most people use iTunes, Spotify and Amazon, but you should consider the big regional platforms in the country you are based in too. For example, you don’t want to miss out on Anghami if you are in Middle East, or NetEase in China.
- What kind of music do you make and who are your fans? Some shops cater for specific genres, and are the market leaders in their field. Make sure you research this and use it to your advantage. For example if you make dance music, you'll probably want to use Beatport, Traxsource and Juno Download.
In the digital market you are trying to pick up sales from all over the place. For this reason, we strongly suggest that you distribute your music as broadly as possible. Sometimes you won’t know where your fans are until you make your music available online, and watch the results.
5. What else do I need to consider when choosing my digital distributor?
- Flexibility. Digital distribution services are not record labels – they should not hold exclusive rights to your songs, so you should always be able to get out of any deal at any time with no additional costs or penalty fees.
- Credibility. How long has the distributor been on the market, and will they still be there in a few years? Can they be trusted to pay their artists regularly and punctually? Will you your releases appear online by the agreed date?
- Different packages. Depending upon your experience and your goals you should be able to choose between the following:
- Basic services which makes your music available in a single shop or a limited selection of shops.
- Regular membership with the full range of shops
- Advanced professional offers for labels or managers.
- Additional services like a promo player with the links to your release, pre-order on iTunes, setting your own price per tracks etc.
6. Commission, yearly fee or one off payment?
This decision depends on how much you expect to sell.
- If you have an album in the charts, you're better off making a one off payment to the distributor, and keeping all your royalties thereafter.
- If however you make a back-catalogue digital release of something that has already been physically released, it might not make such a big impact. In this case, a commission agreement with your distributor makes more sense.
- IMPORTANT: Some digital distributors might be very attractive but make sure they are no hidden costs or yearly fees.As long as the prices and conditions are communicated transparently it shouldn't be too hard to work out the best method for you.
So, now that you know a bit more about digital distribution, it’s time to get started. The choices you need to make can seem overwhelming at first. For your info, iMusician is an independant digital distributor founded more than 10 years ago. We are a team of passionate people and we love helping independent artists and labels for their career. We have plans for everyone: for artists with their first single and for labels with hundreds of releases to distribute.
We are working with the widest range of download shops and streaming platforms - including Spotify, iTunes, Deezer, and specialized platforms like Beatport, Traxsource all over the world. Why not try giving your music the best possible chance of success?
Read also our guide “Everything you need to know about selling music online”.
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