How to sell your music online: a complete guide
- 02 July 2021, Friday
Looking to take your journey as an artist to the next level and start selling your music online? Whether you want to release a full-length album or a hot new single, you’ll want to ensure you have a solid strategy in place to give yourself the best chance of maximizing your sales and engaging existing and brand new fans alike.
With so many online music stores and streaming services to choose from, it can be a bit overwhelming for budding new artists to understand where they should focus on selling their music. Then, it isn’t simply a case of uploading music and seeing the sales revenue come flooding in. Artists have to be proactive when it comes to their release strategy and marketing to stand out in the crowded online music marketplace and start growing their fanbase.
Thankfully, here at iMusician, we know a thing or two about digital music distribution, which is why we’ve put together this complete guide to selling your music online, providing you with everything you need to know about the industry, where to sell your music, navigating an increasingly saturated marketplace, as well as building a release strategy to amplify your success as an artist.
Where to sell your music online
Before anything else, you’ll want to decide where you want to sell your music. When it comes to selling music online, you have two avenues to explore:
Selling in digital download stores such as iTunes and Beatport
Uploading your music to streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music
However, it is common to use a mix of the two.
With online music download stores and streaming services, it is increasingly hard work for independent artists and labels to get their music approved and uploaded to the major players in the market, which is where our digital music distribution services come in. As a digital distributor, we’ll deal with the heavy lifting in order to get your music onto all the best international music stores and streaming platforms, allowing people across the world to discover and listen to your music, whatever their preferred method.
The online music selling industry
The meteoric rise of the online music selling industry has seen a dramatic shift away from the traditional physical sales of music. Despite a recent resurgence in the sales of analog formats such as vinyl, digital streaming and downloads remain by far the most popular form of accessing music due to their convenience and low cost. In fact, many music fans who purchase vinyl records and CDs tend to use music streaming services to listen to and discover music before buying it in physical format.
Streaming is naturally a hot topic in the industry at the moment. As a model in transition, it was accused of not paying out enough to artists, which certainly created a lot of skepticism among musicians. In reality, streaming services are starting to hit the right notes and their ubiquitous global rise and success cannot be denied.
With a completely different model than downloads, streaming generates low revenues over a long period, instead of providing a one-off high revenue stream like downloads or physical sales used to generate.
Regarding the amount of money involved, compared with receiving no revenue at all, streaming has the added benefit of giving musicians reach. It gives easy access to audiences, which is the first step to getting you known and allowing you to create opportunities to play gigs and convert casual users into ‘super fans’. It is predicted that the decline in music revenues that’s been going on since the 90s, will finally turn around soon and it’s all thanks to streaming!
Music download stores
Despite all the popularity surrounding streaming services, many people still like to purchase at least some of their music. In addition to offline listening, the benefits of downloading music include owning it outright as opposed to using it under license. This means that tracks cannot suddenly disappear from your library if the parent company goes out of business, for example.
Selling your music in online download stores is a great way to allow fans to support your music and opens up your fanbase to include those who might not use streaming services. Another benefit of selling your music on download stores is the relatively low barrier to entry; if you are just starting up on your journey as an artist, you might not be in a position to invest in CD and vinyl pressing just yet.
As a well-established market leader, nearly two-thirds of all music downloads take place on the iTunes store; therefore selling your music on iTunes is an absolute must! In addition to that, it offers useful marketing tools such as pre-orders and instant gratification tracks.
In addition to its music streaming service, Amazon remains a firm favorite for music downloads offering them as instant MP3 downloads alongside the usually more expensive physical formats. With Amazon’s huge, and continually growing user base, having your music one click away from those users is a sure-fire way to make extra sales.
Beatport is the premier online music store for electronic dance music (EDM). It also offers music in higher quality lossless formats, which can bring you extra revenue. A key benefit of selling your music on Beatport is that it is tailored to aid discovery and make EDM more accessible to newcomers.
Bandcamp is an independent platform that allows musicians to set up their own stores and sell their songs directly to fans in multiple digital formats including MP3, WAV, and AIFF. Bandcamp is a great place for budding musicians to get discovered and build up a fan base. As well as selling digital downloads, artists can expand their store to sell CDs, vinyl records, and other merchandise.
Traxsource is an online music download store specifically for electronic music and is run by DJs, for DJs. Given its reputation for quality and authenticity, selling your music on Traxsource is a great opportunity for creators of electronic and house music to gain recognition.
Juno Download is one of the largest independent online dance music download stores in the world. As well as dance music, Juno Download offers an incredibly wide selection of genres and with its handy Juno player, allows users to listen to every part of a track before buying.
Music streaming subscriptions are growing exponentially, so having your music on all the major streaming platforms is a must for any release. This is especially true for up-and-coming artists as it’s a great way of gaining exposure and building up a fan base that will eventually go on to purchase downloads, copies on CD and vinyl, as well as gig tickets.
With over 356 million active users and 158 million subscribers, getting your music on Spotify is perfect for putting your songs in front of millions of potential new fans. The $8 billion paid to rights holders is set to increase over the coming years, and with an average artist revenue per play around $0.0044, Spotify can also contribute to your sales income.
Apple Music joined the streaming revolution slightly later than the likes of Spotify, branching off from the iTunes download store in 2015. Since then, it has built up a user base of over 60 million users and pays artists an average of $0.0074, making getting on Apple Music equally as important for gaining exposure.
YouTube Music replaced Google Play Music as Google’s music streaming subscription service. It’s also tightly integrated with the wider YouTube platform through Art Tracks, meaning that artists have a potential reach of over 1 billion users worldwide. Getting your songs on YouTube Music is a great way of getting discovered, as well as earning sales income through streaming and ad revenue.
As well as being a popular stockist of physical music formats, Amazon has its very own subscription-based music streaming service, Amazon Music. With a huge global reach, getting your songs on Amazon Music will put you in front of millions of potential fans, as well as give you access to Amazon Music For Artists, allowing you to claim your artist profile where you can add artist images and access a wealth of global information regarding your streams and performance data.
Tidal is a Norwegian subscription-based music streaming service that focuses on providing users with high-quality lossless audio and exclusive behind-the-scenes content and special features. Tidal claims that it pays the highest percentage of royalties to music artists in the streaming platform market.
Deezer is a French online music streaming service founded in 2007. The platform reached 16 million users in 2018 and is available in 180 countries worldwide.
Qobuz is a French music streaming platform and download service with a four-tier subscription model for users. Currently available in 18 countries, it is a competitor of fellow French streaming service Deezer.
Previously operating as Rhapsody and now carrying the name of the defunct peer-to-peer music sharing service, Napster has made impressive strides in the competitive music streaming industry with over 5 million users as of 2020.
Create a strategy for selling your music online
With the barriers to entry into the music industry lower than ever for artists, making great music is simply not enough to get noticed and build up a following. To stand out in an increasingly crowded market, artists must be able to visualize and execute a strategy for releasing and promoting their music to build and sustain a fanbase and generate income from music streams and sales.
Launch your own website
Creating and maintaining your own website may seem like more effort than it’s worth, but believe us when we say that a well-maintained website is the crucial contact point between you and your fans. As your audience grows, you can expect to see an increase in fans wanting to truly support you by buying music and merchandise directly from your website. Your website is your very own space and you are free to put out whatever content you wish to help build a narrative around your story as a band or artist, in addition to keeping fans in the loop about any exciting upcoming news or events.
You’ll want to engage your fans from the get-go. It can be as soon as you have an idea for a track or have recorded a demo, whatever stage you are along the music creation process letting fans know you have something coming soon is a great way to build up excitement and make them feel like part of the creative journey.
There are many ways you can engage with your fanbase; common methods include promotional video teasers on Facebook and Instagram, and keeping your followers up to date with photos and posts documenting the creative process. If you have your own website you can utilise this to advertise and promote your music, but social media is great to utilise with or without a website.
Set up a pre-order
Pre-orders on iTunes can be a great marketing tool for your release. A pre-order enables you to put your album/EP/single online before the official release date in all shops and online download stores. You can decide if you want to offer a 90-second preview, set different prices per track, or offer “instant gratification tracks”. Instant gratification tracks can be available on different dates before the official release day and fans who pre-order your album will receive them instantly.
Pre-order sales count towards your iTunes chart position both during the pre-order period, as well as on your release date, so encouraging fans to purchase your pre-order can help you rise up the iTunes charts as well.
We recommend that you set up your pre-order as soon as possible, ideally a minimum of 4 weeks before the release date - the longer, the better. Spotify recently launched its pre-save link feature to compete with iTunes’ pre-orders. You can request this link as soon as your release has been delivered to Spotify and that will enable your fans to pre-save your music so your track can be instantly added to their playlist on the release date.
You can also set up pre-orders on Amazon Music and Deezer. Your instant gratification tracks will be the same on both of these platforms. If you want to distribute a single release on Spotify to match the release date of your instant gratification tracks, you’ll need to create a specific single for each track on Spotify.
Release your music
It’s very important to plan your release strategy well. Do you want to release a full album directly? Or do you want to create some excitement and release 2 or 3 singles before the official release date of your album? Do you want to start with an EP release in order to have some online material before contacting labels?
Once you’ve decided what type of release you want to publish, make sure you select the right digital release date and have enough time to prepare your promotion around it. Usually, the best release days are Fridays and Tuesdays, and we recommend scheduling it at least 4 weeks in advance so you have enough time to build your promotional plan.
Your release date should coincide with email newsletters, social media posts, and other promotional activities to ensure you have gained sufficient coverage and piqued your fans’ interest beforehand.
Once you’ve released your music and put all your efforts into executing your promotional plan, it’s fair to say you will have earned yourself a nice break. But, after catching your breath, you should continue to promote your music by following up with fans. This may be through social media posts and email newsletters; maybe your album has been out for a whole month already - post on social media to celebrate and encourage fans to purchase if they haven’t already. If you have an e-commerce store on your website, offer discounts on downloads and physical copies, or even bundle items together such as offering your entire discography at a reduced price.
How to get started with selling your music online
Before you can even think about your release and promotional activities, you should make sure you have the basics of selling your music online nailed down. These crucial elements will ensure that your music is of sufficient quality and suitable for online streaming and downloads, complies with online stores and streaming platforms’ requirements, and provides your fans with the best possible listening experience.
Music audio file
Naturally, you will want your music to sound as good as possible on all the platforms, so to distribute your release you should make sure it’s uploaded as an uncompressed WAV file in 16 or 24 bits, 44.1 kHz.
Whilst the days of physically holding an album’s artwork have nearly disappeared with the digital age, a visual representation of your music is still very important. While you can get generic artwork, choosing something unique to you and your style can make all the difference! The basic requirements are:
- JPEG File - 3000x3000 pixels;
- Must include the artist name and release title;
- No logos or additional info;
- No nudity or violent content.
Metadata information including ISRC and barcode
All the songs you release online will require metadata information which includes artist name, titles, contributors, and ISRC codes - international unique barcodes to track your music. In addition to that, a unique UPC/EAN barcode will be generated for your release. If you do not have ISRC and UPC/EAN codes yet, you can acquire some through us for free.
Promoting your music
We’ve already touched upon the importance of promotion as part of your overall release strategy, now let's take a deeper look at the various tools and platforms you can use to spread the word of your hot new releases.
Making the most of any promotional opportunities available to you is essential as an up-and-coming artist, and thanks to the likes of social media, a lot of it can be done for free or, at least, at a relatively low cost. Of course, if you have a large enough budget, then hiring a PR agent to contact journalists and influencers would be incredibly beneficial for spreading awareness, but if you are limited in terms of expenses, you can also check out our handy DIY guide to PR relations for some tips on how to do your own PR.
Set up your artist profile
There are more and more platforms that allow you to create your own artist profile where you can upload your images and write a bio for you or your band. Having an artist profile is a great way of customizing the way you appear to fans on streaming platforms and download stores. Having an attractive-looking artist profile can also increase your chances of success when submitting your music to Spotify’s playlist curators.
Some platforms, such as iTunes, Apple Music, and Deezer require you to go through a digital distributor like iMusician to claim an artist profile, but several other online platforms such as Spotify and Beatport offer the possibility to claim it yourself.
Create a promo link player or your artist hub
Once your release is finally online, a promo link player or your Artist Hub will help you gather links to all shops on a single page. That way, you make sure your fans can always find your music, whatever platform they use. You can also embed the promo link player on your official website and newsletter, as well as share it on all your social media profiles.
If you set up an iTunes Pre-order, you’ll receive your promo link player with an iTunes link when the pre-order starts. Then, once the official release day arrives, the promo link player will simply be updated with all shops so the URL will stay the same. That means there is no need to update links on your website, social networks, videos, and PR communications.
An often overlooked resource, email lists are a crucial ingredient in the success of selling your music online. This is because, with an email list, you own a database of fans that you can always access and download. Unlike social media, the majority of people at least check their emails every day. If fans have been subscribed to your email list to receive a newsletter or by having purchased from your website, they are likely keen to hear from you and about any new releases. In addition to your other promotional activities, you should always use the opportunity to send out an email to your fan list with a link to buy your new single or album.
Social media is an essential tool for up-and-coming artists. It’s the perfect way of engaging with current fans and keeping them in the loop regarding your music and any projects on the horizon. As well as interacting with existing fans, artists can make use of tools such as Facebook ad campaigns to get in front of any potential new fans yet to discover them.
Offer digital and physical bundles
Even if your album has been out for a while, you can continue to find ways of promoting it and generating sales revenue. A great way to re-engage fans and give them the opportunity to support you is by offering physical and digital bundles. If you have released a CD or vinyl copy of your album, why not offer a free digital download with every purchase? Bundles don’t need to be limited to music and you can also throw any merchandise you have into the offering!
Who doesn’t love getting a discount on their purchases? Once your music has been out for a while, consider offering it at a lower price for a limited time to boost sales. Alternatively, you could build up excitement for a new release by offering your older albums and merchandise at a discounted price.
Once you have built up a significant following, you could consider expanding your revenue streams by setting up fan subscriptions through your website. Fans will support you for a small monthly membership fee in return for what could be early access to new or previously unreleased music, or even exclusive updates and content - the choice is yours!
We hope this guide has given you a comprehensive overview of all the aspects to consider when selling your music online. Staying organized and knowing the difference between promoting your music and repeatedly begging anyone and everyone to buy it are the most important aspects when it comes to selling your music.
The process of selling music online is a long-term project that takes care and attention, but if done right, the benefits can be huge, with a stronger relationship with fans, greater sales revenue, and more money to keep making music in the future.
Remember to engage your fans from the start of the creation of your album, make the most of your website, mailing list, and social media channels, and ensure you sell your music on a variety of platforms and services to make sure you reach all of your fans no matter how they prefer to listen to music.
If you have any questions feel free to check our FAQ section.
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