The digital revolution presents many challenges for musicians – but fortunately, distribution is not really one of them: it's now easier than ever to make your music available to a big audience (whether they buy it or not is another matter, of course). In this blog post I’m going to look at some ways that you can distribute your music quickly and effectively – and give you some tips on how to maximise revenue from each method of distribution.
1. Use your own website
The simplest way to distribute your own music is by setting up a store page on your website and selling your music – in whatever format you like – direct to site visitors. The big advantage of this is that you keep nearly all of the cash generated through sales; the downside is the time involved in fulfilment of physical products (that, in layman’s terms, means the shoving of CDs into jiffy bags and walking them to the post office). If you think you are going to sell thousands of CDs, and don't like going to the post office, then you need to bear this time commitment in mind.
Selling digital downloads from your site is obviously more straightforward and doesn't involve the dreaded jiffy bag – but don’t forget the bandwidth issue: if you find yourself in a lucky position where thousands of people are rocking up to buy a download direct from your site, remember that they may also knock it over unless you’ve set everything up correctly from a hosting / bandwidth perspective.
As for processing payments, an obvious way to get started on this is via Paypal, but a tool like Shopify might be a better bet, as it allows you to upload and sell digital goods easily, track and fulfil orders, run sales reports and so on - Paypal can be a fiddly business as far as this goes, and not everybody loves buying with it. You can also use Shopify to sell other merchandise and, in fact, build a whole music website on it.
A good thing to do when selling direct from your site is to ‘add value’ to the stuff you are flogging. By this I mean making the products on offer more appealing on your website than on other digital stores – for example, you can let potential customers know that you will sign every CD bought direct from your site; that you will include an exclusive PDF of lyrics with every download of the album and so on.
However, if you think you are going to sell records in quantities that might result in a chart position, then it is better to focus on a distribution solution that lets the good folk who run the charts know whenever somebody buys a copy of your album. Which takes me onto…
2. Use a digital distribution company
There are a host of companies out there that offer global digital distribution on all the major digital stores and streaming services. You just pay a fee, upload your music to their system and they make it available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify etc.
As every online store you sell your music on will be taking a percentage of each sale, you won’t make as much money as you might from selling direct, but there are some big advantages in using an online distribution company, namely:
- you will be selling music on sites and stores that have large, existing customer bases
- people may be more comfortable with buying music from their preferred digital store than from your site
- this method of music distribution makes you eligible for the charts (and we all love being in the charts).
The question is whether you plump for a company that takes a cut of every sale (such as Zimbalam), or use one like Tunecore where you pay a flat fee every year and keep all the dosh generated via sales (after iTunes / Amazon / 7Digital have taken their percentage, of course). You’ll need to base this decision on the number of downloads you reckon you’ll sell.
There is work involved in all this – you’ll need to be prepared to spend a couple of hours gathering and uploading your music, album art, meta data etc. to your digital distributor’s website (and in quite specific formats). It’s time consuming and occasionally technically challenging but once it’s all set up, you will have global distribution and, theoretically at least, a chance of getting into the charts.
Remember that some online music stores provide ‘affiliate links’ that let you get a little bit more cash from each sale of your download. If you are pointing people in the direction of these stores, you should use these affiliate links to do so – this will help you get a few more pence any time somebody buys your music (follow these links for more info on iTunes and Amazon affiliate programmes: iTunes | Amazon).
3. Get a distribution deal
Another approach to getting your music out there is to try to secure a traditional distribution deal, where a distributor takes charge of getting your music into the shops and onto online stores.
The nature of each deal will vary, but generally speaking, this is possibly the most expensive way of distributing your music, so it’s best to do a distribution deal only if:
- you know you have a fairly large number of fans, who are very likely to purchase your CDs from record shops or
- the distributor is offering to provide you with some support promoting the album (for example, by hiring a music PR firm, printing up posters etc.) or
- you are completely and utterly too busy / technically illiterate to upload your own music to digital stores.
Make sure you are aware of all the potential charges from a distributor before doing a deal - delivery costs, CD storage costs, 'sale or return' costs and so on.
4. Forget selling your music
Of course the other way to distribute your music is to forget selling it, and just give it away for free. People are generally more likely to part with an email address / Facebook like in exchange for a download than they are to spend hard cash on a CD, and you may feel it's better to have tight people listening to your music than none at all. Oddly enough this can still generate revenue for you though, because, done right, free downloads can generate a (larger) fanbase that attends gigs, buys merchandise and so on.
Possibly the best way to distribute your music is by using a mixture of the above four approaches – for example, give away a free EP in exchange for an email address; sell limited edition, signed CD albums direct from your site; use Tunecore or similar services to get your music into online stores; and see if you can convince a distributor to put your music into the nation's few remaining record shops.
That way, you can guarantee that you’ll end up with your mum’s email address, and that she’ll buy your record in three different formats.
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