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Digital distribution for independent musicians

It’s been a while since the music industry switched to the digital era. CDs and vinyl mostly became souvenir merchandise, while we all enjoy music by downloading it to our gadgets or streaming it via streaming platforms. Digital distribution opened a lot of new opportunities to musicians. You no longer need a label to sell your music worldwide. Numerous services will help you to sell and stream your music online, without any headache. All you need is to create a good music product, make it available on the platforms that your average listener is used to, and start promoting your release online and/or offline.

Let’s imagine that you just finished your debut single, EP or album, and you don’t have any experience in this field yet. There are a lot of distribution options available to you, but if you are an independent musician, I would recommend you to choose between two main directions.

Option 1: Use BANDCAMP as your only distribution platform

BANDCAMP proved itself as a self-sufficient distribution platform, which can cover all your basic distribution needs without any investments. Artist accounts are free. No annual fee. Bandcamp makes money through their revenue share on sales, which is 15% for digital, 10% for merch. Fans can download music in various formats, including lossless WAVe and FLAC, and also stream music via BC mobile app, which is available on both iOS and Android. Once one has created a fan account, he or she can start building a collection with all releases purchased via BC. It’s almost as good as having your favorite CD’s on a shelf at home.

Bandcamp is also very popular because of its PAY-WHAT-YOU-WANT option. It helps independent musicians to share their music with no limits, while their fans still have opportunity to support them with donations voluntarily. This model will fit you perfectly, if you’re not a commercial musician, and you want to share your music with as many people as possible.

The main disadvantage of using Bandcamp as your exclusive distribution platform is that your audience may not be familiar with the service, or be used to some other digital stores or streaming services (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play). Therefore, it’s important to know your current and/or potential audience. Or just take the risks.

Option 2: Use a distribution service / music aggregator (Tunecore, CDbaby, Distrokid, etc.)

Distribution service (also called music aggregators) is the simplest way to get your music to almost ALL digital stores and streaming platforms. Uploading an album will take you half of an hour tops, and then your release will be available basically everywhere in just a few days. It’s not free, however. Some services take money only for getting your music to stores (from $19.99 to $49), while others take an annual fee for keeping it there as well. Moreover, don’t forget that each particular digital store charges its commission, too. For example, Google Play and iTunes pays distributor only around 70% of the sale price. If you are not doing music just for your friends, and you are able to sell at least 10-15 copies of your album a month, the price shouldn’t be an issue. If you are not confident about your sales, or just do music as a hobby, consider using the first option that I described above. It will cost you nothing on start, and only 15% on sales.

At the moment, there are three the most popular music distribution aggregators – Tunecore, CDbaby and Distrokid. Despite the fact that they all do basically the same thing – get your music to all digital stores, they have very different pricing models. Moreover, each service has a different set of extra tools, provided either in addition to the standard package, or for an extra fee. Let’s take a look at this comparison table:

Comparison table: music distribution services

TUNECORE takes the most money for placing and keeping your music in stores ($30\album for the first year, $50\album for every following year), but it doesn’t take ANY commission from your sales. Moreover, it has the biggest amount of promotion tools, most of which are available for no extra fee, and it provides quite detailed reports. For an extra fee you can also get a publishing administration or monetize your music on YouTube. Simply speaking, Tunecore is a good option for musicians that sell quite a lot of music, and who don’t mind paying more for better service. On the other hand, it’s a very bad option for those, who have very little sales. Your albums will drain money even years after release, if you don’t take them down. Imagine having 3-4 albums released, paying $150-200 a year for keeping them at stores, while having very little sales that don’t even cover the costs.

CDBABY charges more for placing your music in stores ($49\album + $20 if you need UPC), but it doesn’t take any annual fee. However, they will charge you 9% commission from all money that you get. That’s $90 from each $1000 you make with your music. At this point it seems much more than you pay at Tunecore, but it’s only if you MAKE $1000. There are a lot of artists who sell less, but still want to have their music available everywhere. If this sounds like you, then CDbaby will be a good option, since you don’t take any risks.

DISTROKID have got a reputation of the most cost-effective distribution service. You pay only $20 a year, and you can upload ANY amount of singles, EPs and albums within this price. ISRC/EAN codes will cost you nothing, and you can also order YouTube monetization for $5 a year with a 20% commission. Of course, such a low price has the reverse side as well. You cannot get a Publishing Administration deal, and you will get a very limited amount of additional tools and services. Distrokid is basically about a simple and cost-effective distribution for independent musicians.

Over the past couple of years, many new platforms have appeared on the market. They usually offer better prices, but you also have to consider higher risks that someday they might stop supporting your releases and get off the market. If you want to take a look at them anyway, here a few names for you - www.dittomusic.com, www.spinnup.com, www.songcastmusic.com, www.soundrop.com, www.routenote.com, www.emubands.com.

I hope this article will help you to choose the right way of distributing your music, and encourage you that you don’t need a label for that. Good luck, and sell some music!

Vladyslav Tsarenko | CEO of All4band.com