With everything that is happening right now with the Copyright Royalty Board and the new mechanical royalty rate discussions (which will be the first time ever that rates are set for digital products such as digital downloads, subscription services and ringtones – more here from Eric Beall), I thought it might make sense to talk about how you, as an independent musician, can get into the digital music retail game. I did a quick interview for CNN/Fortune last week on the topic of digital distribution, which is a fair enough primer on the basics. Text is below, and shortened interview can be found here.
The good news is that a lot of what independent labels did for artist in the past can now be accomplished by the artists themselves. Distribution is key among the tasks that in the past were monopolized by labels and are now open to almost anyone through forward-thinking online distributors. Two companies in particular have empowered artists to get their music on iTunes, Rhapsody, eMusic, and the other online retailers: CD Baby and TuneCore. Essentially these online distributors do exactly the same thing – they have direct relationships with the digital retailers and provide a bridge to get your music into the stores. However, they operate slightly differently. CD Baby charges a small fee (currently 9%) for every sale that generates online. Tunecore charges no fee on sales, but instead charges a one-time fee, per store, per album for delivering the music, and one-time charge per song you upload (both charges are currently $.99), plus a $20 annual fee. You’ll need to run the numbers to see which one works best for your particular situation. There are other online distributors popping up all the time, but these two are the most established and have a proven track record of success.
One important factor to note: distribution follows marketing. One does not market their music by getting on iTunes. The key is to generate interest outside of these retailers and to drive folks to the outlet so they will buy your music. This is best done though a fully integrated marketing campaign that focuses on effective traditional outlets, and also takes advantage of the marketing outlets and technologies that are now available to the independent musician (Internet marketing is a big part of this, of course). Quick advice: be sure to have your own Web page to start (do not make the mistake of only having a MySpace page), and tour, tour, tour. Of course, checking out my Music Marketing 201 course wont hurt either. ☺