Selling Your Music Online 101

If you’re writing, performing and recording music regularly, chances are at this point that you have your preferred platforms for consuming other artists’ music, too. iTunes or Apple Music? Spotify or Deezer? Amazon or TIDAL? Soundcloud or Bandcamp? YouTube or Pandora? You get it – there’s a ton of options for listening these days.

As you begin to prepare your next release, whether it’s a single, EP or full album, you might be asking yourself: how do I get my music on these platforms? And if you’ve gotten that far, you’re also probably wondering: how can I make money from my music online? Well, you’re not alone.

Free platforms like YouTube, Bandcamp, and Soundcloud simply require a sign-up, some time to build your personal account, and uploading your audio files. Obviously the advantages to this is price and access to fans. Bandcamp even lets you set a price and sell releases right from your page. But what about those digital music stores and streaming platforms that fans can subscribe to? Surely all one needs to do is send their music directly to them, right?

Before we get into that, let’s take a little walk down memory lane.

History

The year is 2006. The music industry is several years into the crippling age of illegal downloading among fans online. Physical sales are continuing to plummet, major labels are downsizing their budgets, and music strategists are still scrambling to reconcile for years of refusing to adapt to a total digital shift.

It isn’t all doom and gloom. iTunes is showing strong performances as the market leader for legal, paid digital downloads – in fact, by this point they’ve hit 1 billion – and Amazon Music is beginning to make an impact, too. iTunes was the spot to go to for downloading your favorite releases, though, and every label worth mentioning was supplying the digital retailer weekly. Either working directly with Apple (major labels) or through distribution networks (independent labels), fans of all genres had a place to find new music, and the labels had a place to market them.

But just like in the past, unsigned independent artists felt locked out. Without a label or a distribution deal, artists could not simply submit their music and sell it on iTunes or Amazon Music.

That is, of course, until TuneCore arrived on the scene!

Ok, ok – we’re being a little self-promotional here. But really, TuneCore’s offering truly was a disruptive moment in the industry: by paying a small subscription fee and following all the formatting guidelines instituted by stores, independent and unsigned artists could digitally distribute their music and keep 100% of their revenue. It was the beginning of an empowering time for creators, and it only got better across the digital landscape.

Flash forward to over a decade later – iTunes is still a household name, but digital music streaming has become the norm. On every continent in the world, there’s platforms for downloading and streaming that millions of music fans use everyday – and the good news? They pay the artists!

So now that you know that signing up with TuneCore is your one-way ticket to getting all of your music on digital platforms, let’s break down what you’re probably most concerned with: revenue.

Downloads

Downloaded files were the first format of digital music that fans could purchase. They’re still very much available and help many artists pay their rent each month. Each store that sells digital downloads has its own pay-out to artists. For the sake of example, let’s take a look at iTunes and U.S. dollars:

One digital single on iTunes = $0.99

Apple/iTunes receives = $0.29

Artist receives = $0.70

TuneCore receives = $0

In this example, in order to earn a profit, the store takes about 30%; the artist earns about 70%; if the artist is distributing via TuneCore, they keep that full 70% – some other digital distributors take a commission, but you can read about our pricing here.

Streams

If you’re less familiar with streaming, it essentially means listeners can play your music from a digital library accessible at their fingertips without having to actually download any files. Music streaming has evolved and will likely continue to as its popularity soars, but in general, you’re likely to encounter two different types of streaming revenues:

  • Streaming revenue that comes in the form of a portion of advertising revenue generated by the platform, or
  • Streaming revenue that comes in the form of a portion of subscription revenue generated by the platform.

Some streaming platforms substitute subscription revenue for advertising – meaning fans can use the service free of a subscription charge, but they will hear ads intermittently during their listening time. These are often referred to as “Freemium” services.

Others require a monthly subscription fee. In both situations, these collective costs (the subscription fees and/or costs paid by advertisers) make up the pool of revenue paid out to artists whose songs are streamed every day.

Why Distribute?

It’s still totally valid for artists who are just starting out in their music careers to say, “Well if there are free platforms available, why not just focus on those and share those links to fans, bloggers, and others I’m pitching my tunes to?”

The biggest reason you should be digitally distributing your music to all major streaming platforms and digital stores: access. Withholding music from listeners who prefer Spotify or Apple Music over Soundcloud doesn’t stand to benefit independent artists who are hoping to build their fan base. Whether it’s the user experience of the app or just habit, music fans can be stubborn about how they choose to consume – and with so many options available, why shouldn’t they be? By choosing to make your releases available across the board, you’re making it easier to show them off to a wider audience – whether it’s promoting links online or bumping into a potential new fan in real life.

One of the best elements of streaming’s soaring popularity is the concept of discovery. Fans who love certain artists will listen to them on their preferred streaming app, only to be recommended similar sounding artists. Within seconds, every single day, fans find their new favorites purely from listening to their old favorites! Playlisting has become an essential tool for discovery on some of these apps, too – and while getting your music on a playlist is a task in and of itself, you’ve got to start somewhere.

While we’re on the topic of discovery, it’s important to remember that when we say “distribute your music all over the globe”, we really mean all over the globe. Just because you’re an indie rock band or hip hop artist based in the U.S., for example, doesn’t mean folks in South Korea who use an app like KKBox don’t love discovering new music in those genres. When you choose to sell your music digitally through TuneCore, your releases wind up in platforms that – while you may have never heard of them – are extremely popular in different countries.

You may not have the resources to start touring on another continent yet, but you’d be shocked by how many independent artists find followings in places they’ve never traveled to simply because they chose to distribute there via TuneCore!

Finally, perhaps the most simple reason you should be distributing your music digitally across new stores and streaming platforms? Money.

It’s not only a dream of artists to make money from their music online, it becomes a necessity. Rehearsal spaces, new instruments, touring, recording, and publicity campaigns all have one thing in common: they cost money. By signing up for TuneCore and distributing your music, you’ve taken the first step toward making money from your music. From there, it’s going to take a lot of promoting and marketing, hard work and hustle to build a fan base and increase your sales and streams – but that’s one thing in this music industry that has remained a constant over time.

There’s a TON of resources on our site to check out if you’re still wondering why digital distribution makes sense – from the stores/platforms we partner with and sales reporting to pre-orders and artist services. Be sure to follow us across social media to stay up to speed with what’s happening, and utilize the TuneCore Blog for endless advice and tips for furthering your career.

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