Selling Your MP3 Album Online (Self-Publishing Tips)
Having previously worked for a record label for 7 years, I have tried all the avenues for selling music online. Some were great, some not so great, and today... well everything has certainly changed with the rise of streaming services as well. My experience began when iTunes and other digital platforms just started, so in the early days it was a 'learn as you go' type scenario. Having tried many avenues, what I am presenting here is simply my own personal recommendations (based on experience) to help get your music out to your fans in the 'digital jungle'.
What Digital Platforms Should I Sell On?
There are 3 main options for selling your digital music online - your own site/s, streaming platforms, and pay per download platforms. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Which ones are best for you will depend on numerous factors. When approaching where to sell your music it is always best to do your research (like this article) and develop a strategic approach instead of just putting it up everywhere you can online without giving it much thought.
'Pay Per Download' Platforms
This is the more traditional model made famous by iTunes. Here you put your songs or album up for sale and users must pay a set price to download these to their computer or device, which are then accessible to them forever. So what platforms should you choose for this? Firstly iTunes is a no-brainer. It is the biggest digital platform for music, pays a very generous price, and as such should really be used by any artist for any type of MP3 album. The other really good providers are Amazon and Google Play which are very popular and preserve a high album/track pricing for each sale. Then there are many other companies which have different set prices, so you may want to look around a little further to see which of these is right for you.
Streaming is when users can listen to your songs/tracks live but not download them. The more popular streaming platforms include Spotify, Rdio, eMusic, iTunes Radio, Rhapsody and XBox Music. Generally streaming allows listeners to pay a monthly fee and have unlimited access to their database of songs/tracks to listen to, create playlists, and access across multiple devices. In some cases streaming is completely free for listeners where the revenue to pay artists is generated through advertising that the listener is forced to endure in between songs.
The most important thing to be aware of for streaming is that it generally pays very low royalty rates - usually under 0.01 cents per play - so 1000 plays = $1.00. Unless you are an international artist with millions of plays, doing this is obviously not going to make you rich from music royalties. For this reason streaming services have come under much conjecture recently because they are said to devalue music and unfairly reimburse the artist. Whilst this may be true (especially compared to selling an album/song on iTunes at a much higher rate), there are other ways streaming can be used to your advantage. The streaming sites are very cheap/accessible for your potential listeners to come across your album. This can help expand your fanbase through higher levels of exposure and the much reduced level of investment a potential fan has to pay to hear your tracks. With this in mind, you can then develop strategies to sell other items such as merchandise, tickets, and services to this larger fanbase. By using the streaming platforms as a form of free/paying advertising you can subsequently capitalise from the sale of items related to the music, but not the music itself. Often this can bring higher returns for the artist, however it all depends on your own strategy and if it is the right model for you.
An example website sales page for a MP3/CD album we made...
Selling On Your Own Website
This is often the most obvious, yet most overlooked area, for digital music when it comes to self-publishing. It is quite easy and relatively inexpensive to add an online shop and download system to your own website. Doing this has many advantages including being able to set your own price points, escaping 3rd party fees, directing fans to your site as the main point of purchase, and to also offer special promotions when and how you want to. Speaking from experience using the Drupal CMS for websites I build and own, there is a very good download system ready to go in Ubercart (the Drupal shopping cart) that lets you easily sell and manage digital files (MP3s, AIF, FLAC etc.) direct to paying customers. This is very secure and allows users to access purchased files via email links as well as logging in to their account. This is very important from a UX (user experience) perspective because one of the most frustrating things for customers is to purchase music and not be able to access it immediately. Furthermore there are other online shopping tools and plugins from many 3rd parties that allow you to sell music on your social media pages too. Taking advantage of these allows you to cover more web-space and reach more prospective fans.
How Do I Get My Album on iTunes & Other Music Platforms?
Each of the major digital platforms have different submission protocols. For example iTunes is very hard to get an account for direct submissions which is usually reserved for larger record labels who submit lots of albums. My recommendation for most self-publishers is to use a 3rd party provider to look after all of the submissions for you. Having used quite a few different companies I now exclusively use www.cdbaby.com. In the past I have seen all types of arrangements ranging from larger online record companies who charged anything up to 50% of profits from sales for submission, to other licensing arrangements that were so complex that the artists did not even receive a payment at all! CDBaby is transparent, easy to use, and looks after everything for you. PS - I am not affiliated in any way with CDBaby - just a very happy customer after using them for 8 years and over 300 albums. Another good 3rd party site I recommend is TuneCore (www.tunecore.com). They can also get your album to most major platforms, have good promotion services, a cheap sign up price, but they do have yearly fees for their service.
At the time of this article CDBaby charges a one-off fee of $49 per album (standard) or $99 (pro). This includes the ability to sell your album on all the major digital platforms (iTunes, Amazons, Spotify etc.), licensing, in-store CD distribution and also sales on CDBaby itself. Furthermore they do charge a 9% fee of all sales via digital partners plus a $4.00 per CD sold on their website. I have found the CDBaby staff to always be very helpful and all you have to do is fill out their online form for your album and they look after the rest. In the signup process you can specify exactly where and how you want your album sold, what format/s, what types of licensing (example for use on TV, YouTube, film etc.), the price it is sold on CDBaby, and also the territories you want it sold in. When choosing these options it is a good idea to consider the other information I have mentioned in this blog. For example the streaming platforms may not be for you, so in this case you would not choose the digital delivery of your album to the streaming providers. All of these options make the service extremely flexible to your exact needs. They pay weekly for sales from their own site + monthly for digital partners.
By no means is everything I have mentioned a complete list of all the options available for selling your music digitally. It is a massive industry, and as such there are many many many other options and services from a whole range of different places. What I have tried to cover is the essentials and to give some advice to help your start your foray into the world of online music. If you would like some more information or to enquire about our help incorporating any of this for you, please contact us here. Good luck...