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Artist Advice Column: How To Sell Your Music Online - A Look At The Players Pt. 2

Selling your music online can seem impossible. We make it a little easier.
vinyl (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

vinyl (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

We started on the task of selling your music online recently and after covering the people who will facilitate your placement onto digital download stores or streaming services, it is time to actually get your music out there. No more middlemen sucking you dry (they will still be there), just time to make money on your music.

4. Streaming: If you go to a music conference, you may hear the word streaming 1,000 times in the first day, but that is for a reason – it is how people are consuming music. We have already gone over how your get your music on streaming services – sign up through a licensed distributor – but what do you do once you are there? What ones do you focus on? How in the hell do you make any money on the estimates $.0006- $.008 per stream you might get from each of the services.

First off don’t pay too much attention to the per stream rate payouts. You will only go insane and unless you are a major act who has leverage with public opinion, labels and the business at large, there isn’t much you can do to change the machine. Focus on what you can control and that is your music and getting it seen by more people.

If we are sticking with services in the United States, then your efforts will likely be on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Google Play, YouTube, SoundCloud or Tidal. SoundCloud and YouTube are slightly different because there isn’t the gatekeeper component and anyone can create an account and promote them, however, monetization on those services is harder. You can monetize your official account on YouTube, but the payouts are quite low. SoundCloud is attempting to be more artist-friendly and roll out ads without alienating their base, but struggling mightily. These two also double as discovery services where people will find your music from other songs.

Focusing on the other big streaming services, this is where you distribution and publishing money & efforts are going. Spotify is the big fish in the pond right now, with over 60 million paying subscribers and 140 million active users as of their last count. Apple Music has 30 million, while Amazon Music has 16 million and is no longer someone to ignore. They each have their own niche. Spotify is strong with electronic and pop, Apple with hip-hop and pop, Tidal is strong with hip-hop, R&B and Latin, while Amazon has a strong presence with rock, country and classics.

However don’t feel like you need to focus all of your efforts on one or the other. According to an August 2017 Nielsen report, 57% of millennials use two or more apps to stream music. So they will find you on Spotify and YouTube, or Apple Music and SoundCloud, or Amazon and Google Play. Listeners will choose their streaming service of choice based on its services likes discovery, curated playlists or exclusive content, not necessarily the genre it leans to.

Getting the most out of streaming can be luck, but it is primarily  hard work. Playlisters have become the most important curators in 2017 and likely beyond. Their ability to put your song in a high-profile playlist with hundreds of thousands or millions of listeners can break an artist. Finding their contact information can be difficult, but it is generally available online. It is another way for you to get discovered, find super fans and once you have the data on them, sell merchandise and play shows for those fans.

Don’t think it is impossible to pitch them. Always make sure your press releases and social media posts have links to your releases on all of your streaming services so fans can go to the one they prefer or to as many as they like. The more options the better.

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5. Digital Downloads: Streaming may be the way we are consuming music in the future, but that does not mean downloads are dead. iTunes is the biggest place to sell your music, but many people still go buy music from Amazon or specialty genre stores like Beatport or Traxsource.

To get onto the digital download stores, you will need to get through the middlemen again. Always know what distributors to work with for each store.

Digital downloads and their respective charts can be quite useful. Getting into the top 10 of the main iTunes chart probably won’t happen for a small indie band just starting out without a major break, but if you leverage position on a genre chart and then work from there, each rise in position is direct correlation to more money made.

Getting your music featured on the homepage of a service can be something you pay for or something they choose. If it is in your budget, decide if you want to do that, or for services like iTunes, it is making sure everything around your release is right, the timing doesn’t put you against major players and luck.

Don’t count out digital downloads, but don’t rely on them. It can be a good way to self-release music and get super-fans involved, but also it won’t be the way to get rich quick.

6. Selling physical copies of your music: This can come in many forms – cassette, CD or vinyl. Cassette is if you have hit the Urban Outfitters, Forever 21 market and know you can sell to that crowd. Don’t just start making cassettes without knowing your audience. They will sit in your basement until then end of time if you don’t.

CDs are still sold, but they are primarily being sold to middle-aged people who grew up with them and still have the equipment for them. CDs should still be a part of your overall physical music package, especially when creating merchandise bundles.

The real growth is in vinyl. You are at an advantage if you have a label who will press your records on vinyl for you, but if you are independent and don’t have that luxury, someone like Diggers Factory can do any amount at your price. In 2016, vinyl sales hit 13 million in the US, a number not seen since 1991. That number is only expected to rise. It is a better way to listen to music (compared to laptop speakers or earbuds), a tangible collector’s item and a way that fans feel like they can support an artist they really like in between all of the illegal downloading.

Be careful with physical copies though. It is a big upfront cost with getting liner notes done, artwork printed, the actual physical CDs or vinyl made and then storage and shipping. It isn’t cheap and you have to market that you have these available. If your fans don’t know these are available, they won’t know. See if you can sell some at shows first as merchandise either being there at a booth to sign it or just on its own and then see if you want to do a full release. 

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