There is no doubt that every musician has come to a point where the melody, hook, or lyric that they hear in their head makes it to an instrument and/or words on paper. From that point it may not be the artist’s desire to pursue it further, but there are the few chosen songs that seep from your conscience and onto a magnetic tape or hard drive. Artists rarely do this for their own personal enjoyment, because they feel that the song they have inside them could be worth something to other people. It is in our nature to share our passions and gifts and excitements with others. Sometimes this takes the form of public adoration and praise in front of a screaming crowd, other times it’s a few friends offering their sincere appreciation. Whatever the reason for making music, there are options and possibilities to let it reach as far as you would like it to. We are fortunate enough to live in an age where the thought of your music making it available to the entire world, is no longer just a thought. It is reality. This being said, as a DIY musician there are literally hundreds of options that can fit your specific needs. To be honest, there are websites that you can record your music and upload it to have someone mix and master it for you before you even think about the steps we’ll discuss here today. The internet and technology are adding so much value to the music industry by offering avenues for creativity that were, at one time, for the few and privileged. What we will be focusing on today is the publishing and distribution options available to DIY musicians, mainly dealing with the distribution side of things.
Before we dive into distribution, just a quick thought and a little advice on the subject of publishing. The word publishing in music is often confusing as the original term derives from the time period where publishers made money from sheet music of certain artists rather than the recordings. Nowadays, publishers take their connections and apply it to the recordings, live performance, and synchronization of the material. This means that a publisher is someone who owns the copyright of the specific song (recording, sheet music, lyrics, etc...), and maximize the use and collection of money from that use. In essence, it’s much like a record label does by offering the marketing and distribution for an artist, the publisher offers the utmost play and pay for each song. That being said, integrated into many DIY solutions are the publishing tools needed to help maximize income from recordings, however it is always worth seeing if there is a good deal out there!
Distribution Distribution is exactly as it sounds: the distributing of your product to your fans. In the past this was done a few different ways. Radio and vinyl record/tape/CD were your two main ways to get your music heard. So you had to play shows to get a fan base and sell more records, but how do you get people in other states to hear you? That’s where radio came in, because it offered the opportunity for others miles and miles away to hear what you were doing in the local VFW hall on a Tuesday night to the 3 people who were there. If the fans responded, or if someone heard potential from that, you had the opportunity to move up and start doing more shows and recording more music for a label that, in turn, sent your recordings out to other markets in other areas, sometimes countries, and therefore you made more money. Thus, the rock star was born! Now, that is a quick snapshot of how it worked with distribution, and honestly it speaks nothing to the hard work and tireless effort that goes into being an artist (or rock star!).
Today, the landscape is totally different. I, a married man with a full-time job (outside of music) and very little budget to do so, am able to record, publish, and distribute my music world-wide. It is crazy to think that this is possible now. It is extremely easy to do so, too! What we’ll discuss are the options for doing this.
First, the free:
There are plenty of free avenues for people to get their music out there, but here are three of the most popular and wide-reaching options:
SoundCloud - SoundCloud offers a website, although web-based community is a better description, that gives it’s users the ability to upload their music and have it shared via all types of social media. Users can create their own playlists and some SoundCloud users have even built a large following of other users who appreciate their ability to curate playlists. I, as an online contest to my followers, had users submit what song they would like to hear me cover and in what genre. I ended up covering Kris Kross’s “Jump” in a bluegrass style, and uploaded it to SoundCloud, where I would not make any money from it, for copyright and licensing purposes. It has been added to hundreds of playlists, has over 20k likes, and has been downloaded over 100 times. It has reached far beyond my initial following of fans, into the community of soundcloud users. Very nice and easy, although, as I stated before, I make no money from this, but it is a great marketing tool to further your fanbase. Noisetrade - This is another option I have tried, and offers a great amount of exposure, but with a great twist for emerging and unsigned artists. The added benefit with Noisetrade is the draw of customer metric tracking. Noisetrade works like a portal that you upload your content to. It can be searched and found within Noisetrade, but can also offer widgets to embed on your own website, Facebook, or Twitter page. For a fan to download the content on that site, they have to enter their email address and post code. It then emails a download link and they download for free. However, it does not stop there because after they have entered their details, it prompts a “tip” or basically a donation that can be made in trade for the music. It is not required, but the opportunity is there. Most people see this as a great way to post special versions of songs such as acoustic versions or live versions, not found anywhere else. However, a few artists are posting most, if not all, of their content on the site as a way to say thank you to the fans for their support. By doing this, it seems that fans would be willing to tip a bit of money towards the artist for the music. Bandcamp - Bandcamp is the most comprehensive, free service for posting your music online and having the most flexibility. Much like Noisetrade, you upload the content and it can be searched within Bandcamp, but can also be embedded. However, the big difference with Bandcamp is the ability to set a price for your music, as well as making it free. Some still choose to offer it for free with donations available, but it’s nice to have the flexibility. Bandcamp is extremely popular with unsigned bands because, just like noisetrade, you can get fanbase metrics and information to help guide your next release. Bandcamp does offer a paid version which gives you more metrics and more capabilities, but the free version is quite nice! This brings us to the PAID options:
Just like the free options, paid services are popping up all over the internet. Here are the three services that I’ve found as a simple, far-reaching option for distributing your music digitally.
Ditto Music - Ditto is a service started by two friends that felt the process of submitting songs to services like iTunes and Spotify were too long and difficult for unsigned artists who are touring and spending day after day trying to make a living doing what they love. So they started a company that offers the submission of content to these larger aggregate sites that gives extreme exposure and ease of download for current and future fans. Ditto’s prices are quite small compared to other sites, but there’s not a lot extra you get with the basic price of digital distribution. Easy access to songs and easy payment. But what about customer metrics and fan data? Most emerging artists want this data to be able to mold their future offerings, and its limited with Ditto. However, they do offer things that other sites do not offer such as Record Label establishment, Marketing help, and ringtone sales. It is a sleek and easy site and they have a good stable of artists that use their services as of now. The price does have to be paid every year to continue your content’s inclusion on the aggregate sites, but it is still a fairly low cost. CD Baby - This is a service that I used for my first EP release. I had no issues with it, it was fast and simple, gave me great information on customers, fast payments, and loads of add-ons. They offer a flat rate to include your music on major services (iTunes, Amazon MP3, GooglePlay, Spotify, Rdio, etc...), and it is a low fee at that. They do take more on the backend, meaning they take a larger percentage, 9 percent, than most other companies. Ditto, and others, do not charge a backend fee, just a flat rate per year. CD Baby has some great affiliates that I took advantage of with some great discounts such as Discmakers for my physical CD copies (that I do not order anymore, because who needs them!), and HostBaby, their web hosting service geared towards solo artists and bands. I actually, just recently, realized my content was still on there, and took it down, as I was no longer licensed for some of the songs I covered on my EP. So it’s nice to have something that has options, especially within it’s own website, to offer to up-and-coming artists. Tunecore - This is a great option for any artist of any size fan base because the cost is low, and the information is easy to access. I recently ventured into using Tunecore for an artist I help produce. It was extremely simple, and the options given are great. Tunecore allows you to purchase, for a one-time low fee, the opportunity to automatically be updated into any digital stores that become available to them. When TIDAL became a new service, and was picked up on Tunecore, the artist was immediately added into their repertoire of songs. There’s also iTunes and Spotify information that’s reported each month, giving the artist a bird's-eye view of their plays and downloads through each service. Again, this helps with future marketing and so on. Tunecore also allows you the ability to use your account within Tunecore to pay for other services or add-ons that they offer. At the time of researching the other two, I did not see that option, but it could be available.
All in all, there are some great options to get your music out there, if not free, then for a very small price. So let those creative juices flow, record some music and start building a fanbase! Good luck to you all!