With CD’s going out the window or used as coasters, bands now distribute their music online. It’s easy to see why bands are making the jump when in 2019 saw $8.8 billion dollars worth in online streaming revenue. As an alternative to outright purchasing, companies like Spotify have helped to accumulate 445 million on-demand music streams in 2019. It’s imperative to get your music circulating online to reach as many potential fans as possible.
So how, as a band can you get your music online, and what options do you have for online distribution? There are many options, but they can basically be divided into two sections: Digital Stores or Streaming.
Digital Stores: include iTunes, Google Play or Bandcamp and consist of you selling your songs for a variable percentage (depending the stores fees). They give your fans the MP3 and it’s theirs to own.
Streaming: which has grown exponentially over the last few years includes sites like Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora. These generally have a free (ad supported) or premium (paid) monthly plans for their users. Your fans stream your music and you receive a small percentage of their monthly fee (or ad supported revenue).
Before you choose to distribute your hard work online, there are certain things you will want to consider. These should directly relate to your album cycle and which marketing strategy you want for your release. For example, some bands only release their music on iTunes to be able to funnel their collective purchasers and climb the iTunes most popular charts. You might alternatively want to only stream your music for the week leading up to the official release in order to gain more traction for release day. As with any album cycle, you need goals, and everything you do must relate to those goals.
In the last month alone, fans have used bandcamp to purchase 3.3 million dollars worth of songs which makes it a pretty viable release method. Bandcamp is extremely easy to set up with minimal fuss. Just go to the website and sign up. How much you sell it for and what you want to sell (merch/vinyl/cd/digital) is up to you. Bandcamp does take 15% revenue for digital and 10% for merch however so keep that in mind with your marketing strategy.
In order to get your music on iTunes, you’ll probably want an ‘aggregator’. Aggregators are companies that facilitate the delivery of your music to a number of music stores and streaming services, which we’ll get more into later.
If you choose not to go through an aggregator, you’ll need a UPC (universal product code) and an ISRC (interntational & standard recording code). As well as those, you’ll also need a U.S. Tax ID that you can apply for at the IRS Website. If you need help with self-publishing to iTunes you can email email@example.com or go to the iTunes website.
Streaming Networks (Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, etc)
Most labels and management companies have deals with streaming networks already, however if you’re an independent artist you’ll need an aggregator to get your music to the streaming populace.
Aggregators (the digital distribution intermediary)
These are third parties who help meet technical requirements, deliver and manage your content and assist with marketing efforts. In essence, you pay them a fee (and sometimes a percentage) and they shoot your music out to a heap of digital stores and streaming services. The most definitive difference for aggregators is if they charge an annual fee and if they take a percentage. Take a look at the table below where we have taken a few of the most popular aggregators and made them easily comparable.
|Single Cost||EP Cost||Album Cost||Annual Payment or 1 time fee||# of digital distributors||% of Royalties you keep|
|Record Union (Top Dog)||$10||$13||$16||Annual Payment||Apple Music, Spotify & more||85% of total annual revenue|
|Record Union (World Domination)||$15||$20||$25||Annual Payment||iTunes, Spotify & 14 more||85% of total annual revenue|
|Tunecore||$14.99||N/A||$39.99 (after 1st year $49.99)||Annual Payment||iTunes, Spotify, & 73 more||100%|
|CDBaby||$9.95||N/A||$29||1 Time payment||Apple, Spotify, & 94 more||91%|
|Emu Bands||$42.50||$59.95||$84.95||1 Time payment||iTunes, Spotify & 9 more||100%|
|Catapult||$9||N/A||$25||1 Time payment||iTunes, Spotify & 7 more||91%|
As you can see there are vast differences in price, royalties and digital distributors. The number of digital distributors vastly differs from company to company, but consider how many distributors you really need for a particular release. You may get zero listens on 90 different services and have 99% of your traffic through iTunes and Spotify. We highly recommend researching an option to get the best possible fit for your release and marketing strategy.