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Entertainment

Sell More Music Online: Understanding Internet Music Distribution

By Lance Trebesch and Dustin Stoltz April 28, 2009

cdWith today’s technology there is a vast amount of ways to distribute your music. Instead of selling CD’s on the streets or begging local stores to carry your music, you can distribute your music online. There are countless music distributors on the web for independent musicians, but beware because some of them are not as legit as they seem. Go through this check list so you will know what to expect when deciding what online music distributor you will use.

Costs: As with all distributors on or offline, you will probably have to invest some dough to get started. Costs may include:

  • Startup fees or subscriptions: Most companies require either a one-time fee, monthly subscription, or a yearly membership fee. These vary greatly per company but boil down anywhere from $30-$480 a year because of the extra services that come included with the higher priced companies.
  • Cut: For every physical CD it is common for a distributor to take at least $3-4. Percentage cuts of your sales are another common way for distributors to redeem money. If it is a more reputable company, like Amazon, it could be a percentage cut up to 55%, or as low as 9% from sites like CDBaby.
  • Uploading Fees: Not all organizations have subscription fees, some charge a fee per song you upload to their site. This usually costs about $10 per 100 MB (about 25 songs).

Services: It is important to note that you will probably get what you pay for. The prices of online distributors vary greatly based on size, and the services they offer. Below is a quick summary of the different services online distributors can provide.

  • CD/Digital Sales: Some distributors only offer CD sales; while others only sell your digital music, and some do both. Read the fine print and make sure you know what you are getting. Be aware that you may have to do the shipping if you are selling actual CDs.
  • Protection: Some sites are not protected from malicious attackers. Make sure the business you choose has some sort of spyware protection.
  • Connections: Some services connect with other big sites, like Rhapsody, iTunes, and even Amazon.
  • Community networks: Most online distributors allow a community of artists, listeners, and other music buffs to join in on discussions, listen/critique music, and network.
  • Additional services: Some sites go as far as giving their members tutorials, press kit builders, communication kits, sales reports, and contact lists. Of course, these always cost a little extra.

Watch out! There are thousands of distribution sites out there, but only a select few are actually qualified to do the work. Double check to make sure the site you choose is providing all the services you want it to. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Specific areas and genre: This may be a benefit if you only want to target people in your local area, or that are interested in a specific music type. Just keep in mind that you will be subject to a smaller audience.
  • Uploading music: Different sites will have different methods of uploading music. You will need some computer skills to be able to do this successfully.
  • Shipping: Some sites focus only on promoting and selling your music, and make you ship your own CDs. If you go this route, it’s important to make sure you have time allotted for shipping your music.
  • Promotion: Many sites only make your music available for purchase, and won’t help with the promotional aspects of distribution.

Now that you have an idea of what to expect from an online music distribution site, take-a-look at some of these popular music distribution services and see which one works for you.

  • Amazon: This is the #1 seller of online independent CDs on the internet today.  With millions of visitors a day, your product will be seen next to many mainstream artists.  The Advantage program allows you to add as many CDs, videos, or books as you like for a yearly fee of $29.95. You also get a short bio page including pictures and sound clips.  They take care of returns at their cost.  Amazon will do all the shipping, but you pay for the charges.  Because Amazon is a highly visible site, there is a higher cost in commission rates.  You set your retail price and keep 45% of your sales.  Keep in mind that you will need to generate a UPC code for your CDs.
  • CDBaby is the #2 seller of online music.  You can think of them as an exclusive online music store selling CDs and digital music.  CDBaby has the capability to connect you to iTunes Music Store, and Rhapsody.  They also have a “mini-store” page for your band on their site.  You can sell your CDs for however much you like, they charge $35 to sign up, keep $4 of every CD sold, and 9% of every mp3 sold.  To start all you have to do is pay the sign-up  fee, and ship them four professional looking CDs.
  • CDPulse: Like CDBaby, CDPulse allows you to sell both mp3s and CDs.  They also provide a mini-site for your band where you can connect with fans.  They do all the shipping for you, and you will receive daily/monthly sales reports.  Plus, many venues sign up to recruit here so you can easily get gigs in your area.  There are no costs to sign up, but they do keep $4 for every CD sold at your chosen price, and you get .60 cents for every mp3 sold.  Pay an additional $9.95 per month for additional features like broadcasting of your shows.
  • Artistopia believes in aiding an artist by helping them sign with a label and connect with the music industry. They have a free membership plan where artists can list 1 album, upload 3 songs, post press releases, add 3 pictures, distribute newsletters, and gain access to other communication and messaging tools.  They also offers a professional plan where you get all the aspects of the free plan, can upload an unlimited amount of songs and pictures, and gain access to great artist management and marketing tools for a one-time payment of $99.95.