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The Ultimate Guide on How to Sell Music Online

Despite the false impression that digital music sales may be declining, selling music online still represents one third of the music industry’s total revenues. $5.6 billion revenue was generated from digital music sales in 2013, a 9% increase from 2011, according to IFPI. For many artists, selling music online represents their largest source of income from music. So how can you sell your music online?

Broadly speaking, you have three options to sell your music online.

  1. 1. Using a DIY distributor to upload your music to digital music stores.
  2. 2. Selling your music through your own website or a direct-to-fan platform.
  3. 3. Working with a label who have an established distribution network.

In this guide we’re going to focus primarily on options 1 and 2, as if you decide to sell your music online through option 3, your label will likely take care of distribution for you. However, we’ll touch on some of the pro’s and con’s of this option later on.

It’s also important to remember that distribution is only half of the equation when it comes to selling music online. In the second half of this guide we’ll discuss some of the best tips we’ve come across when it comes to marketing your release and driving music sales. But first, let’s look at DIY distribution vs. selling music direct-to-fan.

Using a DIY distributor to sell music online

Using a DIY distribution service, like EmuBands, you can easily upload your music to be sold on hundreds of music stores and subscription services, including iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Deezer, and 7Digital.

While every distributor has their own pricing model, DIY distribution is extremely cost effective and often enables you to keep 100% of the profits generated from selling your music. With EmuBands, for example, it only costs £24.95 to distribute a single, or £49.95 to distribute a whole album to as many stores as you like. After this one-off fee, there are no ongoing fees, maintainance fees, or anything.

When your music is bought on digital music stores, we pass on to you 100% of what each retailer gives us – we don’t take a cut of your royalties. You can see an overview of each service, and the royalty rates they pay when you decide which of the many digital services you want to opt in to.

Of course, all DIY distributors are different. While we opt for a simple approach of a one-off upfront fee, some distributors charge a much lower upfront fee, but take a percentage of your sales revenue, or have annual account fees. Generally, for most artists it works out a lot cheaper over the long run to pay a one-off fee (we built a calculator at the bottom of our pricing page to help you work out how much you will save using EmuBands).

We’re commonly asked how long it takes for a release to go on sale, and for how long it stays on sale. Typically, you will start to see your release on sale within around 48 hours, but some digital music stores can take a little longer. Just contact us and we’ll advise on the best timelines for your release schedule. As for how long it will remain on sale, your release will continue to be available until you tell us to remove it.

We have worked with many artists since we started back in 2005. Some of the bigger names include Glasvegas, Twin Atlantic, Leona Lewis, The Strypes and Paul Weller. We pride ourselves on our reputation – you can see some of the lovely things people have said about us over on our testimonials page.

How do I get started?

Firstly, if you want to use EmuBands as your distributor you need to create an account with us. Then, you simply add your release to your EmuBands account. We just need to know some simple information, like the album and track titles, and then we need your audio and artwork files. Once we have everything in place, we will check over your release and distribute it to all of the services you have opted in to.

Every artist who signs up for an EmuBands account is assigned a named account manager, so you’ll always have help on hand whenever you need it.

We have also created a range of help and advice guides, to help you when preparing your release for sale and beyond.

Using a D2F (direct-to-fan) platform to sell music online

There are many tools available that enable you as an artist to bypass digital music stores by selling your music directly to fans. The advantage of this approach is that it means you get to cut out the fees taken by stores like iTunes and AmazonMp3. Another advantage is that you get to choose your price and sell your music at whatever pricing point that feels right to you.

The disadvantages of an exclusively direct approach (i.e. not selling your music from digital music stores) is that it makes it harder for fans to buy or listen to your music, and it makes marketing a real challenge.

Most fans will go directly to Spotify or iTunes to listen or download your music. They will expect your music to be there, and if not, they won’t necessarily assume that they can access it from your website.

The general consensus with this approach is that it’s best used in tandem with traditional digital distribution, that way your fans can still access your music from their favourite music subscription service or download store.

However, if you’re planning on running an innovative campaign, such as releasing a track on vinyl-only, or as part of bundle of products, you may be better off releasing your song on a D2F platform such as Music Glue, Official.fm, FanDistro, or Pledge Music.

Using a label to sell music online

Most record labels have distribution partners in place, so that their artists don’t have to worry about who to distribute with or how. In fact, EmuBands distributes music for a large number of record labels.

There are a number of large distributors who work exclusively with larger labels and also offer marketing and other label services. The benefit of this approach is that for you as an artist, it’s extremely hands-free. The downside is that because of the number of people involved in these agreements (the label, the digital music stores, your manager, the distributor etc.), you’ll see much, much less of your music sales revenue after everyone’s taken their slice.

As such, this approach is really only suited towards major artists who are able to sell significant volumes of music to make it economically viable.

How to drive music sales

Getting your music onto iTunes, Spotify, and all of the other major digital music stores is only half the battle when it comes to selling music online.

The other half is actually how to drive fans to buy your music. Here’s some advice from Marcus Taylor, a digital marketer from Venture Harbour, on how to market your music and drive sales.

#1 Sell relationships & experiences, not audio files

The reality is that people don’t buy music for the audio. We buy music because of how it makes us feel, what it reminds us of, and what it says about our personality and lifestyle. As such, savvy artists sell more than just audio files – they sell stories, experiences, and a relationship between themselves and their fans. The audio file is just the means of how smart artists do this.

In other words, don’t just upload your music to iTunes and tell your fans to buy it. Focus your energy on building a strong relationship with your fans, creating an authentic story that will attract fans, and offering experiences that develop the loyalty of your fans. Music sales will follow.

How you do this is to some extent irrelevant – and often it’s the things that have never been done before that are most effective. Get creative with the stories, experiences, and ways of building loyalty that you offer.

#2 Remarkable things get remarked upon

What are you doing that’s remarkable? Why would a fan remark on what you’re doing? Jonah Berger, author of the book ‘Contagious’, breaks down why things go viral into 6 ’STEPPS’.

S – Social Currency. People prefer to look rich rather than poor, cool rather than un-cool, smart rather than dumb. How does what you’re doing give your fans social currency?

T – Triggers. People talk about what’s on their mind. What’s on their mind is determined by things they see, hear, smell etc. What triggers are likely to cause people to talk about what you’re doing?

E – Emotion. People share things that provoke strong emotional reactions. We are more likely to share something that makes us angry or happy, than something that makes us relaxed or sad, because the emotions of happiness and anger are more emotionally stimulating. What emotions are you provoking with your music and marketing?

P – Public. The more people that see what you’re doing, the more likely it is to spread virally. A campaign that is advertised to 10million people is more likely to go viral than if the same campaign was only advertised to 100 people.

P – Practical. People share things that offer practical value. In the context of music, we share updates on artists who we know our friends would enjoy. This simultaneously provides practical value and makes us look cool and ‘in the know’.

S – Stories. People don’t talk about facts, they talk about stories. Very few people will tell their friends that your band recently posted a tweet with a link to buy your new song on iTunes. However, if you offer a story worth talking about, then your fans will talk about it.

The more of these elements that you can wrap into your marketing, the more successful your marketing will be, and the more music sales you will drive.

#3 Reaching millions of potential fans with your music

Facebook has over one fifth of the planet signed up with an account. On top of this, the average time spent on Facebook per day is about 45 minutes. This is the single best opportunity in the history of the World for reaching a mass audience. In other words, it has never been as easy as it is right now to reach one billion people with your message.

There are two approaches to consider with marketing your music on Facebook, and I’d recommend using both of them in tandem; publicity and advertising.

1. Publicity – using the strategy above, you can create stories that will spread organically through Facebook. This is easier said than done, but it’s hard to fail completely, so just stick with it until you begin hitting home runs with your viral marketing.

2. Advertising – Facebook Ads is one of the best paid methods of amplifying content. For £10 you can easily reach 5,000 people and drive 100-150 people to click on you link. In other words, you can reach one million people for £2,000.

What other marketing platform offers that kind of cost-per-impression?

The beauty of Facebook Advertising is not necessarily about the cost-effectiveness, though. It’s about the targeting; you can run ads to people by all kinds of parameters, including age, school, interests, gender, location, hometown, what pages they like etc. For artists, it’s incredibly easy to reach the fans of artists who are similar to you. If your music sounds like Incubus and is well received by Incubus fans, you can easily reach the millions of fans around the globe who like Incubus on Facebook.

#4 Leapfrog opportunities

In Western culture, we often believe that we need to ‘work our way to the top’, gradually climbing each rung of the music career ladder. In Eastern cultures, the idea of leapfrogging is far more prominent. The belief is that it’s sometimes better to aim high and go straight to the top of the ladder.

From a music marketing perspective, instead of trying to get coverage on small music blogs and radio stations, why not focus your energy on crafting a campaign that will be of interest to The New York Times, Mashable, and Billboard?

Having got stories on these publications myself, I’ve come to realise that behind their prestige, all The New York Times is is a collection of people searching for stories worth talking about. Give them something worth talking about and they’ll write about it.

If this overwhelms you, then you’re probably wondering how you can meet the kinds of contacts who offer these top-level opportunities. Just stop thinking about what’s in it for you and focus on how you can help other people. Also acknowledge that this is a numbers game, and you may need to send out one hundred emails to get that first meeting. From there, it will surely get easier.

#5 Start with why

The best marketing strategies in the World focus on why. Not how or what, but why. Have you ever noticed that Apple never talk about their product specs in their adverts? You never hear Apple talking about the 13” screen, the 2ghz processor, or the 4gb of RAM. Instead, Apple talk about challenging the status quo, pushing humanity forward, and beautiful design. Apple focus on why, not how.

In contrast, Dell’s advertising is all about what and how their machines do what they do. The result is that noone really knows what Dell stand for, but we all know what a Mac or an iPhone says about a person.

As an artist, don’t sell what you do. You’re not a 4-piece band from Ohio that plays edgy hard rock. Talk about why you do what you do – what’s your story?

What belief or values unite you and your fans?

References:
http://www.ifpi.org/content/library/dmr2013.pdf
Contagious by Jonah Berger – http://amzn.to/Q5khnA

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