In today’s episode, I’ll be talking about how to sell your music online. Before you dive into this episode, there are a few assumptions. The first is – your single or album is mixed, mastered and you’ve got album art. You’ve also registered your publishing, your copyrights, and your music with a PRO. If you’re selling cover songs, this also assumes you’ve covered your legal basis, including obtaining and paying for a mechanical license. Some distributors may be do this for you, but for an extra cost. You’ve also got a bio written, a press release planned and prepped, a website, a mailing list set up, and social platform to connect with your fans.
If you still haven’t gotten these things ready, this podcast is still relevant to you. But I advise that you do have these things prepped before you start the distribution process.
First, let’s cover the basics and what you need to know about distribution. I’ll be chatting briefly about compression, metadata and your UPC. This will cover the types of files you need, how your singles can be tracked and searched, and how your singles and album sales or streaming is performing.
First, compression. Your audio files start out huge and can be anywhere over 50 MB. There’s no way you would upload this into digital distribution and expect your fans to download the same. Instead, you’ll be uploading a compressed file. Audio that’s uncompressed is usually a WAV or AIFF file. But the most common compressed format files are MP3 (which is typically sampled at 128 kbps, 192 or 256. The Apple compressed file is called an AAC, which has less quality loss than an MP3. The WMA is sort of the Windows version of an AAC. Finally, there are FLACs and Apple Lossless, which both – you guessed it – “lossless” compressed files, which (as the name implies) no loss of sound quality. It is a bigger file than the MP3, AAC, and WMA, but way more agreeable size than a WAV and AIFF.
When you compress your files, you might want to have different file types depending on the digital retailers you select.
The next thing to seriously consider when you’re selling your music is a little thing called metadata. Metadata is the backend information within your music. Metadata could also be found in images, websites, and applications. It helps identify your files through descriptions and tags. For your music specifically, it identifies your song, like the album information, track title, label information, genre, etcetera. This information travels alongside your ISRC (i.e. International Standard Recording Code), which is the files unique, twelve-character alphanumeric digital fingerprint. You can apply for an ISRC through the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and then the ISRC is applied during the mastering process. These codes are also used to trace your digital sales through online retailers.
UPCs (Universal Product Code, i.e. barcode) is what represents your product as a whole. This is different from an ISRC, because instead of a single being tracked, it’s the entirety of the product. I’m sure you’ve seen a barcode before on products you’ve purchased at the grocery store. This UPC is used by both brick-and-mortar stores as well as online retailers to keep track of your music sales. These sales reports are relevant for you, but also relevant for charts like Billboard and the Nielson Soundscan. You can obtain a UPC through whatever distributor you choose.
Now, who do you choose?
Here’s a brief list of a few online distributors. (Note: None of these links are sponsored, nor are they affiliate links.)
For a mini overview of these distributors, make sure to download the freebie that breaks all of this down for you in one document. The link is below.
First, why an online distributor? Before online distribution, you truly had to rely on a major record label to distribute your music in brick-and-mortar stores. Otherwise, it was almost impossible to push music product without the financial backing of a label.
Thanks to online distribution, you don’t have to worry about massive physical production or even fancy recording studies to create and distribute your music. Online distribution allows you to cost efficiently sell your product online through some of the largest digital retailers out there, including iTunes and Amazon, like never before. So, leverage this!
Start by getting to know the different options there are, and choose one that fits your needs best. Some of the things you’ll need to review are:
- Cost and frequency. Is there a one time fee? Or is it monthly or annually? Do they take a percentage of your sales? But don’t limit your decision to cost, because sometimes distributor that may cost a bit more may offer something unique that another distributor doesn’t.
- Delivery Time. Sometimes distributors will release your music within 48 hours of request, while others deliver it within several weeks.
- Retailers. Most distributors will reach most of the popular outlets, like iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etcetera, while some only reach a few. Also check if the distributor limits the number of retailer. If it does, there may be a fee to add more.
- UPC cost (if any). As I mentioned earlier, you will need a UPC code to track your product as a whole. Check if the distributor does this for free or if they charge. Remember – don’t let cost be the only factor for your decision. Make sure to understand the whole picture first before making a decision.
We talked a lot about the technical aspects of distribution and what to look over. But I want to leave you with one more quick tip of advice on how to make distribution work for you by highlighting metadata.
Make sure to leverage that metadata! You want be searchable and that metadata helps you do that. Part of knowing what to place in there is understanding your niche and your fans. What are your potential super fans searching for?
Typically the metadata includes your song title, your artist/band name, album name, track number, the year the song was made, performers, composers, album art, lyrics, producer, your genre, etcetera. You want to leverage this backend information because it’ll help you appear in music databases so you could be searched, especially if you want your music to be licensed for TV or film. Plus, if you want to submit your music to reviewer or non-terrestrial digital radio station, such as Pandora, you’ll need to make sure to have the correct metadata. If you want to be searchable and paid, have correct and complete metadata.