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Breaking Down The Business of Selling Music Online (Music Distribution Guide)

Making your music available online is an unavoidable part of being a serious musician in 2019.

Even a decade ago, an artist could manage to make a living off of selling CDs and playing live, but things have changed dramatically over the past ten years.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, paid subscription and ad-supported music services accounted for 55% of American music industry profits in 2018, with single and album downloads adding another 10%.

Stack those numbers up against the 11.4% of revenue that was brought in from physical music sales like CDs and vinyl records that year, and you’ll quickly see how important selling music online is for musicians.

The music industry trends in the US reflect what’s happening in music around the world. 

With that said, it’s never been more important for artists to leverage companies like TuneCore for example, to get their music featured on platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, YouTube, and TIDAL, but how does it happen?

Business Of Selling Music Online - Music Distribution Guide

In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about selling your music online. The goal is to show you how the music industry transitioned from physical to digital, meanwhile providing you with tips on how to make sure your music gets distributed to all the right places. We’re here to help make sure your next release gets a strong digital showing that you can be proud of.

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Artists Selling Music Online: How did we get here?

Streaming is now the lifeblood of the music industry, but it wasn’t always this way. First vinyl records, then cassette tapes, and finally CDs were the main listening formats for music.

At its revenue peak, CDs accounted for an astonishing 87.9% of American music industry revenues in 1999. But just a couple of years later, the industry was in tatters after illegal music piracy demolished profits.

The music industry has come a long way since then, but it’s still not generating anywhere near the same amount of money it did in 1999. 

It’s clear now that like many industries, music wasn’t ready for the new digital world it found itself in during the early 2000s, but that began to change in a major way over the past 15 years.

First, companies like Apple and Amazon made it easy for consumers to download not just full-length albums and EPs, but also individual songs.

Then, Spotify made digital music consumption even easier through inexpensive access to an unfathomable amount of old and new music. Today, the overwhelming majority of music is being discovered and heard online.

A playlist revolution, the new frantic pace of content creation, and digital music promotion

Remember back when iTunes started letting listeners purchase individual songs instead of entire albums?

Well, it turns out that had massive implications for the music industry. Playlists, which are curated collections of single songs from different artists, now have the power to turn an unknown artist into a big deal literally overnight.

If you’re a new artist trying to learn how to sell your music online, getting your music in front of influential playlist curators is a something you should be thinking about. The influence of playlists can’t be understated in today’s music industry.

Shifting focus to making your music available digitally in 2019 requires an entirely new way of thinking about how, when, and where you release music. A decade ago, artists would usually take a year or more to record and release full-length albums.

That standard has been completely shattered today. To meet listener demands and maintain momentum, artists are now releasing more music more often than ever before. Some artists opt to release a constant stream of singles, while others create albums that are broken up and released song-by-song throughout an extended period of time. A process made possible by companies like TuneCore.

However you decide to release your music online, make sure what you put out is as strong as possible. Spotify founder Daniel Ek recently revealed that around 40,000 new tracks are uploaded to the platform every day. If your work isn’t strong or promoted well, it isn’t likely to find an audience in today’s brutally competitive music industry.

>>> Related Reading: The Ultimate Music Distribution Comparison List

Getting your music featured on big streaming platforms (more on that in a bit) is crucial for being a serious musician in 2019, but you can’t stop there. Reaching your existing fans and finding new ones through a well-maintained website, email list, and over social media accounts is just one part of digital music promotion. Pitching your music to influential playlist curators, bloggers, and other music industry influencers is another.

Why digital music distribution is crucial in today’s music industry?

Today, music is being discovered and consumed digitally in a whole bunch of ways.

Streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and TIDAL offer sleek platforms packed to the gills with music for audiences to enjoy. Other platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram now feature music in addition to all the other stuff they do.

And though they aren’t nearly as big of a deal as they used to be, downloads of songs and albums are still offered through sources like Amazon and iTunes. 

Fans either pay directly for music services (think Spotify Premium or downloading songs from iTunes), or listen to ads between tracks through Freemium models. This is where the money you get paid for your music comes from.

It costs money to distribute your music to the major streaming platforms, but you can put your music up on websites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud for free. 

If you’re a thrifty reader, you’re probably saying, “Hey, I’ll just release my music on the free platforms,” but you may want to think twice about this mentality.

Not having music featured on major streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music isn’t an option for musicians who want to get their music heard in 2019. Considering powerful discovery assets like Spotify’s wildly successful “Discover Weekly” playlist and the fact that hundreds of millions of attentive music listeners are on these platforms, not making your music available on them will likely ruin your chances of finding an audience.

Other Digital Distribution Considerations

While the digital age has presented artists with an endless amount of resources to be successful, this has also forced artists to consider a number of different elements outside of the traditional theory of music distribution.

As the ultimate goal of distributing your music is to have it heard and grow your fanbase, there are other avenues like social media, publishing, online marketing and promotional tools just to name a few, that must work in coordination with your overall marketing and distribution efforts.

Having a strong social media presence is simply a must as an independent artist and this has been shown to help further an artists music distribution efforts as well. 

More and more companies are ensuring that social media integration is easy and seamless and it has now become the norm to use platforms like Instagram and Facebook to spread the word about upcoming releases and directing fans, new and old, to get their hands on your music.

Although social media is a big piece of the pie in conjunction with you music distribution efforts, artists must also consider aspects like email marketing and a solid website that will also work to further distribution efforts.

As if growing your music career wasn’t already busy and overwhelming as it is. Considering all of these moving parts, it should be noted that getting organized and having a plan will certainly make life a lot easier for you.

However you can also find comfort in the fact that there are companies out there that allow you to consolidate your efforts and simplify the whole distribution process. Furthermore these companies also allow for the integration of important elements like social media, publishing, promotion etc.

More Than Just a Music Distribution Company

TuneCore is one company in particular that offers artists much more than just music distribution and is a great way to go for a couple of reasons. 

The first is reach. TuneCore gets your music featured on the largest and most influential digital music platforms around (Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, Amazon, TIDAL, etc) in addition to dozens of lesser-known platforms based around the world. They even make monetizing your music through Facebook and YouTube quick and easy. This all means that covering your music distribution bases is a breeze with TuneCore.

Then there’s the pricing structure to consider. Some music distributors lure in musicians with promises of a seemingly low revenue split, but dependent on your situation, this may be a bad idea. 

If your music happens to take off in a big way––and we hope it does!––, you’ll be forced to split your earnings with your music distributor. 

This is a bad situation you don’t want to find yourself in if you are forking over a considerable amount of your earnings. Add in the fact that digital download earnings already nab up to 30 cents on the dollar over some platforms, and it’s clear that revenue sharing is typically a bad bet for musicians looking to distribute their music.

TuneCore distributes your music for a small one-time fee determined by whether you’re putting out a single or full-length album. This means that you’ll pay the same low yearly fee to keep your music up on all the digital streaming platforms whether you’re racking up millions of streams or something in the hundreds. Not to mention, TunCore is a part of a select group of music distribution companies offering Publishing Administration services for their artists.

If you’re not particularly business-minded, getting your music featured on digital platforms and stores can be a little intimidating. Luckily, services like TuneCore make it easy to put your music in front of audiences around the world. 

If you’re ready to start distributing your music today, you can learn more about TuneCore Here.

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