6 min read

How to Rock Your Digital Music Business

Are you an aspiring and talented musician? This article will help you to use the internet to spread your music, find your true fans, and build a business that looks after itself – and you.

Not so long ago if you wanted to make a living from your music then you’d have no option but to wait to be picked. Picked by a record label.

Your options were pretty limited. Perhaps you’d make a little pocket money on the side from playing pubs and clubs but all the while you’d be hoping to get spotted.

It was binary – either you’d ‘get lucky’ and become rich and famous, or (much more likely) you’d give up and do something else.

1,000 True Fans is all you need

The internet has turned the music industry upside down and inside out. It’s opened up the real possibility for anyone with the talent to spread their music and make a living from it.

It’s now possible for an artist with the talent to find their true fans and connect with them. Directly. A true fan will support you and buy everything you can put her way.

As Kevin Kelly famously said, 1,000 true fans is enough to make a decent living. Just think, if each one spent $100 per year on your music & merchandise then how useful would that be?

The snag? You have to take responsibility, for yourself. You can make money from your music but you need to become your own publisher and your own marketer.

Where are your True Fans?

But, how do you find your true fans and how do you get your music in front of them? How do they find you and your music?

Where are people finding and listening to music nowadays? Online of course.

Millions of people are using iTunes, Amazon MP3, Facebook, Google Play, and discovery services like Spotify,, MOG, Rhapsody, Earbits, and more.

The next question is how do you easily, quickly and cheaply get your music onto all these funky new services that your fans are plugged into?

A note of caution…

The fact is, no matter how much time and money you spend, and what tools you use, you might never get enough true fans.

The good news is that the reach and immediacy of the internet makes it faster than ever to find out.

So … it’s probably best to start out with the lowest cost options before committing your hard earned cash.

Many of the shiny new services and apps may not make sense for you yet. So start with the free ones, and those with no-strings. And, always read (& understand) the small print. You don’t want to be signing away your rights before you’ve even started.

The beauty of the internet is that, with the right tools, you can tell whether you’ve got an audience. And fast.

Zero friction

When I was a kid, we’d get to know new music for free on the (pirate) radio before we bought it. No friction.

Today there are so many ways to get your music out to so many more people. Just don’t fluff it by asking them for an email (or a tweet) before they can listen to it.

When starting out, just give it away. Make it as easy as possible for people to try it, and then if they like it, make it easy for them to share it with their friends.

To spread Tarra’s music, just hit Share

Once you know you’ve got a bunch of people who like it then you know that some of them will pay for your next great work.

Start with the FREE basics

No need to dive straight into the more expensive, more complex tools. Instead, start with some of the many free tools and services:

Still FREE but a bit trickier to setup:

  • Broadcast live video over Ustream
  • Manage your fans email list using MailChimp
  • Sell your music from your website or blog using PayPal or PayLoadz for music

Work the social networks

The social networks are where many of your fans hang out, so:

  • Build-up a fan base using Twitter & Facebook
  • Check out Google’s new social network, Google Plus
  • Live stream gigs over Google Plus Hangouts on Air –  musicians are loving it
  • Don’t forget LinkedIn for professional networking
  • Send out links to your blog to all these sites. TweetDeck makes this easy

Don’t forget the golden rule of doing business on social networks: DON’T BE SPAMMY!

Get & promote gigs

The following sites let you upload details of upcoming gigs, sell tickets, and connect with fans & promoters:

Setup & share your own Music Player

A bunch of sites now let you build a custom Music Player. A what?

A Music Player lets your fans:

  • Listen to your music to see if they like it
  • Check out images, video, bios & news about you & your music
  • Download your music for free
  • Buy your music – at a price you set, or they set themselves
  • Buy CDs & Vinyl – cut & ship for you
  • Buy merch – made to order & shipped for you

While you can:

  • Give your player a custom look-and-feel
  • Embed your player into your own website or blog
  • Let your fans embed your player into their sites (like the ReverbNation embed in this post)
  • Pull up stats on the number of listens, downloads & sales
  • Setup a Facebook or MySpace app version of your player
  • Pull out your money into your PayPal or bank account

Bandcamp and TopSpin are two of the more established so-called direct-to-fan services in this area.

(I’ve embedded 3 players within this article for you to get the idea)

What’s it all cost?

With both Bandcamp & TopSpin you keep 85% of the royalties & 100% of the rightsTopSpin also charge you $9.99 per month (or $99.99 per year) but that gets you a ton of sharing features to help you promote your music.

Distribute your music to iTunes, Amazon, Spotify…

There are more and more sites which will distribute your music (audio, video & artwork) to the dozens of online retail download, streaming, discovery, radio and all manor of places where your music can be found, listened to, shared and sold.

The great thing about these music distribution services is that for a modest fee you can upload your music once and they will push it out to all the main outlets where your fans are.

Crucially, they also give you online access to sales stats and collect the royalties for you.

The most well known and established distributor is probably CDBaby.

Other well know distributers are DittoMusic, ReverbNation, RouteNote, TuneCore & Zimbalam.

Some of these services also let you:

  • Setup your own Music Player and embed it within your own website or blog, Facebook & MySpace
  • Provide social sharing & email list management
  • Sell physical goods like CDs, vinyl & merch
  • Track & configure your Music Player from you iPhone or Android
  • Register for chart listings via Nielsen SoundScan (US) or OCC (UK)
  • ReverbNation offer Press Kits & Gig Finder options
  • TopSpin offer automated pre-order & membership products
  • Add-on services to help you with promotion

Another cool service is SoundCloud who let you upload your music, turn it into a visual waveform, share it with others who can comment on any point within the track.  Dozens of 3rd party apps make this service play nicely with others like TuneCore.

What’s it all cost?

These services charge some combination of:

  • An upfront fee to upload your music: typically $1 to $10 for a single & $10 to $50 for an album
  • A % of what’s left after iTunes or Amazon or whoever take their cut: typically up to 15%
  • An annual fee: typically up to $25 per album

So for example, DittoMusic charge $1 to upload a single plus $8 per year but you keep 100% of the royalties after the outlet charges.

What can you make?

It varies how quickly these sites can get the money from the stores, and then how often you can access your proceeds (monthly, quarterly or on demand.)

Zimabalam distribute your music videos to YouTube, and you get to keep 100% of the royalties generated.

Some like CDBaby handle the licensing of your music should it be used in movies, music videos, TV shows, commercials or games. This is what they call sync licensing. To get the royalties you need to get a sync license. CDBaby will arrange this for you but you need to opt-in.

Is it all worth it?

Well, what do you think?

For a low cost, and little of your time, they do it all. You keep 100% of the rights and collect a high percentage of the royalties – straight into your PayPal or bank account.

You make music, while the business looks after itself – and you.

Please share your experiences with these services in the comments below.

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