Advantages of Digital Distribution III:

Perversely, focussing on digital music sales can make the physical products you release more desireable. Think about Radiohead: In Rainbows. They put it out basically free over the net, and sold lush, limited edition vinyl and cd box sets, which sold 100,000 copies, and is currently changing hands for about $200 on ebay.

CD sales have taken a nosedive since music went digital, but LP and EP sales on vinyl have levelled out: according to the RIAA they even increased by 46% between 2006 and 2007, to 1.3 million units in 2007. The industry opinion is that this is because the real fans want a piece of their favourite band; a lovely artefact to hold and stroke and show off… Make the most of it! If your digital sales are good, that means there’s an opportunity to make a premium on really well produced physical material. If you can give your fans something special, that also has a premium because of its scarcity, then they’ll happily pay you for it.

Advantages of digital distribution II

There are a few online music distribution companies out there, each professing it’s service and it’s model to be the cheapest and the best: what you need to do is figure out which of them is going to be the best for you. How many tracks can you reasonably expect to sell? What can you afford to outlay? Figure those things out and then decide which deal is best for you.

The basic models of distributor are:

Subscription – Keep your royalties, but pay a maintenance or subscription fee to keep your music online. Good if you’re going to be selling a lot of tracks. (CD Baby operate this model, also charging an upload fee)

Percentage – Don’t pay any fees, but pay for the service with a percentage of the royalties from sales (this is the model we use at RouteNote). Good if you don’t want to risk losing any money, or your sales aren’t likely to be massive just yet.

Upload fee – A flat fee for uploading your music, and then keep your royalties. Again, good if you’re hoping to sell a lot of tracks, but there’s no incentive for the distributor to promote your music, as they’ve already made their money, and can’t profit further from helping you out. (EmuBands do this)

Managed – The next best thing to being signed to a record label, some digital distribution companies will take labels and larger bands on, and for a larger cut of the royalties from sales, will make more of an effort to promote their music, or offer other benefits to their partners. It’s up to you to decide whether their efforts are likely to be worth the cut. (The Orchard operate this model)

Controlling your own output means that you don’t have to go with the same partner for multiple releases, you can pick and choose different partners for different releases. If you find that the music distribution deal you’re on with one company is working better for one release than another, you can change partners for the one that’s losing out.

Also consider that digital music sales increase your presence in the marketplace, and a record label will look at the level of your sales of both physical and digital music, and of your live gig audiences when they’re looking at signing you (if that’s what you’re after).

Advantages of Digital Distribution

You already know the advantages that the internet has to offer musicians, you wouldn’t be reading this site if you weren’t interested in exploiting them. You’re still unconvinced? Digital distribution, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

Your music reaches a bigger audience than ever before, more people than have ever been into Tower Records, HMV and Virgin Megastores combined have access to your music without either of you leaving home.

More than this, digital distribution costs nothing when compared to physical – you don’t need to press CD’s or LP’s, you don’t need to package them, warehouse them, ship them, you don’t need to take returns or manage stock, you can just put one copy of a track up with a digital distributor and have infinite copies of your music literally anywhere there’s a phone line.

Of course, there are many more ways for people to copy your music without paying for it on the web, but since the cost of getting your music out there is so much less, and a greater proportion of the profits goes to the artist having cut out so much of the bulky record company structure, you’ll probably end up making more money anyhow.You certainly keep a bigger proportion of the revenue from the sales you do make.

The truth is that the internet is inescapable as a medium for music; you just can’t afford to ignore it. Even if you think the internet lays your music too open to piracy, and stick with just releasing CD’s or vinyl, chances are some one of your dedicated fans will encode their copy and put it up on a torrent site anyway, so you might as well give people the option of buying it legally online…

The Best Online Resources

This was a great panel: Brad King of Northern Kentucky University kept a tight leash on some big names from web innovators Bebo (Angel Gambino), (Matt Ogle), Sonicbids (Panos Panay – who looks like Roger Federer, btw), iLike (Ali Partovi), and Myspace Records (Jon Pikus).

The consensus from this panel was that ubiquity is a good thing, bands should get themselves up everywhere they can on the web, but remember to try and get maximum return on their investment of time. iLike is a site that offers syndication of your gig schedule and other updates across other platforms like myspace and facebook, and seems like a great time saving tool for self promoters, as it also has a facility for sharing music with friends with particular tastes in music quickly.

The panel recommended that self promotional material strike a balance between viral entertainment value and a marketing or promotional message – creativity is always key in this area, as is frequency of updates for whatever material you’re putting out; keep the momentum up. Make sure that tracks posted to the web have proper ID3 tagging, so you can see when and where they’re being played. For the rest – remember that everyone else is trying to get online too, learning some search engine optimization basics and apply them to the content you’re putting out will help you stand out from the clutter that web 2.0 stuff generates, and just like touring, plan your attack on the web carefully; don’t just splurge stuff randomly onto the web and hope it will get attention.