Music is changing. we’ve already written about artists who managed to escape the label system (like Chance the Rapper up there), but that’s only half the story. The music industry is more open to independent artists and self-distributors than ever, allowing anybody to sell their music without signing a label contract.
Whether it’s a professional studio album or a random track you threw together on Logic, here’s how to get yourself out there without being rinsed for all you’re worth:
Spotify has been in the news recently for seeming to pay dick-all to music artists – according to this chart, an unsigned artist on Spotify could receive as little as $0.007 per stream. However, Spotify doesn’t actually pay royalties per stream; they’re based on factors such as where your listeners are and how many paid users are signed up to the site.
To get on there you’d have to go through either a label or an “aggregator”, so the platform isn’t that accessible to independents.
Soundcloud is by far the easiest way to get yourself heard; everyone and their mum has an account on what’s been called “the YouTube of music discovery” and it’s used by major artists and independents alike. It’s great for exposure, but if you want to sell your tracks you’ll have to include a “Buy” button that takes listeners elsewhere.
Here’s a tip: upload at least one full track. Don’t upload a full album, but don’t expect people to go crazy over your playlist of 30-second previews unless you’re already big.
Bandcamp is the go-to for independent artists, and for good reason. Unlike the other platforms on this list, Bandcamp lets you upload and sell your music yourself without going through a label or another third-party. They also auto-convert your files to all other formats as long as you send them an original FLAC or WAV.
However, this doesn’t come without a cost. Bandcamp charges a 15% fee for digital sales and 10% for physical merchandise, and that’s on top of whatever your card company or Paypal are charging to process your payments.
If you have dreams of making it big, you’ve probably been told you have to be on iTunes (and Google Play, Amazon, etc). While it is the largest single music store around, there are a lot of hoops to jump through if you’re uploading tracks yourself; you need to mix your album to their standard, create a new iTunes account and apply for a United States Tax ID!
At the end of it all, you’ll still be paying an aggregator like TuneCore $50 to upload an album or $10 for a single.
The Pirate Bay
Of course, you could just bypass all the bullshit and throw your album out onto a torrenting site. It costs nothing, but (directly at least) it also pays nothing. Nevertheless, Thom Yorke and smaller artists like Ratking have all uploaded official torrents of one of their albums on there.
Why? Because pirates represent a free grassroots distribution network and probably wouldn’t have bought your album anyway. However, they might decide to become legit listeners or spend money on merchandise or concert tickets.
An Actual CD
Why reinvent the wheel? Just burn that shit onto a CD and sell it at your performances. If you sell it yourself you’re guaranteed 100% of the money being handed to you, right?
Although blank CDs do still cost money, and if you’re going beyond “blank CD with title scrawled on it” (it worked for Steal This Album) you’ll be paying for cover art, printing, and a professional studio recording (although you can use that for everything else too).