As some of you know, as well as writing about the music industry, I am also a singer-songwriter. In preparation for releasing my next EP, I’ve been looking at ways of not just making money from it, but also simply getting it into people’s ears. We as artists know there isn’t a one-size-fits-all career trajectory in the music industry, so there’s got to be more than one way of distributing our latest releases. I counted a few, and am going to weigh the pros and cons of each.
These are ten ways to distribute your EP, loosely ranked from bland to brilliant.
Bland: for sale on all major online stores
Pros: It’s official. People who aren’t the types to hand over their credit card online might use iTunes gift cards, because they trust a corporation more than a little website. Also, it sounds pretty cool to your non-musician friend to say you’re on a major distribution platform.
Cons: You’re a krill in the great big ocean. Just because your music is online, that doesn’t mean that random people are going to easily stumble upon it, and then pay $4.95. iTunes, for example, takes a 30% cut of everything you make as well. On top of that, none of these major distributors will happily give you analytics or the demographics of people buying your music, like you could see for yourself if you controlled sales on your own website or at shows.
Boring – released on all streaming services
Pros: Ease of access. If your fans already have a Spotify account, it’s pretty easy for them to look you up on their favourite platform and add you to their library. Another pro is that it’s easy to share. If you’re on SoundCloud, a platform that doesn’t require a membership to listen, music bloggers and fans alike can easily embed your latest single into their website or share it with their friends on Facebook.
Cons: You’re basically giving your music away for free. While the Billboard charts calculate that one sale with worth 150 streams, the revenue you make is nowhere near that. While the streaming platforms are arguing that they’ll pay artists more than a fraction of a fraction of a penny once more people use their premium (paying) version of the service, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon. Also, just like with any mega-corporation, they won’t let you know who’s listening to your music, much less encourage them to sign up for your mailing list.
Back Breaking – physical disks available via your website
Pros: Finally, some control! If they place an order on your website, you’ll know their name, can use it to guess their gender and age, and can even look up the demographics of their neighbourhood after. This will give you great insight into your fanbase; not just simple social media followers, but who is actually spending money on you. It also gives you a chance to really shine, by wrapping the CD in tissue paper or confetti, adding a handwritten thank you note, or even simply signing the cover. I’d swoon if my favourite indie artist did that for me.
Cons: It’s a lot of work. First, you have to print the discs. Unless you do a preorder, it’s hard to tell how many you need to order, seeing as most laptops don’t even have CD drives anymore. The last thing you want is to be stuck with a thousand discs in your basement for years. Then, shipping them to fans. Unless you go back and forth, or having a shipping charge calculator, you’ll probably set a flat fee, or make the mistake of not charging it at all. When one of my good friend’s debut EP was released, we talked about her sending me a copy from her home in Michigan, USA. I’m in Ontario, Canada, and shipping came out to about triple the price of the EP. I decided to buy it on iTunes instead. Now, imagine if she had fans in Australia!
Bubbly – up-selling physical disks at your shows
Pros: Just like the gift shop at an amusement park, people like to bring home a souvenir of an amazing experience to relive the moment. If you’ve already got CDs printed, bring them along to your gigs and see if you can convince them to relive your fantastic show with a CD in their car.
Cons: A box of CDs (or vinyl, or tapes) is more more thing to carry to your shows, and a fragile one at that. You’ll also need a friend or a parent to count change and watch the till.
Booming – songs as Patreon rewards
Pros: If you’re a creative who naturally puts out content on a regular basis (think, self-produces a song every month), Patreon might be a good fit for you. Name your price, and have fans subscribe monthly to be your patrons. It’s more stable income, and a pretty cool way for fans to feel involved in your process and career.
Cons: You need to release music on a frequent, regular basis. A full-length album every two years won’t work for this system. Patreon is also a concept a lot of regular fans aren’t familiar with, so you’ll have to explain to them how it works, and reassure them that it’s safe.
Blissful – free downloads with your business cards
Pros: If you’re going through CD Baby or Bandcamp, every card has an individual download code where fans need to enter their email address (AKA sign up for your mailing list) to get the file sent to them. You can even just throw them from the stage. Another approach is to have a secret website page link to a series of free streams and downloads, which is very convenient for media and industry people checking you out after exchanging business cards.
Cons: You’ve got to print them out (so are therefore losing money), and carry a stack around with you wherever you go.
Beautiful – “name your price” on Bandcamp
Pros: Your fans feel involved, and can pay more if they want.
Cons: Humans tend to want to pay the least amount possible. Super fans aside, you’ll want to set a minimum price if you plan on making some money.
Brassy – one song up for streaming, the rest of the EP is website exclusive
Pros: Giving new fans a taste of you, and then selling the rest of the collection once they’ve fallen in love is a strategy I’ve heard recommended by artists who don’t tour as much as they focus on recorded music. This works if you have a very distinct and tiny niche, or an extremely loyal fanbase.
Cons: You have to choose which song to widely release. If it’s a small EP, and you don’t have a lot of choice, you might not want to put your only single everywhere and the fans who buy the complete release to feel disappointed. On the other hand, you need to catch the attention and heart of someone who might never buy the rest of the EP. It takes a lot of thinking on your part. This also makes it harder to sell music in the world outside of online. If you’re playing live and don’t have anything right there, new fans might forget to go to your website; not to mention they won’t know most the songs you’re playing if they haven’t already bought the complete collection.
Bombastic – newsletter sign up incentive
Pros: It’s become common practice, especially in the solo country or folk communities to give away a song or an older release away when one signs up for your mailing list. People don’t like being bombarded with emails like stores at the mall do, so they’re generally reluctant to give a company open access to their inbox. A way to frame it is to offer to send them the songs by email (just don’t be sneaky about it). The idea is that these fans will then come to your shows and buy your new releases as they come out because you email them to, and you will then make your money more than back.
Cons: If you play live frequently and announce shows in your mailing list, be sure to segment the sign ups by geographical location (so like, asking them for their city/town, state/province and maybe country). If you only invite mailing list members to shows they can physically attend, they’re much less likely to unsubscribe. Of course, there will always be those “fans” who will delete your emails or unsubscribe as soon as they get they the freebies, but those are few and far between in you frame it right.
Brilliant – song with a ticket sale
Pros: Your fans feel special. If they bought a ticket online, you can automatically email them a “thank you, please enjoy this song I’m going to play at the show on Saturday. It has a big sing-along chorus, so I do hope you join in.” If they pay at the door or you don’t have control over ticket sales, hand them a free download card when they arrive. They’ve already spent their hard-earned cash on you, this is a way to thank them, and make them feel like you care.
Cons: None that I can think of.
Thank you so much for reading! If you have ideas or have used other strategies to distribute your music, please comment below!