I'd like to release some music I've made, but, for various reasons, I don't want to go through a record company. What are my options? What are the best ways true music lovers can support my music directly rather than through a record company?
Photo remixed from an original by Anirudh Koul.
Up until a couple of years ago, your best option may have involved setting up a MySpace profile and throwing some music on. Nowadays, you have a couple of great options to choose from. Over the years I have tried every store and distribution service I've come across as both a listener and an amateur musician. It's not hard to skip the record labels and sell and distribute music on your own. Let's start by taking a look at how you can skip the labels and get your music online before we move onto making sure music-lovers can find it easily.
How To Release Your Music Online
You have three different choices for charging for your music: free, pay-what-you-want and a set price. Each has their own advantages and different services that work better. Knowing that, let's break down the best places to upload your music based on how much you want for it.
I Want to Give My Music Away Free
If you're releasing your first set of songs, you might want to start by giving your music away for free. This helps people find it and share it. It also gives you a chance to get feedback from friends and family. You have a few good options to choose from here:
- Soundcloud: Soundcloud is the easiest to use free music upload service. It takes just a couple clicks to upload a song and once you do, you can embed your music everywhere from Facebook to your Tumblr account. You can allow people to download it, stream it and if you choose you can even allow people to remix it.
It's also a free way to connect with other musicians, follow artists you like, and create a small community around your songs. But the biggest appeal? You can allow people to comment anywhere in the song. This means you'll get personalised feedback on each section of your song. It's hard to get used to all the criticism, but it will help you improve in the long run.
- Reverb Nation: If there's an equivalent to MySpace out there right now, it's Reverb Nation. Part social network and part personalised website, Reverb Nation allows you to put tracks online for streaming, share them on Facebook and showcase your bio and upcoming shows. It's a bit clunky to look at, but it's free and gets the job done.
- RPM Challenge: February 1 marks the start of the RPM Challenge, a contest where you're tasked with writing, recording and releasing an album within the month of February (similar to how NaNoWriMo works for novels). If you're up to it, it's a great place to upload your new songs and get feedback from others taking part in the contest.
I Want To Let People Pay Whatever They Want To Pay
Bandcamp is free to use for musicians and allows you to set your price for your album or let people pay whatever they want. Unlike Soundcloud, you also get better (and more) options for tagging your songs and tracks so people can find you based on your location, music type or even mood. Better still, people can download your songs in a number of formats and qualities, including high-quality FLAC files. If you're releasing a whole album, you get a nice, minimal landing page where people can stream or download the songs.
For the statistic-obsessed curious about who's listening to your songs, Bandcamp has every stat you can imagine, including sales, streaming time and details on when people stop listening to a track. As a tracking tool, it's a good way to see how people listen to your music. As a selling tool, it's a great way to let potential fans stream a song or album before buying it.
I Want A Set Price In The Biggest Online Music Stores
Of course, you might be an independent musician who already has a good following of people. You can still use Bandcamp as a store-front with set prices, but if you want to get your music onto the big stores like Google Music, Amazon and iTunes, you have to go through a distribution service and pay a little money.
After talking with a few musicians, the two most recommended services for this are TuneCore and CD Baby. For around $US35-$US40 both of these services will upload and sell your music on Amazon, iTunes, Beatport, Facebook, eMusic and a host of other stores. They also send your music to the big streaming and radio services. You retain your rights to your music, but they handle the submission process.
If you're interested in selling music through Google Music you do so after paying a one-time $US25 fee. Once you pay the fee, you can upload as many songs or albums as you want.
Set It Up So Music-Lovers Can Find It
Once your music is on the internet you still need to track down fans. This is the hardest part, but the best thing you can do is make it so your music is accessible in as many places as possible. Here's a few simple rules to follow after you've uploading your music:
- Tag your songs properly: For several years I worked at a weekly paper covering local music and the biggest way musicians shoot themselves in the foot is by not tagging their music properly. Sites like Soundcloud or Bandcamp let you pick your genre or location because it helps people find you. Use genre tags properly and honestly. It might seem funny to throw your song in the "salsa" section, but it makes it hard for people to get an idea of what the music really sounds like.
Include your location too, because if anyone ever wants to write about your music, the first thing they want to know is where you're from.
- Spread it out to aggregation and radio services: People aren't always going to come searching for your music on their own. You need to make it accessible and easy to find. Once your music is online, submit links to discovery engines so people can find your music by accident.
- Make it easy for people to pay you: Some artists can get away with setting up a PayPal account on their website and calling a day. Chances are, that's not you. Unless you have a vibrant website with a good store, it's best to use the free tools already available to you. Make it easy for everyone by using a service like Bandcamp so people can throw money at you.
Once your music is online, it's up to you to promote it. The only thing you're missing out on by skipping the record label is the advertising backing. Make sure you send it to friends, post it on social networks, and seed it out to as many places as possible. It's not a bad idea to check out the blogs that Hype Machine scans through so you can get an idea of places who might be interested in linking to your songs.
People are out there who want to find your music; you just have to make it as easy as possible for them.
PS. Do you hunt down new bands? Where do you look?
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