The subscription-based music streaming model of Spotify and others – at the moment – makes it extremely unlikely for independent artists to make any significant money from sales of their music directly via those services.
It’s still also yet to be proven as a viable business model in itself, even after hundreds of millions of pounds invested in it. However, subscription-based streaming (although it will change and evolve) is here to stay, for the foreseeable future.
Having your music on these services isn’t essential, but having a presence on them is better than not having a presence on them. They are focussed on consumers more than the artists, and do provide an excellent, convenient, immediate service for music listeners – so are great platforms on which to share and showcase your music, and potentially be discovered by new fans.
And if you can’t make money directly, you can, for example, have a certain selection of your music on there as tasters, and the music you want to sell, at your website.
Outside the subscription-based streaming model, a leading option is Bandcamp (which can be incorporated into your website very easily if you choose to). Bandcamp is the “global music community where fans discover music and directly support the artists who make it”. Bandcamp is discussed at length in the Music Strategy Programme.
Below is a rundown of what’s required to get your material on Spotify and other subscription-based streaming platforms. You need to either be with a label that deals directly with these platforms, or pay a Distribution service to distribute your music to them.
- Subscription-based streaming platforms such as Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music and the others, are what can be seen as the outlets, or stores.
- To have your music available on those stores, you don’t have to go to them all directly, because they receive the music they have on their platforms from services such as CD Baby, TuneCore, SongFlow and others – who are the distributors.
- Distributors automatically send the stores the required information about your music for you (which can vary from store to store).
- You upload your music to one of these distribution services. The distributor will then distribute your music to a large number of the stores, including Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music and others.
- The distributors make money through either a flat fee from you for your submitted material, and/or by taking a royalty percentage on sales. Some distributors also ask for an annual fee to keep your music available on the stores.
- Some of the more specialised stores have a screening process and don’t accept all the music submitted to them, but on the whole your music will be accepted on most of the general stores.
- It takes time for your music to be processed and released on the stores. Times vary from store to store, and can be a week to several weeks from the time you submit the music to the distributor website. So it’s best to plan ahead with your releases. (There’s a detailed guide on releasing a new album/EP in the Music Strategy Programme.)
- Legally, the distributors deal with a huge number of acts, so have a general type of contract, which you agree to in order to use their service.
Note that, if you were to be signed to a label at some point, labels often require you to hand over your right to distribution and sales of your entire catalogue… So if you’re hoping to sign with a label later, make sure the distributor’s contract allows for you to terminate at any time, or it could get in the way of signing to the label. This is usually the case anyway, with the larger distributors, but you may be more tied in with smaller, more specialised or personalised distributors.
- You need what are know as UPC/EAN and ISRC Codes for your albums and tracks, which help to track store sales, distribution numbers, and even radio airplay. They’re also used by royalty collection societies to identify revenue generated by music for the music’s owner. You can get your own UPC/EAN codes by purchasing a license to a batch of them – but many distributors will provide you with these codes, so that you don’t have to.
- There are lots of distributors, each with their own pros and cons. Do some research to see which one suits your needs or appeals to you. Look at reviews, contact their customer services, read their Terms and Conditions… There are some pointers and options in the Resources Area of the Music Strategy Programme.
Paying to have your music available in subscription-based streaming stores may be helpful in giving fans/listeners easy access to your tunes… Or may help some peoples’ perception of you if they think being on Spotify or the others makes you viable in some way… Or possibly gain you a little ‘exposure’… Or help you to try and impress your peers or fans by being ‘where it’s at’…
(Note that the music that gets the main spotlight (on Spotify for example), is highly controlled and manipulated by the owners and partnered major record labels.)
It is better to have a presence on the stores than not, but it doesn’t make you money directly at the moment, unless your tracks are getting humongous numbers of listeners. And even then, your cut is abysmally small. The best hope is that some people listening on the stores might want to find out how to buy and own your music…
By Victor Taylor.
Creator of the Music Strategy Programme.