How Do Up-and-Coming Artists Make Money? Selling your music online
Making music can be expensive. Between work and classes, you probably don’t have a lot of time to spare so isn’t it time you start making your music work for you?
In this series we look at the options available for up-and-coming artists to start recouping costs and maybe even start to turn a profit. From live performances to publishing royalties and everything in between, this series will focus on the business of music so you’re in the know.
Selling Music Online
The first and most obvious choice you would think is to just sell your music, right? While you’d be correct, there are actually a whole multitude of platforms and options you can choose from, each with their own pros and cons which is why we’ve broken out them out to help you make the right choice and to allow you to have as much control as possible over when and how you sell your music.
Your Own Platform (Kind of) - Bandcamp, Bandzoogle
If you want a no-frills approach to selling your music than look no further than Bandcamp or newcomer Bandzoogle. Relatively straightforward, these sites let you to sell your music and even merch while also allowing you to customise your own personal online store (to a degree).
Bandcamp is a free service however takes 15% of your sales as commission while Bandzoogle works as a multi-tiered subscription platform which offers different levels of service depending on your needs.
What these sites allow you to collect which the Big Three don’t is access to customer data – something that is arguably just as important as a sale itself. Once someone buys a song or some merch from your store you then have access to data such as their emails and in some cases even zip codes. You can use this data in a heap of ways, for example you could create a mailing list of all the people who have purchased your music in a specific area and then send them an email with promo material for a live gig you’re playing in their area.
An example of an artist's Bandzoogle Website
If you’ve also dabbled with Facebook marketing you can also upload those emails into the platform and it will match users to those particular addresses and create a custom audience which you can always use at a later date.
Another alternative here is to create your own website and install an e-commerce portal (Shopify for example has it’s own dedicated product for the music industry) on it. Depending on how you set it up it could potentially prove to be a more cost-efficient move but the trade-off is that building your own website and managing the e-commerce side of it can be quite time-consuming.
The Big Three (iTunes, Amazon and Google Play)
The benefits of being on these platforms is twofold – firstly, these are established players and as such are trusted by a wide user-base and secondly, the audience will already have their credit card details saved within the respective platform so buying music or merch is an easy few clicks away.
The first step to being featured is to find a proper distributor for your music before it can go onto one of these platforms – there are a heap of options, for example some take a percentage off the top of your sale while others charge an annual fee. Either way, we suggest doing a lot of research before committing to a particular music distributor.
There are drawbacks however – you don’t get email addresses and the sales data you receive is somewhat limited in scope – basically while you might make lots of sales in the short term, in the long term you don’t have the opportunity to re-connect with your user base.
In essence, it’s best to view people who buy your music on these online stores as not your customers, but as the platform’s customers. The Big Three also generally take a bigger cut - iTunes for instance takes a 30% cut of your sales.
The Crowdfunding Revolution: NoiseTrade & Pledge Music
Crowdfunding has also changed the way up-and-coming artists fund the process of making music and two relative newcomers are now leading the charge.
Pledge Music can at its simplest be described as a music-oriented version of Kickstarter, with fans being able to pledge a varying amount (on average around $55) to an artist who can then provide exclusive content, features and updates on their progress with some artists even allowing a degree of artistic input from fans when recording an album or EP.
A recent trend in the industry is to bundle physical merchandise with a digital version of an album or EP
While Pledge Music does take 15% of the money raised no other crowdfunding platform provides artists with the same level of engagement with fans and as an added bonus the artist gets to keep all of the data from people who have donated.
In the same vein, NoiseTrade (now owned by Pledge Music) throws a bit of a twist on traditional business models as it recognises that data is arguably now almost as important as a sale. NoiseTrade allows people to download your music for free, provided that they leave their details (such as location and email address) which you are able to use in the future at your own discretion, plus an option for people to leave you a tip should they want to support you further.
Worth a mention: Soundcloud
While most would know it as primarily a music streaming platform, being a Pro-User on SoundCloud actually allows you to install a ‘Buy Now’ button on your channel which then directs traffic towards an e-commerce portal of your own choosing – a handy option if you find that your SoundCloud channel is relatively popular. Being a Pro-User works as a subscription service, costing $16 per month or $145 a year.
And there you have it.
Choosing the right platform to sell your art is a difficult one as many factors are involved, from the size of your following to how engaged those followers are – a good starting place is working out what your priorities are and then choosing a platform that aligns to those priorities.