How to Record and Digitally Distribute Your Own Music
The decline of CD sales in conjunction with the increase in digital distribution avenues has a lot of artists wondering do I even need a record label?
Before the internet, musicians would send copies of their demos to the record labels. Record companies would then pay retail stores to place an artist’s album on the shelves. Self-release used to be the last resort after sending out demos and receiving nothing back. While self-releaseing a record may not skyrocket a musician to international stardom as quickly as signing with a major record label, it leaves a lot of room for creative freedom and niche targeting. Big record companies have access and resources to help musicians with manufacturing, press, publicity, etc., but today, more than ever, musicians are drawn to self-release due to the increase in avenues for digital distribution.
In a nutshell, digital music distribution is the distribution of music in a digital file format. You may do this at home with consumer-level recording equipment and a digital audio workstation (GarageBand, Logic, Cubase, ProTools, Audacity, Reaper, and Sonar are some examples). Lastly, you organize what you want to record and start recording.
The next step most artists are taking is to set up a digital distribution system via a digital distribution website. These websites are called aggregators, and are simply online versions of the traditional store-based retailers. Some examples include CD Baby, TuneCore, Catapult, and Symphonic Distribution. Some companies like The Orchard distribute CD’s as well as digital music files.
The artist uploads their music to the aggregator site, and then the aggregator offers a flat-pricing model for the distribution of the submitted material. The aggregator then sells the music to services such as iTunes, Amazon, Facebook, Google Play, and Spotify, and can also help sell songs via the artist’s personal website. Aggregators provide musicians with Universal Product Codes (UPC) and International Standard Recording Codes (ISRC). These code and number the uploads for compliance, and are required for all content delivered in order to distribute across multiple channels. All you have to do is pay the fee and upload music in the correct format – often a master recording in a full digital format, rather than a rip from a CD.
Aggregators then take the music, digitally compress the format and stream on sites like iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Rhapsody, Beatport and Spotify, among others. These sites often have preexisting agreements with the aggregators to find, filter, and deliver content. With Spotify, when the music is streamed, the artist is compensated with a share of Spotify’s ad revenue, which is calculated on an individual basis with a preset formula based on the number of listens each musician gets. Spotify also allows listeners to purchase music. All of the sites have specific instructions on how they want their music delivered. The sites pay the aggregator for sales, and the aggregator then pays a royalty to the artist or content owner.
When searching for aggregators, musicians should look for ones with a low-start up cost, and a high percentage of profit going to the musician – just like how a music attorney would approach a traditional musician’s contract with a record label.
Legal downloading services such as iTunes, eMusic, Spotify, Beatport and Rhapsody have created huge opportunities for independent artists to distribute without a record company or traditional record retailer. In addition to distributing digitally, musicians can give performances, promote their music directly to fans, and sell tracks. This can also be a start-up method for musicians looking for exposure before signing with a label. Some examples of musicians who found success with self-release are: Artic Monkeys, Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs, Maximio Park, Gossip, and Enter Shikari. Start recording.
Artists looking for more information on how to digitally distribute their own music should check out the following websites:
 Passman, Donald, Everything You Need To Know About the Music Industry, Simon and Schuster. October 2013.