Selling Your Music Online

We’ve talked a lot on this site about music from the consumer’s perspective. We’ve rated Spotify against Google Play, listed the best music apps (besides iTunes), where to get royalty free music for YouTube videos, etc. Today we thought it would be a good idea to talk about music from the sellers’ perspective. A fair amount of you readers are bloggers and people who are interested in making money online. What better way to earn a living than through your own independent musicianly?

There are all sorts of great and independent musicians who have managed to make livings selling their tunes online. Marian Call, The Doubleclicks, Zoe Keating, Paul and Storm, Jonathan Coulton, Molly Lewis, Hank Green, Driftless Pony Club and MC Frontalot are just a few (there are lots who aren’t geeks but, as geeks ourselves we’d be remiss if we didn’t do a few shout-outs).

If you are interested in getting in on the independent and internet based musician bandwagon, here are the most important things that you need to do.

1. Find a Place to Sell Your Stuff

Yes, it is possible to sell all of your music through your own website. Selling through your own website is the only way to guarantee that you won’t have to pay any commissions for your music. Selling your music through your own website is also a ton of work and once you manage to build a good sized fan base might not be something you can do easily anymore.

The three major avenues through which indie musicians sell their tunes are Amazon, iTunes and BandCamp. It’s important that you be listed on all three, but BandCamp is our favorite. BandCamp caters to independent musicians, takes the smallest royalty and commission fees and has a great social aspect that is pretty cool. CDBaby is another good idea-it’s like the BandCamp of physical media.

2. License Your Music!

It’s true that the days of the major label are all but over now. Even “mainstream” artists are shunning the major labels in favor of doing their own thing. This isn’t limited to musicians, by the way. Louis CK has been creating and distributing his stuff independently online for years.

There are two kinds of licenses you need: one for people who just want to use and cover your music and one for people who hope to use your music for money making purposes.

For the first type of license your best bet is the Creative Commons Share Alike license. Creative Commons Share Alike licenses allow people to use and appropriate your music for use in their own projects with the caveat that those projects cannot be money making endeavors. This license is great for encouraging sharing without having to worry about pirating-a key factor in growing one’s fan base.

For the second, profit-based license, you should look into something like TuneCore sync licensing. TuneCore acts as the middle man between you and, say, a production company that might want to feature your song in a movie or commission you to create a song for a television show. They also help make sure that your music is copyrighted and that your albums sell easily through portals like iTunes.

3. Put On a Concert (or Several)

Yes, you need to make your music readily available online but it is also incredibly important that you make it possible for people to hear you play live. Even the Gorillaz eventually had to do a tour, right?

In the beginning, doing open mic nights and playing local coffee houses and bars is a great way to start spreading the word about your music and getting people interested in (and hopefully sharing) your songs. Over time, though, you will want to play non-local places. The best way to figure out where to play is to ask your existing fan base to suggest places and venues for your act. You can also use tools like Eventful’s Demand It and Songkick’s Detour service (Zoe Keating helped set up a small tour using this service). These services allow users to create pages and “demand” that you tour through their towns.

4. Diversify Your Merch

Don’t limit your offerings to just CDs. T-shirts and tote bags are huge sellers. Some artists sell little toys or, in the geek world, sets of dice. The standard coffee mugs, posters and mouse pads are also good ideas. You can sell merch through BandCamp or set up your own shop through a drop seller like CafePress, Zazzle or RedBubble.

As you can see there are lots of different companies out there that are just waiting to help you get your music and merch out to your fans. Take advantage of them! You never know-you could be a full time musician before you know it. Good luck!