Here’s everything you need to know about online music distribution: a presentation of the industry and main streaming and downloading platforms, what you need to create your digital release and how to build the best digital strategy for your album!
Industry Facts: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Information is beautiful recently provided us with the graphs of online music industry showing the number of subscribers per platform, average artist revenue per play, percentage of free users etc. Luckily the tune changed – there’s still plenty of room for optimism!
Streaming – did I really hear that right?
Streaming is naturally a hot topic in the industry at the moment. As a model in transition, it was accused of not paying out enough to the artists and with YouTube going toe to toe with small artists and labels, there certainly was a lot of scepticism among musicians. But in reality streaming services are starting to hit the right notes; their gradual rise to ubiquity and their global success cannot be denied.
With a completely different model than downloads, streaming generates low revenues over a long period of time, instead of providing a one-off high revenue stream like downloads or physical sales used to generate.
Regarding the amount of money involved, compared with receiving no revenue at all, streaming has the added benefit of giving musicians reach. It gives easy access to audiences, which is the first step to getting you known and allowing you to create opportunities to play gigs and convert casual users into ‘super fans’. It is predicted that the decline in music revenues that’s been going on since the 90s, will finally turn around soon – and it’s all thanks to streaming!
What are the best platforms to release my music on?
While certain platforms have descended the scales of importance over the recent years, there are now certain key players that are really on song when it comes to attracting sales and streams. We review the top ones below.
Streaming music subscriptions are growing exponentially, so having your music on all the important streaming channels is a must for any release.
With over 157 million active users and 71 million subscribers, having your music on Spotify is great way of gaining exposure. The $8 billion paid to right holders, and set to increase over the coming year, with an average artist revenue per play around $0.0044, can also contribute to your sales.
Apple started a bit late but all their efforts are now focused on their streaming service Apple Music even though they still keep the downloading service iTunes. With over 36 million users, the average artist revenue per play is close to 0.0074$.
The French streaming platform reached 16 million users  and is available in 180 countries worldwide – a much larger international audience than Spotify with 65 countries.
With 4 million users, Jay-Z’s streaming platform is facing some issues and it’s hard to predict the future of this platform. Too bad for a platform that is offering one the highest average artist revenue per play at $0.0125.
The platform that everyone thought dead is coming back from its ashes. It reached 5 million users and pays $0.0190 per play.
YouTube is the most popular way to listen to music online with more than 1 billion users, especially amongst younger listeners. On one hand, you can use YouTube Content ID to really start making money with your music, especially if you optimise your YouTube channel. YouTube also has a new audio streaming service called YouTube Music launched in May, 22nd 2018 but, it’s only available in USA, New Zealand and Australia and South Korea the moment.
As awell established market leader, nearly two thirds of all downloads take place on the iTunes store; therefore selling your music on it is an absolute must! In addition to that, iTunes offers useful marketing tools such as pre-orders, instant gratification tracks, and a booklet – more info on iTunes Pro.
Available in 58 countries and with 22 million downloads a year, Google Play is establishing itself as a key store for the mobile download market.
Beatport is the premier online music store for electronic music. It also offers music in higher quality lossless formats, which can bring you extra revenue.
Given Amazon’s primed position of having over 20 million users with accounts , having your music one click away from those users is a sure way to make extra sales.
What do I need to create my release?
Releasing music is very simple and it’ll only take few minutes to create your digital product. There are 3 crucial elements you’ll need to prepare for your release.
Music audio file
Naturally you want your music to sound as good as possible on all the platforms, so to distribute your release you should make sure it’s uploaded as a .WAV file in 16 or 24 bits, 44.1 kHz.
While people might not be able to hold the artwork in their hand anymore, a visual representation of your music is still very important. While you can get generic artwork, choosing something unique to you and your style can make all the difference! The basic requirements are:
- JPEG File – 2000×2000 pixels;
- Must include the Artist Name and Release title;
- No logos or additional info;
- No nudity or violent content.
Metadata info including ISRC and barcode
For all your songs, some metadata info will be required including artist name, titles, contributors and ISRC codes – international unique barcodes to track your music. In addition to that, a unique UPC/EAN barcode will be generated for your release. If you do not have ISRC and UPC/EAN codes yet, you can acquire some through us, for free.
What is your release strategy?
It’s very important to prepare your release strategy well. Do you want to release a full album directly? Or do you want to create some excitement and release 2 or 3 singles before the official release date of your album? Do you want to start with an EP release in order to have some online material before contacting labels?
Once you’ve decided what type of release you want to publish, make sure you select the right digital release date and have enough time to prepare your promotion around it. Usually the best release days are Fridays and Tuesdays, and we recommend for an important release to schedule it at least 4 weeks in advance, so you have enough time to build your promotional plan.
Set up a pre-order on iTunes
You’ve probably already heard about it but pre-orders on iTunes can be a great marketing tool for your release. A pre-order enables you to put your album/EP/single online before the official release date on all shops. You can decide if you want to offer 90 sec pre-listening, set different prices per track, or offer “instant gratification tracks”. Instant gratification tracks can be available on different dates before the official release day and your fans who will pre-order your album will receive them instantly. Pre-order sales count towards your iTunes chart position both during the pre-order period, as well as on your release date. So driving fans to purchase your pre-order can help you rise on iTunes charts!
It’s recommended that you set up your preorder as soon as possible – minimum 4 weeks before the release date. The longer, the better. Here is more info on how to set up a pre-order on iTunes.
IMPORTANT: you can also set up pre-orders on Amazon and Deezer. Please note that your instant gratification tracks will also be on these platforms. If you want to distribute a single release on Spotify to match the release date of your instant gratification tracks, you’ll need to create a specific single for Spotify.
Create a promo link player
Once your release is finally online, a promo link player will help you gather links to all shops on a single page. That way, you make sure your fans will always find your music whatever platform they use. You can also embed the promo link player on your official website, and newsletter and share it on all your social media profiles!
Note: if you set up an iTunes Pre-order, you’ll receive your promo link player with iTunes link when the pre-order starts. And on the official release day, the promo link player will simply be updated with all shops so the URL will stay the same. That means there is no need to update links on your website, social networks, videos and PR communication!
Pre-save your release on Spotify
Spotify recently released a new feature to compete with iTunes’ pre-orders: Spotify pre-save links. You can request this link as soon as your release has been delivered to Spotify and that will enable your fans to pre-save your music so your track can be instantly added to their playlist on the release date.
Note: the more people pre-save, the easier it will be for your digital distributor to push your release to Spotify editorial team for playlists placements!
Set up your artist profile
There are more and more platforms that allow you to choose your artist picture and other settings in order to customise your artist profile. It would be a miss not to do o it!
Start your promotion!
Of course, if you have enough budget, it could be useful to hire a PR agent to contact all journalists and influencers, but if you are limited in term of expenses, check our DIY guide to PR relations. Don’t forget to use your social networks and create Facebook ad campaigns in order to reach more fans. Finally, take your chance and submit your music to Spotify playlists curators!