The Complete Guide to Selling Your Music Online

This post originally appeared on the Bandzoogle Blog.

If you’re working on your next album, you’re probably thinking about how you’re going to promote and sell your new music. When it comes to selling your music online, there are countless options available to musicians.

From selling direct to your fans, to online stores like iTunes and Amazon, getting your music up for sale is relatively simple. The real key is to have a strategy for where your music goes up for sale, and when.

This comprehensive guide details all of the options for selling your music online. This includes which platforms you should focus on, how to maximize your revenues, and some promotional ideas to help drive more sales.

Where to sell your music online

 

There are several options out there for selling music directly to your fans. There are also many distributors that can make your music available for sale through online retailers.

Here are the best options for selling your music online, and when you should use these tools during the promotion of your album.

Your own website

If you don’t have your own website already, there are many reasons why you should. Most importantly, a website gives you a little slice of the internet that you own and control. Regardless of which social media platforms come and go, your fans will always be able to find your music on your website.

"If you own the data, the money will always follow." - Derek Webb (Artist/NoiseTrade Founder)

By selling music directly through your website, you will also make more money (all sales through Bandzoogle are commission-free). But more than that, you will own the data and the emails you collect with the sales on your website. This is crucial for the long-term success of your career.

You can then use that data (who your fans are, where they’re from) and use the emails to keep those fans informed on new music, merch, shows, and crowdfunding campaigns.  

Build a professional website in just a few clicks where you can sell music and merch commission-free! Sign up free with Bandzoogle now.

Upsides

  • No commission on sales

  • Collect valuable fan data and email addresses

  • Sales reported to SoundScan

  • Fans can shop for other merch at same time

Downsides

  • Some fans might always choose to purchase through their preferred online retailer

Bandcamp

Bandcamp is a free service where you can upload and sell your music directly to your fans, and they take a modest cut of sales (15%). More importantly, you can collect the data and valuable email addresses when selling through Bandcamp.

But besides offering a platform to sell your music, there’s also an emphasis on music discovery with Bandcamp. They actively recommend music to fans through their fan accounts, blog, app, and the Bandcamp Weekly podcast.

[VIDEO: How to Sell Bandcamp Music on Your Bandzoogle Website]

Upsides

  • Collect valuable fan data and email address

  • Sales reported to SoundScan

  • Fans can shop for other merch at same time

  • Emphasis on music discovery

Downsides

  • Takes 15% of sales

  • Some fans might always choose to purchase through their preferred online retailer

CD Baby

One of the largest online stores for independent music, CD Baby offers musicians a few ways to sell music online.

With CD Baby Free, you can sell your music on CDBaby.com and they take a 15% cut, similar to Bandcamp. For paid members, where there is a setup cost for singles and albums, they take a 9% cut of sales.

You can also collect data and email addresses with CD Baby, so that you can follow up with those fans.

Upsides

  • Collect valuable fan data and email addresses

  • Sales reported to SoundScan

Downsides

  • Takes 9-15% of sales

  • Some fans might always choose to purchase through their preferred online retailer

  • Fans can’t shop for other types of merch

Online stores: iTunes, Amazon, Google Play

“As much as it feels good to get sales reports from iTunes and Amazon… you don’t get valuable email addresses from fans who purchase through these stores.”

No doubt the most popular option for musicians to sell their music online is through digital retailers like iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play. There are countless other online stores around the world, but the reality is that the majority of music sales happen through these big three stores.

There are many digital distribution services out there to get your music into these stores. Some take a cut of your sales, while others charge an annual flat fee to keep your music available in digital stores.

Which digital distributor is right for you? We highly recommend checking out Ari Herstand’s incredibly in-depth comparison post of digital distributors here to help you decide which is best for you.

The main benefit to having your music available in these stores is that many music fans will only buy new music from a store they trust, where they already have a credit card on file and they know the platform is compatible with their music library.

But as much as it feels good to get sales reports from iTunes and Amazon, there are drawbacks. First of all, you’ll make less money by selling through these retailers, as they do take a cut of your sales (iTunes takes 30%). Most importantly, you don’t get valuable email addresses from fans who purchase through these stores.

If a fan buys your music from iTunes, they’re considered a customer of iTunes. That means iTunes gets their data and email address. They can then follow up by marketing and promoting other items to that fan, and you can’t.

This means that the “interaction” with that fan starts and ends with the digital download purchase, which, in the short term, helps your career with the money from that sale. But in the long term, you won’t be able to stay in touch with that fan to let them know about new music, upcoming shows, new merch, etc.

Upsides

  • Most music fans already shop for music in these stores

  • Sales reported to SoundScan

Downsides

  • Take up to 30% of sales

  • You don’t get access to customer emails

  • Fans can’t shop for other types of merch

SoundCloud

SoundCloud has a large community of users and curators on the platform, so including your music here can be a good way for your music to gain newfound visibility. Although not a sales platform, Pro users can add a Buy Link to tracks to direct fans to purchase through your preferred platform.

PledgeMusic

Before you even go into the studio to record your album, you should be thinking about involving your fans in the process. This is where PledgeMusic comes in.

There are several platforms for musicians to run crowdfunding campaigns. While PledgeMusic does take 15% of the money raised, no other platform offers their hands-on approach and focus on fan engagement.

PledgeMusic will help you fully engage your fans throughout the entire process of writing, recording, and releasing your album, all the while helping you raise money to cover your costs and pay for the marketing and promotion of your new music. They also boast a success rate of 90%, with most artists on platform raising 140% of their target!

NoiseTrade

Now a PledgeMusic company, NoiseTrade offers musicians the opportunity to give their music away in exchange for an email address and a zip code. Again, this data is arguably more important than the sale itself. But fans can also leave a tip when downloading the music, which helps add some revenues to the equation.

There’s also a huge music discovery element to NoiseTrade. They send a daily newsletter to over 1.5 million fans looking to discover new artists, so it can be a great resource to build up your mailing list and gain new fans.

When to sell your music online

Now that you know all of the different ways to sell your music online, it’s time to talk strategy.

Making your music available for sale online is the easy part. It’s really about deciding where and when you should make it available during the marketing of your album, and which tools you should use.

To illustrate this, let’s take a look at an example album release schedule:

Example album release schedule

Phase 1: Engaging your superfans

When: Before going into the studio
Which tools to use: PledgeMusic

If you’ve already recorded your album, you’ve unfortunately missed out on a pivotal phase in the marketing and promotion of your album: engaging your fans.

As soon as you decide to work on a new album, you should be engaging your fans and bringing them along the journey of writing, recording, and releasing it. By doing this, you’re building anticipation for your new album, strengthening your relationship with your fans, and yes, raising money in the process.

By using a platform like PledgeMusic, you’ll get hands-on help brainstorming creative rewards, planning your campaign, and staying in touch with your pledgers. Plus, all of your presales will count towards SoundScan, and you’ll be collecting those priceless emails in the process.

For help with running a successful PledgeMusic Campaign, check out: 7 Tips For A Successful PledgeMusic Campaign

Phase 2: Pre-orders

When: 1 month before album release
Which tools to use: PledgeMusic, Bandzoogle, Bandcamp

“It’s during the pre-orders phase where many artists make a strategic mistake.”

If you planned ahead and crowdfunded to produce your album, all of those pledges included a digital download of your album. So in that way, you’ve already taken care of Phase 2 of your album release.

However, whether you’ve crowdfunded or not, it’s still a good idea to get your album up for presale in other places in the weeks leading up to the release. This will give you another announcement to make (“album available for pre-order in these stores”), and allow you to invite fans to purchase who did not participate in the crowdfunding campaign.  

It’s during the pre-orders phase where many artists make a strategic mistake. The temptation for many artists is to set up an iTunes pre-order for their album. But at this point in the album release, you are still engaging your biggest fans. Why not maximize your revenues?

Again, with iTunes, you are making less money, and they’re not sharing valuable data and customer emails with you. So during the pre-orders phase, focus on platforms where you can not only maximize your revenues, but also collect email addresses.

Starting with your own website, you can sell pre-orders of your album by using Bandzoogle’s pre-orders feature. You’ll make 100% of the sales, collect emails, and the sales will count towards SoundScan (Pro users).

Another tool you can use for pre-orders is Bandcamp. With Bandcamp, they take a small cut of your sales (15%), but you’ll collect those valuable emails from customers, and the sales will also count towards SoundScan.

Phase 3: Album release

When: Release day
Which tools to use: Bandzoogle, Bandcamp, TuneCore

Now that you’ve maximized your revenues and collected emails from your biggest fans during the first two phases of your album release, it’s time to officially release it. This is when you’ll make it available for sale on your website, and in popular online stores and streaming services for the rest of your fanbase.

During this phase, you’ll want to work with a digital distributor like TuneCore, who will distribute your music to stores like iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play, as well as top music streaming services including Apple Music and Spotify.  

Which digital distributor is right for you? Check out this in-depth comparison.

To stream, or not to stream

Countless posts have been written about whether artists should make their music available on streaming services. The reality is that many music fans will only listen to music on services like Spotify and Apple Music.

So as long as you’ve engaged and monetized your superfans during the first two phases of your album release, you should include streaming services when distributing it for the official release.

Are the per-stream payouts small? Yes, no question. But you shouldn't view streaming music just as an income generator. Through playlists, these services are becoming great at helping new fans discover music.

Getting your song added to top playlists on streaming services can now even be career-changing, like for indie artist Keeley Valentino. Her song “Nashville” was added to the popular Spotify playlist “Your Favorite Coffeehouse”, and has since been streamed 12 million times!

YouTube

Once your album is released, you should also upload each track to your official YouTube channel and monetize the videos. Having an official video or two is nice, but they can simply be your album artwork, or even lyric videos.

The important thing is to have your music available on your official YouTube channel, as that is still where many fans will go to hear music first. By having the music on your own channel, you can monetize those streams and drive traffic back to your website.

For more info on how to do this, check out: How to make money from your music on YouTube.

Don’t forget your website!

Even though your album will be available through popular online stores, your website should still be where you drive your fans to purchase.

On your Music page, you can offer a direct-to-fan purchase option front and center, then include links below for where to buy/listen on other platforms.

Here’s a detailed look at how to set up the Music page on your website: How To Create a Perfect Page to Sell Music on Your Website

How to sell more music online

Once your album is released, the temptation might be to shout it from the rooftops on Facebook and Twitter. While using social media marketing as part of your overall strategy is important, it’s not the most effective when it comes to sales. No, the most important tool you have to drive sales is your email list!

Mailing list

“Email marketing has been shown to be as much as 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined.”

It might sound a bit old school, but email lists are more important than ever before. A big reason for this is that you own that database of fans. So no matter which mailing list tool you use, you can always download your database.

But when it comes to sales, email is still king. In fact, email marketing has even been shown to be as much as 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined.

So yes, definitely announce your album on social media, but the first thing you should do is send a dedicated email blast to your fan list with a link to buy your album.

During the first two phases of your album release, consider putting your older albums up on NoiseTrade. Music fans there will be able to download your music for free in exchange for their email address. You can then use those emails to drive sales of your new album!

[The Complete Guide to Email Marketing for Musicians]

Pay what you want

One strategy you could try to drive more sales and revenue is the pay-what-you-want pricing model.

Some people might very well take the music for free, but there are definitely some fans who are willing to pay more, so why not let them? If a fan is really excited about your music, they might give you much more than the standard $1/song or $10/album.  

You can use Bandzoogle’s music players to allow fans to pay what they want, and even set a minimum price. Bandcamp has this functionality with their music players as well.  

Physical & digital bundles

If you decide to release a CD or vinyl version of your album, you should definitely be bundling those with a digital version in your online store.

You can also bundle together other merch, as well as older albums with a digital copy of your new album to help drive up overall sales of your merch.

[The Ultimate Guide to Selling Band Merch Online]

Back catalog deals

After you release your new album online, consider offering a deal on your back catalog of albums. While you have your fans there on your store page ready to buy, let them know they can get your entire discography in a package deal!

Sale pricing & discount codes

“Send a note welcoming new subscribers to your email list with a code for a discount when they shop in your store.”

While you won’t want to offer a discounted price on your new album right away, what you can do is celebrate the release of it by offering a sale on your older albums and merch.

You can use Bandzoogle’s sale pricing feature, or send a note welcoming new subscribers to your email list with a discount code for when they shop in your store.


Engage your fans. Focus on owned properties. Maximize your revenues.

Making an album is a huge investment of time and money. So to maximize the returns on it, you need to plan ahead. The most important things to remember are:

1. Engage your fans right from the start of the creation of your album
2. Focus on owned properties like your website and your mailing list to maximize revenues
3. Use a mix of all services so that every type of fan, from superfan to casual, can pay for your music

If you follow those steps, you’ll strengthen the relationship with your fans, drive more sales, and make more money from your music.

2 comments

  • Iain Booth

    Iain Booth

    Excellent article .....

    Excellent article .....

  • Dave Cool

    Dave Cool

    Thanks Iain!

    Thanks Iain!

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