Recently the music industry has witnessed a rise in independent artists, more and more unsigned artists are reaching mainstream popularity without the need of major labels.

If you’re a musician looking to start a career as an independent artist and start earning a living from your craft, the first important step is to learn how to sell your music online.

Getting your music up for sale is a relatively simple process, from selling directly to your fans or to online stores and streaming services such as Amazon, Spotify, Apple Music and iTunes. The real key is to know when to put your music up for sale, and when. If you have your own website you should definitely have a way for fans to purchase direct from it. There are so many ways to set up a store on your website including commission-free ones.


Independent music distributors

Independent music distributors make it easy for unsigned artists to release their music online. These companies act as a go-between for unsigned musicians and major music platforms.

Usually for a small fee independent artists can upload their music to a distributor, plan their release schedule, and watch their tracks appear on the biggest online music platforms. Simple as that.


Choosing a distributor 

You need to think carefully before you choose a music distributor. Take your time and make sure you’re getting the best possible service for your money. Distributors have different business models for example some will automatically take a portion of your royalties, while others allow you to keep 100%.

Also, some distributors will offer various tools used by major label artists to help maximise sales and royalties such as iTunes pre-release and SMS keywords which can provide you with new ways to sell your music.

Here are some of the most popular digital distributors.


Releasing your music

A vital step in selling your music online is to plan your release date and choose the right platform to release your music on. You also need to target the right audience at the right time to maximise sales.

Offering pre-orders is a good idea. Fans like to order albums before they even exist, it makes them feel like they’re ahead of the game. You could sell pre-orders of your albums through your website or iTunes will allow you to offer fans a advance single along with their pre-order. Pre-Orders don’t just increase sales, they also help create more hype and buzz.

You should start promoting your music through social media, this will allow you to reach as many people as possible and promote yourself all the time. The more fans you have, the more people there are to buy your music!

Many artists are happy just to get their music onto major platforms such as Spotify or iTunes but you need to realise where your target audience will most likely be listening to your music. If you’re a DJ trying to sell your mixes online you will most likely be better off using platforms such as Juno or Beatport. Releasing your material to an electronic-focused store will reach a much more targeted audience increasing your sales opportunities.

Selecting a release date is also important. You should make sure you give yourself enough time to promote your upcoming release and get as much press coverage as possible. Having a press release is very effective too. Giving your new music a release date months in advance is a good way to build up hype.


Maximising your sales

Earlier we mentioned about extra services some independent music distributors offer to help boost your music sales. iTunes tools such as pre-release and SMS keywords offer additional ways to promote and sell your music.

The iTunes press release allows you to start selling tracks well in advance of your release date – up to six months. All sales you build during this period will count towards your release date total, which will give you a better payout and an even better chance of breaking into the charts.

iTunes SMS keywords allow fans to text a certain word to a chosen number to purchase your song, which streamlines the whole buying process. It’s a excellent service to advertise at gigs, while your fans are ‘caught in the moment’ of your music.

Certain major distributors will let you customize the geographical availability of your music. This won’t really affect your sales but it does offer a way to adapt your release for different territories. Specific regions have different copyright laws so you will be able to restrict releases of certain tracks in these regions.

Having ‘sales’ on your music helps too. You should take advantage of special occasions, holidays and have limited-run items on your store. For example, you could offer a 50% discount on a love songs album during Valentines Day.

You need to have a mailing list. You may just be tempted to use social platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. While this is important to your strategy it is not the most effective way to increase sales.  The most important tool you have for this is your email list. It has been shown to be up to 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined. The first thing you should do when you announce a new release is to send a email to your fans with a link to buy your new album.

Once your album has been released, you should upload each track to your YouTube channel and monetise them. You don’t need to have a official video for every track, you can have lyric videos or simply just upload your album artwork. By doing this you can earn money from these videos and send traffic to your website.

Yes, your album is available through popular online stores but your website should still be used to drive sales from your fans. You can offer a direct purchase option and include links for where they can buy/listen on other platforms.

Creating an album is a huge investment in time and money so you need to be maximizing the returns on it.

  • Remember to engage your fans right from the start of the creation process and make it feel like they are involved.
  • Focus on your website and mailing lists to increase revenues.
  • Make sure to use as many services as possible so every type of fan (casual to super) can pay for your music.


How much money can I expect to make?

Your’e not going to become a millionaire overnight through royalty payments. Spotify pays $0.011 per stream on average and iTunes only offers a slightly better amount for downloads. If you do rack up millions of streams then your revenue will be quite substantial, but if you are a new or unknown artist you can expect your payments to very small.

Though, getting your music onto online music stores isn’t just about making money. There are other benefits to help unsigned artists advance in their career.

As well as playing live as often as possible, having your music on the world’s biggest music platforms offers the opportunity to be discovered by many new listeners. For example, being featured on a Spotify playlist is a excellent way to reach new fans, as many Spotify listeners use playlists to discover new music they might like.

Plus, when your music is available on major music platforms, it makes you look more professional and credible. These days labels are much more likely to sign a independent artist if they already have a large fan base and can show their popularity through stream numbers and sales they have amassed so far.


Go for it

If you’ve written and recorded your music, there’s nothing stopping you releasing it to the public through major music stores and platforms through a music distributor.

Putting your music online is the first step in the career of any unsigned artist, and once your music is out there for the world to hear who knows what could happen!