Many companies offer and sell “music business services” aimed at DIY musicians online. When I started this site in 2002 there were some music download and streaming sites, and a few social networking sites (MySpace didn’t exist). Things have changed rapidly.
This is a summary of what’s available for DIY music on the web today. I won’t cover every music site—they change far too often for that—I’ll describe the main options. I’ve put them into sections but there is quite a lot of overlap. There aren’t good generic names for all these facilities although some (music aggregators and blogs for example) are well understood. We know what a record label does and what a music publisher does, but what is “direct-to-fan”? You probably know most of the brands and buzzwords but what do they do? And will they tell you if you ask?
There’s a temptation to dive in (and spend money if you’ve got it), to set up a “professional” business like your favourite role models. But you might need less, or perhaps more—there isn’t a “best way” to get started. It depends on your circumstances and ambitions, and how far down the road you are already. There’s no shortcut, you have to work that out for yourself. Here’s the basics.
At various stages in your music career you’ll want to expand your audience. There is no Internet service that can make that happen. There are some that might help but it’s all about you, your performances, your videos and music. How you promote yourself depends on your ambition, style and genre. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution but there are some basic well-worn techniques.
None of that involves setting up a band platform account anywhere.
Some other techniques—collaborating with similar artists, online social networking, pitching to mainstream labels and publishers, etc.—may or may not help you. However, registering on various music web sites is not a strategy for building a fanbase. What matters is what you do as an artist and how you promote it.
There are various music “competitions” and “talent scouts” on the web. Take care. One example from 2006, The Rock Star Lottery publicised here on BBC News, turned out to be a con and a great deal of money went missing (you can follow what happened on the Internet, the BBC didn’t mention subsequent problems). That is not an isolated case. Established competitions run by people like BASCA are much safer than new names with no history of delivery.
People won’t become fans or buy your music unless they hear it. A great deal of nonsense is talked about devaluing music or making money on gigs and T-shirts instead. People do buy music downloads (BandCamp and Amazon are proof of that). Of course, not everybody who hears it will buy it and some people who want it won’t pay, but that shouldn’t deter you.
Then there’s the question of downloading or streaming—more nonsense. Any music you can hear on the Internet is effectively a download. There are many ways to record an Internet music file, from stream-rippers to simply recording the computer headphone socket. Make it simple, provide downloads, more people will listen and you can add your own metadata (metadata—names, titles, dates, credits, copyright, etc.—is easy to remove or change but you may as well include it where you can).
It’s fashionable to say “make sure you swap your free tracks for email addresses.” Why? Are you planning a lukewarm fanbase that needs prodding by email? Someone who wants to hear your tracks free is probably not a fan yet. A list of email addresses is not a list of fans. Yes, you need a contact list of your fans but don’t be pushy about it. Don’t stand in the way of anyone hearing your tracks.
Consider this if you demand email addresses. Are you checking them? Or are people just typing a string with an @ in the middle? And if you check by email confirmation what does that do for spontaneous listeners? Make it easy to hear your music. Put it up and get out of the way.
Remember this: in the heyday of the record industry, when they were printing money, new music was free to the public on the radio. I got hooked listening to pirate radio on a transistor in the mid-Sixties (there was some music on TV too but not much). No artist ever lost a penny by getting their music heard.
There are hundreds of commercial music services on the Internet but don’t start here, start with getting fans, free downloads and common resources!
There’s a lot of hype. In fact, tons. Most of these sites tell you they’re on the side of the artist or cutting out the record industry. They promise to help you engage or connect with fans and take your career to the next level. It’s all very easy to say. Actions speak louder than words. The most common overblown claim is “promotion”. None of these sites promote anything, promotion means raising the awareness of the public. Putting stuff on the Internet is not going to get anyone’s attention. I have also seen the names of well-known producers and artists mentioned on web sites they have nothing to do with. Learn to be sceptical, it will save you time and money. Music business services are all about track record, it’s easy to research claims on the web.
The first lot are very obvious but don’t overlook everyday facilities, you can do a great deal with simple free tools.
Combined with a simple web site or retail page like BandCamp basic tools can do a lot of what you need.
Don’t forget the thousands of indie music blogs, streaming and review sites, but make sure you send your stuff (music, gigs, etc.) to relevant places and don’t email MP3s, ever.
Bear in mind most big name sites (blogs, photos, video, music, social networks, etc.) can be slow and if you need fast reliable access and higher resolution files you should get your own web site. If you have a web host (I use United Hosting and Bluehost, UH is fast and Bluehost is cheap) you may have a powerful set of web tools included in your control panel.
By far the best resource for finding what you need is other people. If you need help sorting out the options for a particular problem join a good forum (there are many different forums for musicians) and don’t forget local musicians and venues.
There are excellent music news and comment sites including CMU and of course thousands of existing artist sites, blogs and zines with clues about online techniques and what works for different kinds of internet musicians.
Social media is a big noise everywhere in business today, not just music. I’ll briefly mention a few points. MySpace (launched around 2004 and now in decline) was the biggest social music site in 2006. In mid-2008 it was overtaken by Facebook (also launched in 2004). Neither of these was the first social network site and both will probably be superseded. Twitter (started in 2006) does a different job. LinkedIn is the longest running of these, it started in May 2003.
Bear in mind none of these sites is a magic bullet, you can be invisible anywhere on the Internet. None offer free promotion they simply allow you to network. Facebook can be useful for its sizeable population, Twitter can be useful for communication and LinkedIn is useful for professional contacts.
Facebook is certainly popular but also complex, limited and buggy—the Bemuso page is frequently “unavailable” for no reason. The site is updated often, functions change, and the user interface is poor. Even professional users report their pages are moved, changed or suspended without warning. Dealing with any big web site can be a nightmare and unless you are important you will, frankly, be ignored. It was the same at MySpace: many users but unreliable infrastructure and frequently changing terms and conditions. I’ve been online since Apple e•World (summer 1994), Facebook looks like AOL and the other walled garden communities, not a likely success longer term.
If you invest a lot of time in any site think about longevity. Past giants like AOL, CompuServe and MySpace have been eclipsed by the new kid in town. Facebook makes a small profit but it is bank-rolled by private investors and wildly over-valued. That’s no reason to avoid it but beware having all your eggs in one basket.
The most difficult thing about Facebook is the functionality. You can’t run a decent blog there and you need additional apps to do anything with music. The only thing going for it is the audience.
Twitter is more stable in everyday use. Like Facebook, Tumblr, etc. its servers are often choked but I haven’t found it buggy. I mention it as a social network but it is really a micro-blogging site—a simpler service. Tweets often point all over the web (and make it easy to visit) whereas Facebook users seem reluctant to leave the mothership.
LinkedIn is a business networking site mainly for job candidates, industry experts and business partners. You may find it useful to be on and to use.
Here are my suggestions about using social networks to promote music.
You don’t have to use all the features of social media sites all the time. Do you really want to share every time you check in somewhere, add a friend or watch a video? Will anyone care?
These sites, apps and plug-ins are aimed at DIY musicians. Their aim is to step into the shoes of the old music business magnates. Think of them as new middlemen, extra mouths to feed.
I mentioned forums, music blogs, music zines and social networks, besides these you may keep profiles, playlists or channels on music listening and discovery sites like Last.fm and Spotify.
If you have CD singles or albums you will probably use the Gracenote CDDB database to name ripped tracks easily. Submitting information to Gracenote is handled through players like iTunes (Advanced/Submit CD track names…).
Several sites offer a “record label off-the-shelf”, Ditto Music is probably the best known. They are a conventional web music aggregator with add-ons you can get from most aggregators, e.g. barcodes. Their “Name Your Label” service claims they will “do all the admin” for setting up a label. There is none, you simply join PPL, it’s free.
Crowd-funding (or fan funding) sites include Kickstarter, PledgeMusic, SellaBand, Slicethepie, My Major Company, and Rocket Hub (not all are specifically for music). They allow the public to buy shares in various projects. In 2007 I asked SellaBand several questions and received no reply. Some of their early claims have been withdrawn but the terms are still unclear.
With some of these you can only spend your funding to buy resources through the web site (recording, promotion, etc.). You need to know how good they are and be aware of any limitations like this.
These are sites for getting and publicising gigs, and mobile ticketing e.g. Songkick, SonicBids, Bandsintown and MusicGlue.
Many sites (like SoundCloud) offer the means to store, share and distribute media files. They may also provide widgets, playlists and other audio management tools.
Sites like BrandsForBands and fanatic.fm act as middlemen between brands and bands. The idea is that artists pitch to the agency and may be matched with brands who are looking for a music partner.
To get your music into iTunes, Amazon and most other online retailers you’ll need a digital music aggregator like TuneCore, CD Baby, IODA or The Orchard (many other music sites provide aggregation as part of a broader service). They handle the submission process and get your music on sale. Once again, be aware this is not promotion it just gets your tracks into the shop.
You can run your own band or label shop for music and merchandise on BandCamp, Backstreet Merch, Recordstore and other sites. There are also more general fulfilment services like Cafe Press for T-shirts, mugs, etc., and Lulu for printing.
Music biz hub sites offer bundles of direct-to-fan services ranging from social network dashboards to online retail and digital music aggregation. They include Nimbit, RootMusic (BandPage), ReverbNation, and Topspin. They can be complex, I won’t attempt to summarise or compare what they do. They will normally integrate all your social network site accounts, provide stats, blogs, hosting and some kind of retail page tailored to music.
To begin I suggest using free stuff, it’s all you need to get started. Sites that charge or take a commission will be hard to weigh up before you know the size of the job. Once you get underway with music, gigs, web pages and fans to manage you’ll be able to judge what’s needed.
Here are some questions to consider for any of these options.
Every day I hear about a new bunch of DIY music web sites, it’s impossible to keep up-to-date. Don’t even try. If something is really great you will hear about it.