It kind of goes without saying that independent bands and artists have the right to sell their music on the open market and retain as much of the revenue as possible. Yet, in order for artists to sell music these days they usually have to sell via a third-party site in order to be able to process orders and payments efficiently. Even if they did, there is also the aspect of reporting the sales to Soundscan. Not every musician has extensive knowledge on e-commerce and website building, so in order to provide people with a means to obtain their music they have to choose what service or site to sell their music through.
Many people think that the best place to sell music online is via iTunes, but those people are wrong…like Ron Jeremy in a pink speedo wrong. In order to sell music on iTunes, an artist must go through what is called an aggregator (such as TuneCore). With two services involved, the artist will surrender 30% off the top in addition to whatever fees the aggregator charges to process payments. In some of the worst scenarios, some artists could end up surrendering 50-60 percent of each sale. In addition to this there is an annual fee to keep your album listed, so from the beginning you are already in the red. You’re just paying for the privilege of having your music available in a bottomless digital pit, regardless if you sell anything or not. And even if you do, it doesn’t become profit until you recoup the initial money spent for the listing. The aggregators are in the business of selling the ability to have music listed on iTunes, not promoting independent artists. People have to know to look for you. The illusion that having your music on iTunes will give you more visibility and added promotion is just that…an illusion. Besides, fans can’t even buy physical CDs on iTunes so the artist will have to find another way to make that option available. Yes, there are those people that still prefer CDs to downloads.
It seems to me that the best place for independent bands and artists to sell music is via Bandcamp. Not only can bands go direct to fan without an aggregator, they also take less of a percentage (15% for digital, 10% for physical). When fans buy a physical copy, they automatically get a digital copy immediately after purchase. In addition to this, Bandcamp also reports sales to Soundscan and allows artists to set up a merch store, making it a one stop shop for fans. If you do decide to give away a free download, you still get the downloader’s email address (email is still one of the best ways to reach fans directly).
Another great thing is that people can listen to full songs on Bandcamp as opposed to tiny snippets before they buy, and the artist has full control over what songs can be streamed. Anyone can easily share music directly from a Bandcamp page as well, whether it be linking to it on social networks or embedding the music player directly on a blog or website. If listening to a band via a Bandcamp widget, the listener can easily click a link to purchase the music. Refer to the widget below, featuring one of our favorite bands Night Demon.
Special thanks to Rebel Pyro of Rebel Pyro Management for his added insight.