When you sell your music on iTunes, Amazon, and other services, you naturally
get a percentage of every transaction. The same is true for merchandise that
you sell. What many musicians don’t realize, or take advantage of, is the fact
that they may be entitled to an extra percentage of everything they sell—whether it’s music, merch, or anything else—if they provide special affiliate
links, rather than direct links. You don’t want to miss out on this extra source
|Take the time to become an affiliate, and you'll make more money every time fans purchase
your music on iTunes.
It works like this: vendors want you to send
them customers, and if you do so, they will reward
you by giving you a percentage, or cut, of
whatever the customers buy. They will identify
you as the one who referred the customer, and
will know to pay you for that customer’s purchase
because they have given you a special link
to use. Embedded in this link to the music track,
album, or merchandise is a tracking code that
identifies you as the “referrer.”
It doesn’t matter to the vendor that you are
sending your fans to buy your music, or that you
are already going to make some money on the
back end of the transaction. In fact, vendors are
happy to give you another cut because
you sent the customers to them instead
of to another store. Actually, vendors
wouldn’t necessarily know that you’re the artist
who made the music. As far as they’re concerned
you’re just another affiliate. Also, your fans don’t
pay anything extra for this; you are just getting a
cut of the price they would normally pay.
There’s another benefit: You actually get a cut
of everything else the customer buys from the
vendor—not just your music or merchandise. If
the person you send to a particular store to purchase
your album proceeds to buy a laptop computer
or flat-screen television as well, you’ll get
a cut of those large purchases, too. The revenue
from these types of sales can really add up.
It’s free to sign up and participate in these programs,
so it’s worth taking the time to learn about
the process, and get onboard.
HOW TO BECOME AN AFFILIATE
AND GET YOUR EXTRA CUT
To become an affiliate with your vendors, follow
1. Sign up for each online vendor’s affiliate
|In addition to music sellers, sites like Zazzle give an extra cut to affiliates.
Although you’ll have to fill out a lot of
paperwork and online forms, you can sign up for
nearly all of the programs below in a single evening.
You’ll need to have your website or web
presence up and running, as most programs will
verify the sites where you will be promoting the
products before they will approve you as an affiliate.
Additionally, you’ll need your EIN/Tax
ID or Social Security number handy, as you’ll be
filling out forms to tell them whom to pay and
where to send the checks when you generate
Here are the links to some of the major online
stores that are worth affiliating with:
• iTunes: www.apple.com/itunes/affiliates/
• Amazon: affiliate-program.amazon.com/
• Zazzle: www.zazzle.com/sell/affiliates
• Spreadshirt: www.spreadshirt.com/spread shirt-affiliate-program-C3564
• Cafepress: www.cafepress.com/content/cp-partners/
If you’re not sure how to use merchandise-ondemand
sites like Zazzle, Spreadshirt, and Cafepress,
you will find that information at emusician.com in
our regular “DIY Advisor” blog. Look for the blog
post titled “How to Make Merchandise for Free.”
OPTION: SIGN ON WITH AN AFFILIATE
|Becoming an affiliate with eBay can pay off if fans link to a piece of high-end equipment
that you mention.
Another option beyond signing up with each store is
to join an affiliate aggregator service. These services
connect you to hundreds of major brand companies
that sign up to become advertisers. You first sign up
for the aggregator site and then choose which vendors
with which you want to affiliate. For musicians,
companies like Guitar Center, Sam Ash, and other
retail stores are members. However, you’re not just
limited to companies in the music industry (more
on this below).
Here are the links to a couple of the major affiliate
aggregator services that you may want to apply
• Commission Junction: www.cj.com/
• Rakuten Affiliate Services: marketing.rakuten.com/affiliate-marketing
Once your application has been accepted by an
aggregator, you’ll want to look over their terms and
conditions carefully so you’ll understand how to use
their system, and what your obligations are under
their rules. If you break the rules, your account can
be suspended or revoked. Also, explore the tools and
options these aggregators make available for you;
they go beyond just affiliate links. They give you
creatives (i.e., images or ads) and sometimes special
offers you can share with your fans. Also, each company
will give you a tracking dashboard where you
can see how many clicks you’ve generated as well as
the number of sales.
Finally, don’t limit yourself to the companies
above. There are many websites, services, and vendors
that are independent and have their own affiliate
2. Create affiliate links for all of your music and
|Becoming an affiliate with Amazon
can result in lots of revenue opportunities,
whether your followers
purchase your music or link to other
music you recommend online.
Each of the affiliate programs has
its own methods and tools for you to generate your
affiliate links. Signing up to be an affiliate is not enough; you need to use the affiliate links
in place of any link you currently use to
your music and merchandise, or you won’t
get the extra cut.
We recommend carefully generating
affiliate links to each of your albums, individual
songs, and each piece of merchandise.
Get a feel for what an affiliate link
looks like compared to a normal one so you
can spot any that have the wrong format.
Once you go to all of this trouble to
generate new links, do your best to make
sure you only have to make them once:
create a document that you can use to
track all of them. A Google Doc, Evernote,
or OneNote document that you can
access online at any time is especially
useful. You might also want to keep images next
to the links in your document, in case you want to
post album covers or pictures of your merch on
the Web with the affiliate link.
Affiliate links can be lengthy, so we also recommend
using a link shortener such as bit.ly, tiny.cc, or
ow.ly to make the links easier to handle. Plus, these
services often allow you to customize the links to
give them friendly names. It will be easier and to
print shorter, catchier URLs on promotional handouts,
such as flyers or posters, and they’ll be easier for customers to use and remember. Last but not
least, these services provide a tracking dashboard,
so you can see how often each link is clicked. If you
use these, be sure to add these shortened links to
your tracking document.
3. Put the affiliate links everywhere you link to
your music and merch. Now that you have created
affiliate links for everything that you sell, replace
any direct links you may have been using with the new affiliate links. Make a list of every website, web
presence, social media, and online profile that you
have so you don’t miss anything.
Once you have your list, grab that tracking document
where you recorded all of your affiliate links
and replace the direct links. Remember, this is a
revenue-generating activity, so it’s worth taking the
time to do a thorough job with this. Also, if you’ve
grabbed album and merchandise images along the
way, think about enhancing your sites with them.
4. Check the dashboard
regularly to make sure
your affiliate links are
working, and to keep
track of your campaigns
and revenue. Once
you’ve completed the first
three steps above, you
should test the new affiliate
links you created to
make sure they are working
properly. Keep a close
eye on your dashboards
for each of the affiliates
you use to keep track of whether people are clicking
through and the links are getting picked up. If you
notice any discrepancy, you’ll want to check that
your links are correctly set up.
Once you’re satisfied that your links are working,
do a weekly check to see how your fan marketing
and engagement are working and to track your
revenue. When you’re satisfied that you have those
affiliate links up and operating properly, it’s time to
start using them proactively.
TURNING ONLINE SOCIAL
INTERACTION INTO INCOME
One of the biggest problems with all of the time
you spend on social media is that, for the most
part, it neither generates direct revenue nor helps
you make you more music. You may love interacting
with your fans online, and it may be important
for marketing and relationship purposes, but
there’s no payday attached. However, with affiliate
linking, once you have the initial setup completed,
you can get something more out of engaging with
First of all, remember that you should be plugging
your music and merch periodically as you
post updates on your social media, blogs, or newsletters.
Mentioning albums or merch only when
you release them is a lot like mentioning them just
once from the stage at the beginning of a show:
You never know when someone just walked in the
door, and they might not have heard you the first
time. Always assume that on all of your platforms
there are new people reading your posts, and
you’ll want to casually mention your latest album
as a natural part of your updates. And, of course,
when you do this, you’ll want to use your affiliate
links. Given that space is usually limited on social
media, this is another situation where link shorteners
come in handy.
Once you’ve mastered weaving in affiliate links
for your music and merchandise in your posts, you
may want to consider branching out by mentioning
other products. For example, it’s fair game to talk
about the music that inspired or influenced you.
Your fans will be curious and will want to hear it themselves. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t
provide an affiliate link when you talk about it.
You don’t have to stop with music either. If you
write about movies that you’ve watched or bought,
products you’ve used, or services you’ve found useful,
all of these are also fair game. Of course, you’ll want
any of these mentions to be natural and genuine. No
one wants to follow a shill or be advertised to all day.
Getting an extra cut is helpful, but you don’t want to
damage your brand or turn people off to your music.
So, you’ll want to use this technique in a way that
makes sense for your personality, brand, and music.
|Cafepress.com creates custom T-shirts and
offers an affiliate program.
In today’s world, fans are interested not only in
your music, but also in how you created it. They
want to know what studio gear you’re using to record
your music, what instruments and amps are
in your rig, and which audio and video software
you employ. All of these are opportunities to make
an affiliate link.
For example, you may want to create a page
within your website that lists and discusses the
gear and software you use. Of course, for each
product, you should provide an affiliate link. That
page doesn’t need to change too often, so it’s the
kind of thing you could set up in a weekend (and
is fun to do besides). Keep in mind that higher-ticket items can net much more
revenue—5 percent cut of a new
guitar or amp can be significant.
Other ideas you may want to
try include writing a blog series
about how you make your music
or how your studio is set up. This
can lead to more interaction with
fans and may connect you with
other musicians who may share
their ideas and feedback.
Even if some of your gear is
older and is no longer sold in retail
stores, you may be able to get affiliate
income for purchases through
eBay. Just sign up for the eBay Partner
Network (ebaypartnernetwork.com). Then use the eBay tools to
do a search on the exact model of
the gear you want to link to. Like
the other affiliates described in this
article, eBay gives you a cut of anything
the customer buys.
eBay also provides you with
tools that allow you to embed a widget
into your website that displays
affiliate links to the current auctions related to the
gear on your page. You do this by setting up a particular
search that matches the gear you listed; this can be
helpful for your fans because it displays the items that
you’re talking about in an accessible format.
BUSINESS AND TAX IMPLICATIONS
|At emusician.com, authors Randy Chertkow
and Jason Feehan blog monthly, offering
business advice that can help independent
artists build their music careers. Visit them
Keep in mind that when you’re setting everything
up to become an affiliate, you will need to pay proper
attention to at least two important business issues.
First, you need to determine who will receive
the checks. They can go directly to you, in which
case the revenue will be treated like personal income
and tracked via your social security number.
Or, the checks could go to a business entity that you
set up and track via an EIN/Tax ID number. This is
an important decision, because the affiliate vendors
will report your income to the to the IRS; you need
to be sure that you properly account for it.
Second, you need to keep up with the bookkeeping
related to the income and expenses you’re
your affiliate activities, so you have everything in
order to do your taxes each year, and so you can
benefit from any write-offs and other deductions.
While affiliates are free to use and to join, you may
incur expenses connected to the ways you promote
your music and merchandise. For example,
you may decide to place an online ad to announce
your new album. Naturally, you’ll use an affiliate
link for the ad, and the expense for the ad may be
a legitimate write-off. As always, if you have any
business or tax questions, we recommend talking
to your accountant.
Using Affiliate Links?
Whether or not you tell your fans that the links you’re
providing are affiliate-based is up to you. Considering
that it doesn’t make any of their potential purchases
any more expensive, and you’re benefiting your fans
by making it easy for them to find your music, merchandise,
and more, you shouldn’t feel obliged to explain
that you have a business arrangement that happens
to give you an extra cut.
However, telling your fans that you will receive
a percentage of purchases made through your links
may actually encourage them to do so, as they may
get a positive feeling from supporting you and your
music. So, you may want to tell your fans that you’re
using an affiliate link, and that purchasing through
that link benefits you. In other words, the reason you
may want to inform your fans about the links has less
to do with full disclosure, and more to do with their
eagerness to support the music they love.
Once you get the hang of making and using affiliate
links, you’ll find ways to let your fans know about
your music and other products that you find useful,
and weave these ideas into your regular communications
seamlessly—all while improving your
Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan
are authors of The Indie Band Survival
Guide (St. Martin's/Griffin),
now in its second edition.