Keep It on the Download - EMusician

Keep It on the Download

The Internet hasn't crashed. What has crashed is the notion of a gold rush in which any half-baked Internet startup with a sketchy business model can
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The Internet hasn't crashed. What has crashed is the notion of agold rush in which any half-baked Internet startup with a sketchybusiness model can secure millions in venture capital and sit back towait for a monumental IPO. Never mind profitability; the Internet'spopularity is as high as ever, especially among young, tech-savvy, andmusic-hungry people. What's more, the Internet is on the verge ofexpanding its user base as it migrates to devices less expensive thanthe PC, such as TVs and game consoles.

That's encouraging for those who want to promote their music online.The Internet provides simple and cost-effective ways of getting yourmusic heard, promoting gigs, and keeping in touch with fans, as well asfinding new ones. However, just as a mediocre business model and a Website do not equal fast wealth and early retirement, a few demo MP3s anda band photo online won't start a label bidding war. Successful musicpromotion on the Internet takes hard work; a little luck; and, aboveall, your best music.

In the heady cyberspace daydreams of the late 1990s, the Internetwas supposed to function as the great equalizer so unsigned bands couldsnatch a piece of the rock-star pie away from corporate-approved icons.A small army of Web sites cropped up to help facilitate the power shiftby hosting unsigned artists' MP3 files for download. Most sites offereach act a home page and a concise URL with MP3 downloads, streamingaudio, images, biographies, gig listings, and CD sales. Although any ofthat can be accomplished — with a greater amount of customization— on a personally maintained Web site, most third-party musicsites are free and have regular users who might otherwise never visityour site.

Although a smattering of the thousands of artists who patronizethose sites have gone on to sign record deals, compose music for filmand TV, or somehow make a living in music, the dream of knocking themajor labels from their pedestals remains unfulfilled. The majors maybe wobbling a bit from their inability to stifle or control onlinemusic distribution, but the Internet cash crunch has taken its toll onthe third-party sites as well. Recently, some players in downloadablemusic have either choked (Riffage.com) or faltered (IUMA.comdisappeared only to be revived by Vitaminic). Whether the survivorswill succeed in playing Robin Hood to the arrogant major-label powersthat be or starve from the profitlessness of their goodwill remains tobe seen. In the meantime, the amount of fertile breeding ground foryour music online is too good to pass up. I checked out eightthird-party music sites to see what they have to offer musicians andhow they stack up against each other (see the table, “The SiteScene.”)

LOCK AND LOAD

Uploading music was surprisingly simple with almost all of thethird-party sites that I tested. Depending on the speed of yourInternet connection and on the lengths you go to to describe your bandand music, you can complete the registration and uploading process forsome sites in a matter of minutes. Nevertheless, your page will notappear for two to ten days.

After filling out the requisite personal information, you will mostlikely be presented with a lengthy contract. Not to worry. They are notdeals with the devil that give away the rights to your music. Thelong-winded contracts say what you want and need them to say: you agreeto have your music posted online, you retain ownership and copyright ofyour music, and so on. In addition, all agreements are nonexclusive,meaning you have the right to put your songs on as many Web sites asyou like, and you can take them offline whenever you choose. Also, mostsites prohibit the uploading of cover songs, though RollingStone.comallows it as long as you attribute the song to the original artist. Afew sites offer DAM (digital automatic music) CDs. On those sites,artists can create DAM CDs from MP3s of their songs. When an order isplaced for the DAM CD, the site presses and mails out the disc, keepinga portion of the sale and giving the rest to the artist. That is a niceway around having to maintain an inventory of CDs, and you can createand update your DAM CDs as you add tracks to your repertoire.

IUMA. Making its first appearance in 1993, the InternetUnderground Music Archive (IUMA; www.iuma.com) was one of the first third-partysites. Originality usually garners respect in the music world, which isone reason IUMA holds a reputation as an innovator. Statements fromIUMA such as “IUMA is the one place to post your music whereactual musicians are watching out for you — not weasels watchingthe numbers” also lend the site a musician-friendly vibe. It'snot just talk, either; two days after I posted a phony band pagesloppily thrown together for this column, IUMA sent a detailed e-mailoffering suggestions about improving the page to attract repeatvisitors. No other Web site responded that way.

IUMA shut down briefly earlier this year only to be acquired andrevived by fellow third-party Web site Vitaminic. At press time, IUMAhad not yet reinstated its artist CD sales but was planning to do soshortly. Artists who press their CDs can send them to IUMA to be soldfrom the site. IUMA then takes care of billing and fulfillment of CDsales and keeps a $5 consignment fee from the artist-determined CDprice. IUMA pays artists their portion of CD revenue quarterly, andusers can check their sales, page views, downloads, and streaming-audiostatistics daily. Artists' IUMA pages are also highly customizable;available options include a large selection of background colors, fontcolors, button graphics, and rotating JPEG images. Users can also listtheir music in as many as four of the 40 available musical genres.

Ad-revenue sharing as a way of paying artists dropped after therelaunch, but IUMA users may benefit from the increased exposure toEuropean listeners that Vitaminic brings.

Vitaminic. With sites for nine European countries and onefor the United States, Vitaminic (www.vitaminic.com) claims to be the most popularsite in Europe for downloadable music. Although it's still vying formass recognition stateside, Vitaminic offers some nice, unique featuresfor unsigned artists. First, you can create a band page for anyEuropean Vitaminic site, but the company does not offer translationservices. You may also choose to sell downloads of MP3 tracks. Theminimum price per MP3 is 99 cents, and Vitaminic keeps 50 percent ofsong sales. It also keeps 50 percent of sales of DAM CDs that itcreates using your album art. The company pays artists quarterly aslong as the amount due is $50 or more.

Listeners can use streaming audio to hear your uploaded songs at nocost, but beyond that, you designate whether the MP3 download is free,for sale, or for fans only. Potential listeners must register to youre-mail list to download fan-only songs. That basically creates a fanclub, and Vitaminic lets you send mass e-mails to everyone on yourlist. Vitaminic hosts pages for signed established acts as well, whichdrives site traffic.

MP3.com. The most famous of the third-party sites —for all its high-profile legal battles — MP3.com (www.mp3.com) is alsobecoming the most infamous for being the first to charge artistsmonthly fees and to sell perks. Basic services are still free, but$19.99 a month buys Premium Artist Services, which include eligibilityfor the Payback for Playback (P4P) program, priority placement insearch results, and more control of your page. The total dollar amountMP3.com pays artists in P4P money is capped at $1 million a month,which, unfortunately, means that the more artists who join PremiumServices, the more each artist's share per download decreases.

The most suspect of MP3.com's practices are the auctioning off ofpayola songs that receive special placement on search pages and theselling of other perks to the highest bidder. The fact that bids insome auctions reach many hundreds of dollars must mean that exposure onMP3.com is effective, and the site can't be blamed for taking advantageof its online real estate. Still, the auctions give MP3.com an air ofimpenetrability for the starving musicians trying to level thepromotional playing field, and there's the sense that maybe some of themusic industry's corporate slime is oozing from the major labels intocyberspace.

However, MP3.com's free services are more than adequate, and it'shard to argue against the site's brand recognition and 10 millionunique visitors a month. The company also manufactures DAM CDs ofartists' uploaded songs, which they can sell from their pages.Musicians set the CD prices and can sell as many different albums asthey want. They receive 50 percent of the proceeds after MP3.com takesa $3.99 fee for production and order-fulfillment costs. The companyalso sells netCDs, which consist of the same songs as MP3 downloads.The price of netCDs is the same as the cost of the DAM CDs minus the$3.99 production cost, and again, the artist receives 50 percent of thesale.

PeopleSound. Although the Web site claiming to be GreatBritain's most popular music download page is an attractive and usefultool (www.peoplesound.com), musicians from the UnitedStates could likely be put off by PeopleSound's mail-in registrationpage that must be printed and sent to London along with hard copies ofphotos to be scanned for the site. Despite that absurdity, PeopleSoundhas advantages. Owned by EMI, PeopleSound's A&R team works to finddeals for member artists, including licensing tracks for film, TV, andother media. Popular British media outlets such as New MusicExpress (NME) and Music Week publish PeopleSound's weeklycharts from the site's 80 genres. The site offers many help and advicesections, and members receive a 25 percent discount off Beatnik sampleCDs. PeopleSound also produces DAM CDs for musicians to sell off-site.Artists receive 50 percent of each CD sale minus British sales tax anda £2 production cost.

RollingStone.com. RollingStone.com's third-party music site(www.rollingstone.com) is light on special features,offering just the basics: multiple MP3 hosting, a band JPEG, biography,announcements, listener ratings, and so on. It offers no direct CDsales; instead, you may link to another Web site that sells your CDs. Abig selling point for RollingStone.com is that a Rolling Stoneeditor reviews one MP3 per day. The competition is fierce, however, sodon't put all your eggs in that basket.

EarBuzz. This wild-card site (www.earbuzz.com)takes a slightly different approach to the third-party music-sitescheme. It is primarily for artists who have CDs to sell online but whowant a third-party service to take care of the billing and fulfillment.Users pay a $45 annual fee and send CDs to earBuzz. The artist thengets a page on earBuzz.com with images, info, one full MP3 track fromthe CD, and several clips from other tracks. The artist sets the pricefor each CD and keeps the proceeds, minus a 3 percent credit card fee.The company also does unique promotions for its artists, such asregional shows featuring earBuzz member bands.

Live365. More of an Internet radio portal than athird-party music site, Live365 (www.live365.com) is home to more than 37,000 onlineradio stations. Musicians can start a personal radio station on whichthey can loop as many as three hours of their MP3 songs 24/7. As thesongs play, a player window that provides track information pops up inthe listener's browser. The player window can also provide Buy buttonsthat link to sites from which the music can be purchased.

Broadjam. The newest service on the block, Broadjam (www.broadjam.com),has a unique set of services and features intended to help artists gainexposure quickly. Broadjam has three levels of membership. The firsttwo levels, Quick 10 and Club 10, are free. The Quick 10 lets listenersreview and rate tracks. Listener feedback is sent directly to artists,who are automatically notified when someone reviews their songs.Artists also receive notice if one of their tracks makes it onto a topten list. Club 10 is the basic level tailored for musicians. It offersa page on the site and room for three songs. One of the requirements isthat artists must review three other songs on the site for every songthey post.

The highest service level, Musicians of Broadjam (MOB), is availablefor an annual fee of $50. For the MOB price, Broadjam registers eightof the artist's songs on its site, provides a Broadjam e-mail accountand e-mail distribution service for press releases and fan lists, anddisseminates five songs to other music sites. Broadjam distributes tothe most active sites on the Web, and the list is updated frequently asnew sites gain prominence and old sites disappear.

OUT OF SITE

As nice as it would be to recommend one third-party music site thatis best suited to hosting your MP3 music, most sites have at least oneunique feature. Considering that the investment of time and moneyrequired to establish a presence on most sites is negligible, take ablanket approach to promoting your music on third-party Web sites.Cover all the bases that make sense. If you don't have CDs pressed,bypass earBuzz in favor of MP3.com, Vitaminic, or another site thatproduces CDs. If you don't have enough material to justify creating aradio station, check out IUMA or another site on which your tunes mayend up on the company's Internet radio stations.

Getting your music online through third-party Web sites is so easythat if you're not doing it, you may as well be singing out of key intoa paper-cup microphone. Do yourself a couple of favors: get ahigh-speed Internet connection and start filling servers with yourmusic today.

Markkus Rovito vaguely remembers life before DSL. He is a senioreditor for E-Gear, a bedroom musician, and a contributorto Remix, an EM sister publication. E-mail him atmrovito@earthlink.net.

THE SITE SCENE

Here is an overview of the services offered by the eight third-partymusic sites covered in this story. Ratings are given for each site'sease of use, pay structure, and search function on a scale of 0 to 10,with 10 being the highest rating.

Broadjam

earBuzz

IUMA

Live365

MP3

People
Sound

Rolling
Stone

Vitaminic

Image Hosting

yes

yes

yes

no

yes

yes

yes

yes

Customizable Pages

yes

no

yes

no

yes

no

no

no

Streaming Audio

yes

yes

yes

yes

yes

yes

yes

yes

Gig Listings

yes

no

yes

no

yes

no

yes

yes

Daily Statistics

no

yes

yes

no

yes

yes

yes

yes

Listener Comments

yes

no

yes

no

yes

yes

yes

no

CD Sales

no

yes

yes

yes

yes

yes

no

yes

Individual Song Sales

no

no

no

no

no

no

no

yes

Radio

yes

no

yes

yes

yes

yes

no

no

Personal URL

yes

yes

yes

no

yes

no

yes

yes

Fee-based Premium Services

yes

no

no

no

yes

no

no

no

Ease of Use

9

7

9

7

8

5

9

8

Pay Structure

n/a

9

8

n/a

7

6

n/a

9

Search Function

9

9

9

8

7

7

6

10

Best Feature

distributes songs to other music sites

highest recoupment from CD sales

indie cred

creates your own personal Internet radio station

most recognizable name

weekly charts published in top media outlets

possible review by Rolling Stone editor

can create your own page for 9 European countries

Weakest Link

unproven track record

little name recognition

rocky past and uncertain future

top MP3 quality is 56 Kbps

sells prime placement of music to the highest bidder

mail-in sign up form

is the lottery ticket of online promotion

bland artist pages