D.I.Y. Musician: Get Out There

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Whether you choose CDBaby or another distribution outlet for your music, be sure you understand the fee structure.

Of all of the D.I.Y. options available to musicians, music distribution has changed the most and is probably the most exciting. Today, musicians can sell their music to nearly anyone in the world. Every artist can be on iTunes. 

But not all music distributors are created equal. If you have songs to sell, you''ll want to use the right service for the job.

If you have CDs to sell, you''ll want a reputable distributor that will give you a good cut of every sale and allow you to set the price. Also, you''ll want a service that collects and shares the purchaser''s contact information with you. Services like CDBaby and Nimbit are good examples, and both have their particular strengths.

CDBaby handles distribution to stores that are interested in carrying your CD, as well as digital distribution for your tracks and the option to sell CDs via credit card at shows. Nimbit handles fulfillment of all sorts of items, including physical merchandise, show tickets, and anything else you would like to sell to fans. But all of these physical distribution stores have a hidden cost: You have to bear the cost of shipping your album to stock their shelves.

Some musicians skip physical music distribution to avoid CD duplication and save money, but that doesn''t mean you have to miss out on selling physical CDs to fans. Sites like CreateSpace and Lulu allow you to upload the art and the media, and will make the CDs when fans purchase it. This gives you a profit on every sale, with no need for you to keep any inventory. Most of them have no up-front costs, as well.

With digital distribution, you''ll want a distributor that can sell your music in as many of the big stores as possible. Also, there are two different pricing models to consider, exemplified by CDBaby and Tunecore. And this is where musicians need to go in with their eyes open.

CDBaby has a single one-time fee and puts your music in all of the major online stores, but then it takes a cut of every sale. Tunecore charges an up-front fee and a yearly subscription to keep your music active, but you get to keep all of the sales proceeds. Nearly all of the other digital distribution stores use one of these two models. As a general rule, if you''re expecting a lot of sales, you may do better in the long run with Tunecore''s model, which doesn''t take a cut from each album sold. But if you''re relatively unknown and will likely only sell sporadically, CDBaby might be more economical.

Keep in mind that once your music is available for sale, the other options at each digital sales outlet may affect which ones you decide to promote. For example, sales at CDBaby''s digital store capture the fan''s email address, which can bolster your mailing list. And you can boost sales at Amazon by joining its Associates Program, which will give you some extra income out of each sale you make.

Of course, no matter where you put your music up for sale, you should promote it on the Web. For example, iTunes now allows you to make direct links to your songs or albums, and most of these other stores make it easy to send your fans there or embed it in your own web presences. The more you make use of those tools, the more sales you can get for your music. No matter what you decide to do, it should be clear that, in this area, it pays to do your research.

Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan are the authors of The Indie Band Survival Guide.