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Random Thoughts About Releasing New Music in 2013

What does it mean to release new music here in 2013?  I’ve been asking myself this recently because I just released a new CD of  electronic music.  As it turns out, it’s a much more complicated question than I initially thought.

I normally talk about music business-related things on one of my podcasts here, but as I was knee-deep in my research on this topic it occurred to me that readers here at probably ask themselves these same questions.  I mean, like me, you’re all in the business of making cool music/sound design and you probably release that music on occasion.

So it just made sense to share my research and random thoughts on this topic here.  I’ve also provided you with a whole bunch of links, probably more than I should have, so that you can see what other people are saying on this topic.

Is The CD Dead?

Is anyone still buying CD’s?  I haven’t released any music commercially since 2009 so this was my first question.  The answer seems to depend on who you talk to.

As far as the major record labels are concerned, the CD is dead.  Consider this, every year I ask the incoming freshman in my Intro to Recording class whether they have ever bought a CD.  As you can imagine, the number gets smaller and smaller each year (less than 10% for this year’s class). And these are students that want to learn how to record music!!!  This article is a great insight into their mindset.

Ask an independent artist if they sell any CD’s and you might get a different answer.  Go see just about any band in any city and I can pretty much guarantee that they’ll be offering CD’s at their merch table.  CDBaby, which is the largest seller of independent music on the planet, sells millions of dollars of CD’s each month so obviously people are still buying CD’s.

Two conflicting positions that lead you to the next question:

Should You Release Singles or Complete Albums?

People have been debating this one since at least 2007.  This article from last year does a great job of arguing why it makes smart business sense to forget about albums and only release singles.  Here’s another article that looks at it from a few other angles.  They both have compelling arguments.

Perhaps it’s a generational thing but there are still a few things I appreciate about albums, and when I say album I mean a collection of music in one package like a CD or vinyl record:

  • I still appreciate owning something tangible.  The simple act of unwrapping and opening a CD does something to my brain.  It puts me in the mood to listen.
  • I still enjoy liner notes.  I want to know the story behind the music I’m listening to.  Granted, I can probably get this same info on the artist’s website but I enjoy having it available to me on the actual product packaging.
  • If a group of songs or music are intended to go together, like one piece that is made up of three movements, releasing them as an album is really the only way to guarantee that the listener will hear them together, in that specific order.

Can You Still Make Money From Your Music Release?

What’s the point of releasing music if you can’t make any money from it, right?  This is another one that I hear quite a bit.  Well, I’m not even going to debate this question because the answer is a big fat, “YES, you can!” I’ve already provided you with evidence to this effect but anyone that would care to disagree with me can do so here.

Some of the ways that you can make money directly from your music are:

Sales of Physical CD’s

No explanation needed here.  As I’ve already touched on, you get some copies of your CD made up and sell them at your gigs.  You’ll also be able to sell them online through services like:

Sales of Digital Downloads

Again, you can accomplish this with many different services:

Performance Royalties

Not only should you be making money when your music is bought and sold, you should also be making money when your music is performed in public and/or on the radio, as well as when it is streamed on the internet.  This is known as performance royalties.

The concept of performance royalties, and how to collect them, can be difficult for many musicians to understand.  Rather than spend the time to get into it here I would encourage you to check out these two very good resources:

  • This video from CDBaby, which explains the basics
  • Episode’s #9-12 of my Music Biz Podcast, which give a very comprehensive explanation of Music Publishing

Traditional PRO’s

In the US, there are three main organizations that collect and distribute performance royalties.  You will need to belong to one of them in order to collect any royalties due to you from the performance of your music:

Digital PRO’s

You’ll also want to make sure that you register your music with SoundExchange, the organization that collects statutory royalties from satellite radio (such as SIRIUS XM), internet radio, cable TV music channels and similar platforms for streaming sound recordings.

Sync Licensing

Again, many musicians are confused by this income source but basically anytime your music is paired with any visual media (film, tv, commerical, video game, etc…) you are owed money.  This money is a one-time payment for something called a sync license.

While there have always been many “stars” making significant money through sync licensing (my favorite being Moby’s success with his album, Play) this is also an area where the “average Joe’s” like you and I can compete.

One of the many reasons I’ve decided to focus on this income source quite a bit this year is because it’s becoming easier and easier to get your music in front of the right people using tools like this from SoundCloud.

You can read further about the basics of sync licensing here:

The DIY Musician’s Complete Guide to Sync Licensing

How Can People Buy My Music If They’ve Never Heard It?

This final question is always running through my mind.  But the real question is, “How do I promote my music on the cheap?”  The answer seems to be:

Giving It Away For Free

I know some of you may have a problem with this but I don’t.  Ultimately, I want my music to be heard.  I know that if enough people hear my music, a few of them will buy it.

So how do we get our music in front of as many people as possible?  That’s probably a topic for another day but here are a few ideas off the top of my head:

  • SoundCloud
  • ReverbNation
  • MySpace
  • YouTube
  • Social Media
  • Music Podcasts
  • Internet Radio

So, what do you think?  How many of you are releasing music on a regular basis?  How many of you are making money from your music?  I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this.  Just write me here.

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