Modes and Methods: a case study in online distribution
One of the biggest changes in music in the last ten years besides the rise of digital production is the rise of digital distribution. To explain, in 1998 most records were recorded in professional recording studios and distributed on CD by record labels. Now, most music is recorded at home on computers at equal or better than 1998 studio quality and distributed through some form of the Internet (Greg, 2008). As the digital distribution of music records is an essential part of the music industry and all musicians are looking for bigger numbers of consumers worldwide, this essay will include an overview of online music distribution, its different types, and platforms. We will be also looking at an example of succeeded use of the Internet to distribute the music for free and, finally, tips for DIY (do-it-yourself) practitioners on using the Internet to its best potential.
First, it is important to distinct that music distribution companies distribute physical copies of recorded music products. This fact clarifies the difference between distribution of products, a physical thing (e.g. CD, cassette or vinyl) and the digital distribution (online dissemination of digital files) distribution or as Negroponte (1995) formulated, cited in Anderton, Dubber, and James (2012, p.85) – ‘stuff made out of atoms’ and ‘ stuff made out of bits’. Secondly, it is also important to realize the impact of the file compression on digital distribution progression, which “makes the audio file smaller by removing some of the unnecessary aspects of sound that many consumers will not miss” (King and Feist, 2009, p.35). According to King and Feist (2009, p.35) in many cases, compression reduces the file size down from 50MG, which is a typical size of the song on a commercially released CD to a more reasonable 3 to 7MG. Resulting benefits are a speedier delivery of music files over the Internet, bigger file storage on consumer’s computers and portable music player likewise unlimited space on retail shelves “leaving the playing fields for independent musicians and labels”(King and Feist, 2009, p.34) as well. For defining, digital distribution is the process of releasing music online and placing music in online retail stores (
For defining, digital distribution is the process of releasing music online and placing music in online retail stores (Online distribution, no date). According to Online music distribution (no date), there are two major types distribution methods: Distributor to Digital Retailers, and Artist-to-Fan. Dedicated online music distributors are services that distribute a musician’s songs and albums to a number of digital retailers for a fee. According to Anderton, Dubber, and James (2012, p.94) and Online distribution (no date), the most prominent digital distributors are TuneCore, CD Baby, ReverbNation, The Orchard and Ditto Music. Most of those companies distribute music to the biggest digital retailers (the iTunes Store, AmazonMP3), popular streaming services (e.g. Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, Deezer), and more. Meanwhile, the artist-to-fan distribution method is a more do-it-yourself approach to distribution. It enables individual artists and record labels to become retailers themselves, either on their own websites or using online services designed to facilitate the sale of recorded music by using services such as Bandcamp, Magnatune, Topspin or other e-commerce platforms (Anderton, Dubber, and James, 2012, p.96).
DeVito (2010) asserts that podcasts are not regulated, they can be created by anyone and therefore anyone can record anything, and that content can be downloaded openly over the Internet. “The music labels suffer greatly from this because this openness can be utilized by music bands want to share their music with the world and not have to use a traditional music label to have their music distributed “ (DeVito, 2010). One of the biggest cases in the music industry of releasing music over the Internet via download was in 2007 when one of the world’s most successful British rock bands Radiohead released their album “In Rainbows”. Radiohead proved to the world that it is possible to make more money selling your record if you give it away for free at first. Rather than releasing the album through the traditional distribution channels, the band decided not to renew the relationship with EMI group after their contract end. According to Wikstrom (2014), they felt no need for the label anymore because they already had their own recording studio, a dedicated fan base, and a new web server. They did this by making a sudden announcement 10 days before the release of “In Rainbows”, and then releasing the album as a download allowing fans to pay as much or as little as they wanted for the album, including nothing at all. According to DeVito (2010) an amazing 1.2 million fans downloaded the album in the first month, and roughly 40% of them chose to pay an average of $6, which netted the band an astonishing $3 million, which means, as stated by Wikstrom (2014) that average revenue per download was $2.40, which most likely is more than the share they would have received during their EMI contract. For the first time, Radiohead owned the master to their album, and they sold it direct to the consumer not losing any percentage of their sales revenues, and they were able to license it to other CD stores and make money the old fashioned way after the first month of “pay what you want” was over. One year after being ‘leaked’ on band’s own website “In Rainbows” had sold three million copies, reached the nr.1 spot on the US Billboard 200 and in the UK album chart. Not to mention two Grammy Awards for Best Alternative Music Album and Best Special Limited Edition Package (Wikstrom, 2014). Moreover, this ingenious strategy worked for the band again with their 2011 release of “The King Of Limbs” (Houston, 2012).
Because of the advent of the Internet and improvements in electronics and recording software, independent musicians can do what they couldn’t do before. Anyone can do everything from recording tracks to selling music online. The online distribution gives artists the freedom to choose how to want their music to be sold and distributed. Of course, “it is important for artists to realize that there are significant differences in the payment models between retailers, and to choose their outlets carefully based on what they are looking for their release: revenue, exposure, or both” (King and Feist, 2009). Creative strategies like Radiohead’s name-your-price experiment can be viral marketing tools themselves. Online music distribution (no date) explains:
“As The Pirate Bay, a torrent site has a “promotional apparatus” called The Promo Bay, which lets musicians, comedians, artists, etc. post ads with links to their websites or even torrents of their own work. The idea behind this is that pirates actually buy more music than non-pirates, so by getting your music out there to this wide audience,you’re bettering your chances of getting your music to someone who loves it and is happy to pay for it then.”
There is another noticeable streaming platform that wasn’t mention before. Founded in 2007, SoundCloud remains as one of the world’s top audio distribution platforms and attracts over 174 million unique visitors. It is a free-streaming “news feed” style homepage, where anyone can repost, make a playlist, follow, comment or favorite the artists and their tracks. Also group communities play a huge part in expanding the reach of SoundCloud’s massive library. This platform is a go-to option in giving your fans or followers the opportunity to stream your latest single for free (Sonicbids, 2015).
Another reasonable tip for DIY practitioners would be to sign up your musician profile on all the major social media/networking sites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube) in order to populate your profiles with content and interacting with friends and fans! “Interaction is key to using social networking well, and the more you do it the more people will notice you” (Online music distribution, no date). Despite all of these qualified music platforms and social media/networking sites, all serious musicians need a personal blog or even better – a personal website. Besides uploading latest music, this opportunity allows you to put all the latest information about what you are doing, how things are developing. You can set your personal art design for it, which is also important to get noticed. It is important to maintain it sharp and up-to-date (Sonicbids, 2015).
Musicians and bands always have sought for greater numbers of listeners. Online distribution has proven to be one of the most effective Web-driven independent artists’ tools to arise over the past ten years. As King and Feist (2009, p.33) claims, there’s never been a more exciting time in the world of music distribution, “[..] While traditional CD sales continue to fall, digital retail and distribution is the fastest growing areas in the new music economy. “ Indeed, understanding digital distribution is central to an understanding the changes in the entire ecology of the music industries in this century, as traditional notions of distribution and retail are changing considerably (Anderton, Dubber and James, 2012). “There are more new players, formats, outlets, and partnerships than ever before, and similar to the weather in London, if you don’t like what is happening now wait for a few minutes and it will change” (King and Feist, 2009, p.34).
Anderton, C., Dubber, A. and James, M. (2012) Understanding the music industries. London: SAGE Publications.
DeVito, D. (2010) The digital music distribution revolution. Available at: https://dcdevito.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/the-digital-music-distribution-revolution/ (Accessed: 9 December 2016).
Houston (2012) Art of Blogs. Available at: my.vanderbilt.edu/artofblogging/2012/08/a-case-study-on-the-free-music-model-”radiohead”/ (Accessed: 10 December 2016).
King, M. and Feist, J. (2009) Music marketing: Press, promotion, distribution, and retail (book & CD). Boston, MA: Distributed by Hal Leonard.
Online music distribution (no date) Available at: http://classes.dma.ucla.edu/Winter13/161/projects/students/lily/project-4/html/index.html (Accessed: 8 December 2016).
Sonicbids (2015) The top 10 digital platforms to upload, share and promote your music. Available at: http://blog.sonicbids.com/the-top-10-digital-platforms-to-upload-share-and-promote-your-music (Accessed: 12 December 2016).
Wikström, P. (2014) The music industry: Music in the cloud. 2nd edn. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity Press.