Distributing Your Albums
So, you have accomplished the huge task of recording and manufacturing your CD. Congratulations! Next step is to distribute them as much as possible. Gone are the days of Tower Records and Virgin Records, now most of the CD’s are sold either at your concerts or online. The concert sales are pretty straight forward. Most presenters will sell your CD’s either for a small commission fee, or no fee at all. All you have to do is bring them some CD’s and maybe some change, if they ask for it. Besides the concert sales, you can also sell your CD’s online. Here you have a couple of options.
Selling Physical Copies
For selling physical copies of your CD’s, you can set up a page on your website. There are a number of services that allow you to collect payments online for a nominal fee, PayPal being the most popular. Your website hosting company might offer other options as well. If you do it through your website, mostly likely you will be responsible for mailing the orders out yourself. In which case you should consider packaging and shipping costs; will you pay for shipping, or the customer?
You can also register with a music distribution company, which will distribute your CD’s for you. One of the most popular is CDBaby. Here you can set the price for your album and provide them with physical copies of your album, which they will ship themselves; no shipping or packaging for you. However, they do take a commission and/or transaction fees. So if your CD is listed at $15, you get about $11. Usually, these companies ask you to send no more than 4 albums at a time, in order to conserve space in their warehouses. This means that each time they are low on stock, they send you a request for more and you have to mail in a couple more CD’s.
I think it’s good to do it both through your own website and through external companies. The more exposure you, get the better.
Now here it gets a little tricky. When you register with CDBaby, they will offer to distribute your album digitally, on their own site as well as iTunes. Amazon, Spotify and pretty much any other music distribution company you can think of. At first, it seems like a great deal, you’re basically selling “air”… But this is what’s not so great. You still have to pay copyrights for those sales. Digital distribution copyright licenses are sold 25 at a time, and you need to buy them before your sell your album. Which means, you must secure 25 licenses, before you know if you will actually sell that many downloads. And the worst part, those licenses expire in 12 months. Unless you sell more than 25 digital copies of your album within 1-year, you actually end up losing money. Then you have to pay for another 12 month license… and the vicious cycle continues. Most of the time there is no pay as you go option for copyrights. There is a company called Soundset which will take care of the copyrights for you on per sale bases. They do have a commission fee for their services, but at least you don’t have to deal with all the paperwork yourself. You can read more about them on their website and find out the details.
The next thing to consider, is the price and the profit you get. On CDBaby, you set your own price for the full album as well as individual tracks. iTunes however set their own price, usually the standard $0.99. If you have 10 tracks on your album, then a full album will be $9.99, like pretty much any other album. Out of those $10, you only receive about $6. If you happen to have less than ten tracks, then your album will be priced as the sum of your tracks. My CD has 9 tracks and the full album was priced at $8.91, and I saw $5.41. At the end I found out that it wasn’t worth the cost of copyrights versus the revenue from the sales, so I removed it from digital distribution all together.
So before diving into digital distribution, do the math carefully. Most classical guitarists, don’t sell 25 copies per year through digital distribution. Unless you wrote all the pieces on your album, or only recorded public domain music that you arranged yourself, chances are you are going to need a license, which will expire before you get a chance to “use” it.