By now, everyone has heard
how Apple's iTunes Music Store broke down major-label resistance to the Internet to create the world's first purely digital music marketplace. Most likely, you also know how to use the iTunes store: enter a credit card, download songs to your computer, then onto your iPod
. It's a fairly easy process--technologically simple enough that it would have been possible five years ago, had the labels been willing to play ball.
On the other hand, it's a far trickier and more profitable proposition to figure out how to get music stocked on Apple's virtual shelves in the first place, let alone how to make money from the songs once they're included. Most of the music on iTunes and the other online music stores comes from the major labels, probably in large batches. Independent artists and small labels are cut out of those high-level deals, but that doesn't mean they're denied access to iTunes-using fans. After all, one thing the Internet was supposed to do for musicians was to give them a way to distribute their songs worldwide without signing a major-label contract.
If you run a small label or record your own songs, you too have a shot at selling your music on iTunes. You can complete the paperwork yourself and submit your songs to Apple, or you can sign with a distributor that focuses on online music stores.
The first method is true to the DIY ideology of independent music but requires lots of elbow grease and guidance. For the latter, I recommend The Guide to Selling Your Music in the iTunes Music Store, a well-written, friendly book by Simon Higgs (available from Higgs.com for $20). I can't summarize everything the guide says in this space, but here are a few points of interest you should know before you buy.
- The encoding and submitting of songs requires use of a free application called iTunes Producer, which runs on only Mac OS X. (PC owners will have to switch.)
- You'll have to set yourself up as a company before you can submit your songs. Check with your local city and state for requirements.
- You must have a UPC (Universal Product Code) for your album and an ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) for each track (the guide tells you how).
- Apple has an agreement in place with Google that can get you a discount on purchasing ad words to promote your songs on iTunes.
- All necessary forms and Apple e-mail addresses are included in the guide.
- Actual human beings at Apple decide which music makes the grade; some submissions are rejected.
Of course, iTunes and its ilk are not the only game in Internet town. If you or your independent label are not up to the potential weeks of work it takes to submit songs to iTunes or other services, there's another option, an age-old standby in the music industry: a distribution channel. I interviewed Matt Laszuk, president of IRIS Distribution, a company that specializes in online music sales. Here's what he had to say about this promising segment of the music industry:
MP3 Insider: What made you decide to launch IRIS Distribution?
Matt Laszuk: I'd been working software engineering jobs since college, moonlighting in the music industry promoting events, DJing, sound engineering, and running record labels. After moving my 3,000-piece record collection one too many times, it occurred to me that even vinyl lovers would relish an all-digital format. Until last year, though, there were no compelling services or stores for selling all-digital music formats. As rumors began surfacing about Apple's iTunes Music Store coming online, my experiences running…record labels, my years of software development, and my days of hauling vinyl across the country gelled into a way to help independent record labels navigate the digital download space safely: IRIS.
M: How successful have you been in getting independent bands onto the iTunes Music Store? Are there any specific hurdles people should know about?
ML: It's been hard work selling IRIS to independent record labels who don't understand the digital download space; it's been hard work selling IRIS to [online] retailers who don't fully understand independents. But both labels and retailers now understand where we're coming from and where the market is going. We've had good success getting our indie labels and artists online.
M: Do you see this getting easier in the future? Why or why not?
ML: Yes. All our retailers are content-hungry right now--they want everything we can deliver to them. The trick going forward, though, is making sure they know what they're getting and how to sell it.
M: What advantages do bands have when they sign with you, as opposed to trying to get their music into these digital distribution channels on their own?
ML: In short, because we're focused on digital distribution, we do it better. We know what to ask for when looking at contracts [with online music stores], we know how to deliver large catalogs to retailers quickly and correctly, and we know how to market individual releases to retailers. An independent label can spend its time managing this itself, but we've found that most labels would rather be making music!
For any band, the road to iTunes is a rocky one without some level of assistance. If you're a low-budget, local band, I'd recommend that you or your label buy Higgs's guide and submit songs on your own since wending your way through Apple's requisite maze of forms without some form of guidance would be tough. As for bands and labels with larger budgets and/or aspirations, digital distribution companies such as IRIS may have found an area of growth within the supposedly shrinking music business.