Music business and lockdown—has the industry gone digital?
Musicians in big cities like Berlin, Munich or Cologne, but also music producers in small villages or communities often live off labels. But musicians don't always want to give up parts of their freedom when it comes to publishing their own works. But what alternatives do you have to organize distribution and marketing without a label? And what should you pay attention to in order to ultimately reach as many potential fans as possible?
Behind a concrete label is usually a record company. This company not only publishes your music, but also takes care of the planning and control of the marketing, the release and the entire distribution. As soon as you sign a partnership with a label, you are rid of these worries. But labels are not the right choice for every musician. Many record labels are actively looking for musicians to realize their financial goals and plans - and everyone has to decide for themselves whether this is the way they want to go.
As part of a label you always give away a certain piece of your freedom and creativity. You and your music become a big brand, a product, and accordingly your music always has to fit into this scheme sooner or later. Although you often have a say in the contract, when it comes to large sums of money, free development often falls by the wayside. For some musicians, this is the decisive reason to take tasks such as distribution and marketing into their own hands.
If you also belong to this group of people, you have many opportunities for independent publication and promotion of your art. While this was hardly conceivable in the 90s, a record deal is no longer a basic requirement today. However, before you can expect great success through your releases, you have to achieve a certain level of recognition. Performances as an opening act, sales of your CDs to passers-by or small local events are therefore your means of choice to become better known. Both in the planning of possible gigs as well as in the production and further releases it is important to be independent and imaginative. Do It Yourself is the best benchmark here.
If you've already started thinking about ways to market and distribute your music, there are several aspects that play an important role in your independent success. Thanks to the increasing digitalization of the industry, the following areas are a good start to becoming better known:
Even if it only helps you on a small scale at first, a website gives interested parties and fans the opportunity to learn more about you and your music. It's best to introduce yourself briefly, share links to your music and make sure you stay in the conversation - even without constant live performances.
In addition to marketing via your own website, social media is also a powerful and extremely practical tool. On Instagram or TikTok you can share small snippets of your music at any time and already provide good reasons to keep a closer eye on you.
To get booked directly for possible gigs and events, a professional press kit is very important. There you provide all the important information about your music and supplement the facts with some pictures, links, business cards and social media user data. A press kit can also be helpful for the distribution of your music.
Even if it's not easy at first, performing on a small scale increases your visibility. Only a few musicians make it directly to a hit in the whole country. The search for musicians is mostly regionally oriented, which is why you will have the best chances in your immediate vicinity. Just talk to small clubs and locations in your area and see if a gig might come up.
Not all advertising has to be expensive. It's best to announce small appearances via social media and broadcast them live to your fans. Small runs of posters are not expensive either. With autograph cards or other merchandise, you can also give visitors something to hold in their hands on site.
Complementing the on-site presence, the Internet plays a crucial and ever-increasing role in the music business. However, the word "ambivalent" probably more accurately describes it. While the number of CDs sold has declined significantly since the 2000s, clicks on online portals like Spotify or Amazon Music are on the rise. Even if such collaborations are hardly worthwhile at less than a cent per call, they are a must for you as a newcomer due to the enormous reach.
Reach gives you the opportunity to draw attention to yourself even without constant concerts or a presence in the pedestrian zone. Creative videos and exciting lyrics are rewarded more than ever before. If you want to be successful as a musician without a label, then think about a social media concept, shoot small live videos again and again, post diligently and use the opportunity to increase your visibility and build a fan base.
In addition to your first releases, you can also register on the respective portals. It's best to check in advance what conditions the partners offer and whether the low price justifies the range. In some cases, the portals also lure you with exclusive contracts and better conditions, which may not always be advantageous. The following online portals are the largest providers in the musician search and for the "music as a subscription" model:
Spotify Spotify is now the largest streaming provider in the music sector. More than 345 million users use the service every month. More than 155 million users have the ad-free premium account. For you as a musician, this means a high reach.
The user figures of Amazon Music are difficult to represent, since the service is available to all Prime members. Of these, however, 55 million users have purchased the Prime version, making Amazon Music one of the largest providers in the meantime.
With around 7 million paying subscribers, Deezer is significantly smaller than Spotify. Nevertheless, some customers consciously choose the platform. Compared to the market giant Spotify, Deezer allows a fairer and more appropriate remuneration for musicians in many situations.
YouTube YouTube also plays a decisive role as an online portal. The platform has 1.9 billion users, which also offers you enormous potential. If you want to find new musicians, you can do so for free on YouTube and ideally find yourself there.
The many portals offer you a way to successfully market yourself and your music even without a label. However, this will not work completely without third party participation in your proceeds. The days of classic CD distribution have been over for decades, which is why branding has fundamentally evolved. However, despite the many digital possibilities, don't forgo a local presence in order to stand out in your region. Concerts are and will remain the most important means for musicians to increase the meager revenues from online platforms and sales.
If direct membership of the portals is too costly and, above all, too uncertain for you, so-called digital distributors offer you additional support. They don't take over the marketing and distribution, but they register you with all important online portals and make sure that your new music can be found. In return, they charge you a small share of your earnings and a basic fee that varies from provider to provider.
Additional services such as promotion or merchandise services can also be added at an additional cost. Among the best-known digital distributors are Spinnup, TuneCore, iMusician and iGrooveNext. Before potentially signing, however, be sure to look at what's written between the lines of your contract like this. This will ensure that the terms and conditions are clear and unambiguous.
If you are still looking for support in the music industry, we will gladly accompany you in your search for musicians. Through our musician portal you can search for numerous musicians with whom you can cooperate in the future. Whether you are looking for a good producer, a singer or a new band member, you have come to the right place. We are happy to support you in the areas of distribution and marketing, even without a label.
Originally published on March 30, 2021, updated on January 7, 2022