This is a guest post by Nick Lewis. If you have music advice to share with Independent Music Advice readers, please check the Guest Bloggers Wanted page for info on how to write for us.
Digital distribution has opened up countless new opportunities for musicians of all types. It has allowed artists to be (metaphorically) shelved alongside major label releases and those of their heroes on an equal footing. That’s not to say that physical releases should be ignored though, and actually, a well thought out approach to selling music online can actually aid in getting you physical sales. In this article I look at why you should sell your music online before releasing a physical single or album.
Minimising Risk With Digital Singles
The big difference between digital and physical distribution is the up-front costs. It is relatively cheap and easy to get your music available worldwide on iTunes and other online music stores. A physical release on the other hand is a lot more pricey, with the cost of manufacturing and cover printing (amongst other things) considerably adding to the capital required to do it. This makes it much riskier then selling your music online.
However, although digital sales are growing, when it comes to albums they are still eclipsed by CD sales by a considerable margin. And although the vinyl market is small, it is still one of the only consistent growth areas of the music industry at present.
The main advantage of selling music online before deciding to sell a physical product is that it gives you some idea of how much demand for your music there is. This can help you make decisions on how many copies to press up, or whether to take the risk at all.
Online Music And Building Demand
Public relations can only be done effectively when there’s something to promote. A digital single or EP release gives a hook for a public relations and marketing campaign to operate from. Before your physical album release, releasing a couple of digital singles lets you (or your PR agency) build up relationships and interest with bloggers, journalists, DJs and yes, fans. All of these people can be used to help promote your album when it comes out…
If you stay organised and take these digital singles seriously, you could end up with a sizeable mailing list both of industry types and new fans. At the very least, anyone who’s bought your single and has it on their iPod will remember you exist by the time your physical release comes out, and hopefully buy it.
Physical Music As Premium
Perhaps through your digital releases you’ve figured out that there’s only enough demand for a limited run of physical product. In that case, it’s a perfect opportunity to take advantage of tiered pricing, something that is becoming increasingly common practice in an industry desperate to take advantage of the higher margins afforded by ‘luxury’ products.
Do a small run of 100 – 500 CDs or vinyl records to support your digital release. If you’ve gained enough exposure from your preceding singles, you might be able to sell them all just to your mailing list.
Selling music online has levelled the playing field for independent musicians, but it also opens up greater opportunities in physical distribution as well – not least in providing a track record for physical distributors to make decisions on.