Thom gets his own poster, courtesy M.A.C. Kingsley. Because new records have sound all over them, and you should probably get paid for that.

Television itself (well, American TV — BBC is doing just fine) has ground to a halt over online revenues for writers. How are musicians doing? Not so well, say Radiohead. Ars Technica notes that Thom Yorke has been going around pointing out many labels screw artists out of digital download income in contracts. The solution isn’t rocket science: get a better contract, get a different label, or go it alone. Radiohead chose the “go it your own” approach, of course. But whatever benefits they got from, erm, being Radiohead, the one thing you have in common with them is that if you do the same, you can also get 100% or revenue instead of 0%. And you’d have to be pretty unpopular for that to be a bad deal.

So much of the discussion of digital distribution issues is in broad terms, though, that last point could be missed. You have a choice: get screwed, or not.

tunecore TuneCore, a service by which artists can be distributed on sites like iTunes Music Store, Amazon, and Rhapsody, recently reported that its customers have earned some $4 million through download sales alone. TuneCore charges only a flat fee for its service, and artists are biting, from Queens of the Stone Age to Public Enemy to Keith Richards. That’s not meant to be an ad for TuneCore; I think other services will step up to the plate, too, and TuneCore’s own revenues seem like only the tip of the iceberg.

One concern in all of this is that, as long as iTunes Music Store is the primary outlet, Apple can fix prices (and its cut) in a way that benefits Apple, rather than anyone actually selling music. But even that concern may be fading, as services like Amazon’s excellent online store and niche-focused outlets gain traction.

And niche stores are hitting at just the right time, as musical tastes are diverging from the “top of the pops” mentality of yesteryear. I laughed out loud watching Dick Clark’s Rocking New Years’ Eve as a parade of pop artists no one cares about led up to the ball drop, and the host fumbled to describe what a chart even was. (He said something like, “this guy’s been charting all over those … chart things.” American Bandstand, no more.)

If you do want to go it on your own, there’s no reason you have to give away your music away, or call your album “In Rainbows”, or change your name to Tom Yorke.

Our friend Brad Sucks has built a cool, open-source online store for musicians. It supports Amazon’s S3 storage solution to make hosting your downloads cheap, and processing money via PayPal. It’s free and easy:

Brad Sucks Digital Downloads

We’re also big fans of the WP e-Commerce plug-in. But, of course, that’s not to say having a label has to be a bad thing; quite the contrary, as a few indie label owners have noted in CDM comments before, a smart label often knows better than the band. (That was supposed to be the point.) You just want a contract that doesn’t suck. Cough. EMI. (Hey, I’m just quoting Thom.)

Got online distribution experiences you want to share? Let us know.

  • FYI: the store now supports non-S3 hosting and variable prices and so on.

  • Awesome! Though I think S3 would probably remain my top pick for storage. Love me my S3.

  • That web store app looks excellent. I was just thinking yesterday about some way to sell audio reliably and simply from my web site. This might be exactly what I was looking for. Thanks, Brad (an Peter for pointing it out).

  • dead_red_eyes

    I'm very happy with the way The Orchard is handling our stuff at the moment.


  • you can also use something like to sells music downloads from your website. Of course, thats the easy part. The hard part is getting people to your site and to stay on it for long enough 😉


  • Steve, you know, I agree … at the same time, though, part of this seems to me like critical mass. I'd LOVE to be able to buy music from artists directly, but so often I just get linked back to iTunes. (No thanks!) If enough artists start doing it, I think more people will be in the habit of going artist-direct. And the artists who do have really strong relationships with their fans do very well at this, there's no question, so for them, this work … which is why if you're less known, having the *right* label to help you out can be really huge. So these tools as they improve should also help labels get better at sales distribution, and those smaller labels will likewise do better with online stores that are more niche-focused. It's all just puzzle pieces, and I think the whole market is still very young.

    @dead_red_eyes — I'm hearing great stuff about The Orchard, too!

  • Adrian Anders

    Still hoping that Amazon's MP3 store becomes the holy grail of online music stores. If they give unsigned artists and independant labels greater access to their store, and develop a better web 2.0 social interface to find similar artists they might have a shot at taking down iTunes at least on the long-tail/music lover side of the business.

  • Greg

    I like for it's lovely design, lack of DRM, and FLAC availability.

    The higher price point seems more reasonable to support smaller artists, as well.

    I wonder how hard it is to get one's music on there?

  • Hey, that's my poster! Awesome! Glad to see you crazy boys and girls liked it! Yay for Creative Commons!

    Good article, too. Y'know, just by the by.

  • dead_red_eyes

    Nice work Martin!

    I remember when our album was first up on iTunes, and how it was crippled with DRM … I wasn't to happy about it at first. Soon afterwards, the iTunes Plus thing came into focus … and sure enough, our album got the iTunes Plus treatmeant. I must say that it made me feel a lot better that there's no DRM and that the tracks are higher quality.

    Our label generally deals with The Orchard folks Peter … but that doesn't mean that I'm not privy to all the stuff that's going on with them. They have a great person who's assigned to work with the label, and really loves the labels material. Which is a big bonus. She puts in a lot of work, and they do promotions and such as well … so it's not like they're just sitting back not doing anything while raking in the money, which a lot of distributors do. They've got our album in all the right places thankfully, and are very pleasant to deal with. Plus, they pay quarterly and on time … which is a blessing if you ask me.

  • JC

    You spelt Thom Tom in the article.

    "Tom Yorke has been going around pointing out many labels"

    Check the picture for correct spelling 😉