Just as technological innovations have changed the way that customers buy music, technology also has changed how artists distribute music to their fans. In 2010, one-third of all music sales consisted of digital tracks, with the remaining two-thirds made up of CDs and other physical media [source: Jones]. This enormous digital market has removed one of the largest barriers for musicians trying to enter the market -- money. Artists who once needed the support of a major label to release an album can now self-release music online, or even produce CDs at very little cost.
Other than a negligible distribution fee, it costs virtually nothing to publish music on iTunes and other digital music stores. Artists generally retain all rights to these tracks, and earn about two-thirds of all sales revenue. Once your music is out there, you'll have access to the same market as the big labels, and people all around the world have the opportunity to discover your music. If you prefer physical media, traditional CDs cost just $1 to $8 per unit to professionally manufacture, and you can make these discs at home for much less. Independent distributors can even help you get your album into stores, with most charging a percentage of each sale or a small annual fee [source: Mizell].
Of course, releasing your own music doesn't necessarily mean that anyone will hear it. Just as digital music sales have removed financial entry barriers, however, social networking has made it easier to market your tunes without the help of a label. This makes it easy to connect with fans online and direct them to stores selling your tracks. Traditional marketing techniques, such as album reviews, in-store performances and having your music spun on local radio can also help you find success in the industry.
It might seem like the Top-40 artists dominate sales, but statistics show that demand for niche music by independent artists might outpace demand for the most popular albums. For example, digital music company Rhapsody reports that users stream more tracks each month from outside of the top 10,000 than from within. The same is true for books and DVDs, indicating that if you can aggregate niche users through digital technology, even offbeat artists can find enough buyers to make a living from music [source: Anderson].
The majority of artists self-publish out of necessity, hoping to eventually attract big labels or simply to get their music heard. Self-published musicians bear all costs and risks associated with releasing albums, but without labels to split the profits, they also enjoy all the rewards. Even popular bands such as Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead have jumped onto the self-publishing bandwagon, perhaps drawn to this method by the creative freedom and independence it entails.
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