How should I release and distribute my album?
December 31, 2007 1:15 PM   Subscribe

How should I release and distribute my newly recorded album without a record label?

I am finishing up my record and it is time for me to start planning the release. The more I read about the RIAA and record labels, the less I want to be associated with them. I am looking for an alternative route.

I am not averse to giving it away, but it is a lot of money out of my pocket. I figured that the hive mind might have some solutions that I am unaware of.
posted by lukeomalley to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
CDBaby will get you onto iTunes, Myspace Music can help you sell via Myspace. Giving it away makes sense if you're either touring or altruistic. One option would be to give 128kbit copies away for free while charging for better quality.
posted by rhizome at 1:28 PM on December 31, 2007

I'm not knowledgeable in this area by any means, but you may find it useful to read David Byrne's two recent articles for Wired: David Byrne's Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists — and Megastars, David Byrne and Thom Yorke on the Real Value of Music In the former, he lists 6 distribution options. (Not all necessarily an option, of course.)
posted by snarfois at 1:31 PM on December 31, 2007

Consider a pay what you will system online. CD's only sold at tours.
posted by Furious Fitness at 1:40 PM on December 31, 2007

CDBaby also gets you on emusic.
posted by Pants! at 2:02 PM on December 31, 2007

Thirding CDBaby. Depending on how much you are touring/promoting the album, you would be surprised how many CDs you might be able to move on CDBaby.
posted by quarterframer at 2:13 PM on December 31, 2007

you might want to check out ioda
posted by culberjo at 2:26 PM on December 31, 2007

Start your own label. Do a quick and dirty LLC in your jurisdiction and then have the profits go through a pass through. Then get one of the many CD pressers to press a run of 1000. Put up the MP3's on a website for sale.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:49 PM on December 31, 2007

Once you have a distribution plan in place, put a sample song on MefiMusic; I've bought three independent albums this way.
posted by headspace at 2:57 PM on December 31, 2007

MeFi favorite and successful self-releaser of music Jonathan Coulton wrote a nice long blog post a while back entitled "How I Did It," which may have some useful thoughts for you.
posted by doift at 3:11 PM on December 31, 2007

part of my job is handling local/independent releases for a record store.

cdbaby always gave me an immediate amateur vibe. i have no experience with em though, other than a wince whenever the name is mentioned. one downside: their cut is $4 per cd sold. i retail my cd for $4, including shipping. i kinda lowball it, which is something you should consider if you even do a physical cd. many people try to get $10-15, too much, in my opinion. 'specially nowadays.

Tunecore will get you on itunes and virtually everything else: rhapsody emusic napster blah blah. that's digital, of course. haven't checked out Snocap but that's the way to go for selling directly from your myspace page. i see myspace, as a means to an end for musicians at least, sticking around for a while. and i see selling tracks from the page a big plus.

for a little less than a hundred dollars (vs $55 on cd baby) you can sell directly on amazon's site. more money upfront but minus the credibility-hit (IMHO) of going with CD baby and minus the $4 hit for each copy sold. alternatively or also, it's pretty simple to set up paypal to sell cds directly from your myspace page or whatever page - people can use a credit card and it's relatively seamless for them.

cd baby hypes the fact that they'll get you into stores- they won't. not really. they'll get you into one distributor's back catalog with every other cd baby artist (they say 150,000 others). there's dozens of distributors a store might order from, and only a fraction are going to even have an account with the one they use, super d. they're not actually bad folks, nothing against em. just don't put much stock into the getting in stores thing.

you could just put mp3s on a web page and call it a day. i was pretty sure i would be doing this. but in the end i decided that having a tangible thing- to give people, to put some sort of (albeit small) pricetag on, to have a cool cover for, and to at least offer the chance to listen to it at full quality, meant enough to spring for a low run of discs. i used Discmakers, and aside from a weird series of exchanges regarding a printing option i wanted, (which they did, they were just oddly resistant about it) they were excellent. they offer, make that force, a barcode upon your cd, so you might save a bit of money if you went to put it up on amazon yourself.

also, if you have even a couple hundred bucks to spare, get your disc mastered! even if it's just going to be mp3 files or itunes! it makes a big difference- if only to have that last set of ears.
posted by tremspeed at 3:31 PM on December 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

CDBaby is a must - super easy, something of an industry standard, and they are a way cool site/organization that deserves lots of support for the fantastic service they provide.

I found the Indie Bible to be invaluable. A lot of this depends on what you want out of your cd project and how far along your career is, but I basically accepted that I would make no money on my record, my goal was just to get the music out there as much as possible. Where the Indie Bible comes in is that it's a directory of radio stations, podcasts, magazines, webzines, etc all dedicated to independent music. With enough perseverance you WILL get your music played on the radio and reviewed, if that's what you want. (Of course, it's best to coordinate these things with tours, but that's a whole other ball of wax.) If you'll pardon the self-link, go to and you can see the results of my efforts.

Finally, I posted one song per week on MeFi music. Share your music with the hive mind!
posted by fingers_of_fire at 3:34 PM on December 31, 2007

for a little less than a hundred dollars (vs $55 on cd baby) you can sell directly on amazon's site. more money upfront but minus the credibility-hit (IMHO) of going with CD baby and minus the $4 hit for each copy sold.

Actually, it's $35 to submit to a CD to CD Baby, and they keep $4.00. On a $10 CD you'll get $6.00 and at the end of the year you'll owe nothing.

Amazon Advantage charges $30 per year and keeps 55% of your list. On a $10 CD you'll get $4.50 and at the end of the year you must pay another $30 to remain listed, regardless if you have new product to sell or not.

Paypal is your best value, but you have to handle fulfillment yourself.

That said: do all three.
posted by scottandrew at 8:33 PM on December 31, 2007

three ways to do this:

1. cdbaby, as mentioned
2. find a like-minded indie label and go through them (not all record labels are evil)
3. go indie yourself and press your own discs (this is actually economically reasonable these days). and what tremspeed said -- make sure your disc gets properly mastered. main costs will be the duplication (+ booklet printing), mastering (if you don't do this yourself), and artwork (if you don't do this yourself).
posted by neckro23 at 8:35 PM on December 31, 2007

This might be of interest to you in terms of digital distribution.
posted by thedanimal at 8:39 PM on December 31, 2007

I think the main question is whether you really want to make CD's into your main source of revenue (at least within your music job/hobby/whatever), or if you see it mainly as a sideline to some other focus, like touring or selling merch. Based on the limited number of indie musicians that I know, how you go about marketing your album can be very different depending on what your goals are.

If you want to emphasize live performances, you might want to throw up some MP3s on a website and only sell CDs at the concerts (having them produced yourself via one of the many reproduction houses that do short runs for not much money); essentially they'd be another kind of merchandise, and hopefully develop their own cachet. The online versions of the songs would exist mainly to develop a fan-base for your concerts. This wouldn't require you to do anything special for online sales (or offer them at all), and wouldn't really require you to fight or otherwise discourage the P2P tide. Every song copied would be a bonus for you -- less bandwidth from your server.

The alternative would be a little more conventional and would involve selling the CDs online at a profit, using CDBaby or doing your own fulfillment. This would mean you'd probably want to limit the free versions a little more (although you can certainly start a good argument as to how directly and adversely free tracks affect online disc sales). As a music listener, one model that I find appealing is to give away a certain number of tracks from an album at full quality (well, 128-196kbit/s, which is apparently "CD-quality" today) so that fans can put your music on their iPod and give it a good listen, and then provide the CD as the way to hear more. I've bought more CDs from that type of pitch than I have from bands who offer degraded-quality versions of all the songs, or versions that I can only listen to in my web browser. But that's just IMHO.

I think it all depends on what you want to do. I know guys who are totally content just running off copies of their album in batches of 100 or so from a local duplicator, packing them into jewel boxes themselves, and selling them for $10 at concerts next to the T-shirts; cash only. I think they're more of a souvenir / "support the band" thing than an actual distribution medium for the listeners. But I've also run across an increasing number of people referring interested fans to CDBaby, so it must not be too bad a deal.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:53 AM on January 1, 2008

All of the above are good pieces of advice. A lot depends on how often you will be playing out. Email me via profile for info on manufacturing etc.
posted by omnidrew at 8:40 AM on January 1, 2008

The only reason I can think of to use CDBaby is if you're getting too many orders to fulfill on your own but for some reason can't attract an established label. I guess if having someone else mail out CDs for you is worth $4 per sale (and that doesn't include shipping, which the customer pays on top of your set price).

Get the CDs pressed yourself (Discmakers is a popular option) and sell them on your own site with Paypal. I do this and it's easy for me, easy for the customer, and I can include personalized notes or whatever I want with the CDs I send. I use Tunecore for digital distribution and have no complaints so far. Good luck to you.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:55 AM on January 1, 2008

Actually, it's $35 to submit to a CD to CD Baby, and they keep $4.00. On a $10 CD you'll get $6.00 and at the end of the year you'll owe nothing.

But to sell on Amazon you need a UPC and Bar code, CD Baby charges an extra $20 for those.
posted by tremspeed at 4:09 PM on January 1, 2008

UPCs and barcodes are optional at CD Baby. You don't have to pay the $20. But if you do, you can turn around and use the same CD Baby barcode with Amazon.

Most CD pressing plants these days will toss in the UPC and barcode gratis with your order anyway. Discmakers does this, as do others.
posted by scottandrew at 4:33 PM on January 1, 2008

And if you want your CDs in any physical record stores (lots of independent shops will sell the CDs of local artists) you'll need a UPC and barcode.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:56 PM on January 1, 2008

I used to work for a successful indie artist, and this is what she did:

- Formed her own label, with all the legal bits (she was scrupulous about keeping records, doing her taxes, paying the bandmembers as contractors, etc.)

- Sold CDs at shows, via CDbaby, and at local record stores. (One of the semi-volunteers handled managing all the retail relationships - it was kinda a pain.)

- Set up a myspace music page, maintained that - it seems to be more useful to her than her actual website. (Myspace was after my time with her, so I don't know details.)

Lots of other options, including the paypal route, various sites that will allow you to sell MP3s independently, etc - worth doing your homework. Find artists you like, see what they're up to.

Don't discount the value of having someone else handle fulfillment, if you go the physical-cd route. Even if music is your full-time job, the time it takes to pack and ship CDs is time you could be using to rehearse, write songs, or book gigs - you have to look at the cost/benefit situation.

Good luck with it - the music business can be rough. I don't think many people realize just how much work it is to make a living as a musician.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:18 AM on January 2, 2008

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