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How to Get your Music onto iTunes and Spotify

iTunes and SpotifyEveryone is aware of the struggles of the music industry. Piracy, falling CD sales… In some houses, you don’t find a music collection on the shelves any more – it might be ten times as large as music collections used to be, but it’s all hidden on a tiny tablet or laptop hard drive. And some people don’t even own any music any more, but stream it directly from Spotify on their tablets, smartphones and computers. It seems that mobile digital really is the future, so the question on every starting musician’s mind is no longer, “How do I get my CD in the record store?” but rather, “How do I get my tracks on iTunes and Spotify?”

First of all, independently getting your music on iTunes or Spotify is impossible. Because of the huge amount of musicians out there who all want to be heard, both systems only work with established labels and distributors. Fortunately, there are many distributors who focus on unsigned artists; for a small fee, they make sure your music gets to all the right places. CDBaby and TuneCore are the most famous options. CDBaby requests a one-off payment of $49 per album, and keeps nine percent of the net income from your sales. They can also sell your CDs and vinyl. TuneCore only provides digital distribution on a subscription basis for $49.99 a year. Both are well-regarded by the industry and the musicians who work with them, but there are several other options available as well.

But before you’re ready to distribute your album, though, there’s more to do than record your music. You’ll need a nice piece of artwork, even for a digital-only release. This can be provided by most distributors, but looks better if you choose something that fits your music perfectly, of course. Perhaps even more important is to have the metadata for all your tracks organized, so artist and title are automatically detected when someone searches for or plays your music. You can make the metadata available through online databases like Gracenote, and simply update the information through iTunes: all recent versions have an update to submit album and track data.

Furthermore, to comply with commercial standards, your album needs a universal product code (UPC). This is a unique 12-digit number like a bar code, which you can buy from most distributors. Every track, then, needs its own code: the international standard recording code (ISRC). Without these, you won’t be able to track royalties. To receive ISRCs, you have to register with the US ISRC agency, and for $75 you get a Registrant Code you can use to assign ISRCs to all of your own songs for the rest of your life.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you get to play in the same field as established artists, under the same rules. This not only means you get the same outreach, but also that you’re judged on the same criteria. So don’t send a rough demo – unless that’s the sound you’re going for, of course – but a thoughtfully produced, mastered release. If the quality of your album isn’t up to standard, you give yourself an unnecessary disadvantage.

The benefits of getting your music on iTunes and Spotify seem obvious. A potential audience of millions of people could lead to new fans, more gigs, perhaps even a record deal and a steady income stream. In this day and age, you have access to countless opportunities and can reach a diverse set of audiences with a simple computing unit such as a smartphone or a tablet. Therefore, iTunes and Spotify are tools, not goals in themselves, and they’re not the only tools. Websites like Soundcloud and Bandcamp offer different distribution models that can be just as successful if used well, and don’t underestimate the value of promotion: if people don’t know your music is available, they won’t buy it. And of course, those words that every musician wants to hear is still true: it is still about the music. Promotion and big labels can only get an artist so far, but in the end it’s the music that people want to buy!

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