|Photo by elldubphoto.com|
I embarked on this journey for the same reason I decided to make a movie last year: because I wanted to understand the work that went into it these pop cultural artifacts. How are they created? How are they distributed? And can an average person do it? And of course, in both instances, my starting attitude was, “How hard could it be?”
Pretty damn hard, it turns out (both times).
Putting the EP together required several steps that I might not have anticipated. First, I had to raise some money or front my own capital. In this case I did both. I spent a bunch of money on recording and mixing, then launched a successful Kickstarter in order to get compensated for my initial outlay. This process typically cost around $3-4K, but it really depends on who you choose to help you and how much they decide to charge.
After doing the recording and the mixing, I realized there was a whole other step that I’d previously been completely unaware of: mastering. This is obvious to any musician who has recorded before, but for me it was net new knowledge and showed just how inexperienced I truly was.
Mastering has meant a lot of things over the years, but to oversimplify it, these days it involves making the recording louder and more aesthetically appealing across a variety of devices and listening environments. If you are lucky, this process will only cost several hundred dollars for a few songs.
After this, I had to figure out how to distribute the music. There are many awesome self-serve sites such as Bandcamp and Gumroad that allow you to do this relatively easily, and they only take a small cut. But in addition to using these, I also wanted my work to appear on major distribution platforms such iTunes and Amazon.
To make that happen, I had to use a digital distribution company. There are several of them out there that have gained traction over the years — most prominently, CDBaby, Tunecore, and Distrokid. I spent a lot of time poring over the differences between these sites — their strengths, weaknesses, and pricing. Ultimately I elected to go with CD Baby (here’s my album on their site) for the following reasons:
1) Longevity – Once you sign up with one of these sites, your music’s continued presence in online stores depends on the service’s existence. So for instance, if you signed up for Distrokid to get your music onto iTunes, and Distrokid goes out of business next year, your music is gone (as are all the associated links). CD Baby has been in existence for nearly 20 years. They are proven, and likely not going out of business anytime soon. Also: Once you upload an album, you never need to pay another fee again (although you do need to give up 9% of all sales – a pretty substantial number that Distrokid does not charge).
2) Customer service – Sure, it’s not the most advanced or quick customer service in the world, but CD Baby actually has a customer service line where you can call and speak to a real person. For someone like myself who was just starting out in this field, it was helpful to have.
3) Tunecore and Distrokid are sketchy – Tunecore has had issues with musicians putting their music up on YouTube and I just found Distrokid’s interface to be lacking polish and some really basic features (as an example, you can’t cancel your Distrokid yearly subscription unless you email them). I very well may end up using Distrokid down the line because it is so simple and cheap, but I didn’t want to try it for my maiden voyage.
Ultimately, I’m happy with the EP’s presence out in the world and grateful for the support of all the people who helped make it possible. I hope you enjoy it.