Sunday, October 20, 2013

How to Release Music on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and Google Play with DistroKid

Songwriters have been recording and mixing down music in their bedrooms since the late 1970s, when 4-track cassette ministudio recorders such as the TEAC Portastudio first became available. As home studio technology matured and made the transition to digital in the mid to late 1990s and beyond, sound quality kept improving to the point where bedroom recordings began to rival the sound of professional studios. Combined with the Internet as a cheap distribution channel, home studio technology has given aspiring artists a terrific opportunity to get their music heard by listeners across the globe over the past 15 years.

TEAC Portastudio, launched in 1979.

But selling that music? That's been a tougher nut to crack. For someone without a record company contract, making an album widely available for sale has traditionally been a complicated and costly process. As music sales shifted from brick-and-mortar record stores to online music retailers, the barrier to entry remained high. Not impossible, but difficult enough to dissuade all but the most determined of amateur musicians. This situation slowly began to improve with the launch of services such as CD Baby and TuneCore, but the question remained: Why can't the process of releasing music for sale on iTunes be as easy as uploading to YouTube?

Well, now it is. Enter DistroKid, a new service launched earlier this month by Philip Kaplan (aka "Pud") -- whom Internet old-timers will remember as the guy behind, the site that hilariously chronicled the original dot com bust. A musician, programmer, and entrepreneur, Kaplan built the site singlehandedly over the period of a year.

DistroKid allows musicians to upload and release an unlimited number of songs to iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Spotify for a flat $19.99 annual fee, while retaining all royalties. That's a pretty great deal compared to TuneCore and CD Baby which charge $49 per album per year. (CD Baby even takes a 9% cut of sales revenue.)

But DistroKid's killer feature is its ridiculous ease of use: Just upload artwork and audio files -- and within a couple of days, your music is available for purchase and streaming across all four online music retailers. Sales reports are provided on a monthly basis, and payment is made via PayPal.

To test the service, I decided to upload an album I recorded about 10 years ago:

iTunes | Amazon | Google Play | Spotify

DistroKid doesn't offer many frills: The site just provides the bare-bones functionality needed to get the job done. If you want to make changes to an album, you'll need to delete it and upload a new version. (For some reason, album delete requests take much longer to be reflected in the online stores -- as much as a full week.)

I couldn't find any obvious bugs in the site, but I did identify one security risk: The site's account setup and login screens are not protected by an HTTPS connection, which means that your password will be sent in the clear. For that reason, I wouldn't recommend signing up or logging in from a wireless access point that is open to the public. (Thankfully, the credit card payment screens are secure.) [UPDATE 10/23/13: Users can force a secure login connection by going to Kaplan says he is working on a fix that will redirect all users to a secure login connection.]

All in all, DistroKid is a terrific online service for musicians. It's inspired me to start recording again. I highly recommend it.