The Independent Musician’s Guide to Selling Music on Amazon

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The Independent Musician's Guide to Selling Music on Amazon

Amazon is the world’s largest online retailer and has the fastest-growing streaming service. Here’s how to selling music on Amazon.

Why Amazon?

As an independent musician, you want to make it as easy as possible for people to find, stream and buy your music. Therefore you should look at every marketplace that you can find as an opportunity for you to get your music heard, listened to, and bought by prospective fans. Amazon is currently the world’s largest online retailer, the second-largest retailer of any kind, and is set to overtake Walmart for the top position by 2022.

The Independent Musician’s Guide to Selling Music on Amazon

However, more importantly, Amazon also has its Amazon Music Unlimited streaming service, which is the world’s third-leading music streaming service with a 13% subscriber market share and, according to Forbes magazine, is the fastest-growing streaming service. Additionally, Amazon Prime also has a bundled music streaming service—which is much more limited and entirely curated by Amazon itself, so there’s no guaranteed way of getting your music onto Amazon Prime. The Amazon streaming service(s) are particularly important because music streams now account for about 80% of music revenue, with the remainder more or less evenly split between digital downloads and physical sales. Having your music on Amazon’s music streaming services could, therefore, represent a major chunk of your streaming revenue.

Digital Distribution to the Amazon Music Store

The relatively easy part is getting your music into the Amazon Music store for digital download. Digital distribution in the 21st Century has become a breeze thanks to various digital distribution services set up specifically to help independent artists get their music onto digital stores such as Amazon, iTunes and so on.. Some of the major players include CDBaby, Tunecore, Distrokid, AWAL, Horus Music, Landr and many more that also offer comparable distribution options. 

Choosing the right distribution service for your needs and means is one of the most important decisions you will make as an independent musician because they all have different pricing and royalty payment structures. These range from one-time up-front payments, to annual fees, to the division of royalties. While an exhaustive analysis of the different distribution services is well beyond the scope of this article, it definitely pays to do a little bit of due diligence research to analyze the costs and benefits of these services and to make the right choice for yourself.

Distribution to the Amazon Streaming Service(s)

The distribution services mentioned above also handle distribution to Amazon’s streaming service(s). However, Amazon Music Unlimited has begun requiring mechanical licenses before they allow content to become available on the platform and also to make sure that all royalty payments are in order. In order to do this, they work with licensing organizations such as Music Reports, Inc. and The Harry Fox Agency to obtain licenses. Therefore, it may be necessary for you to be registered with a Publishing Rights Organization (PRO) to ensure that Amazon can get the correct license and that the publisher—who is you if you are an independent musician—will receive all publishing royalties, which includes both performance royalties as well as mechanical royalties

In the simplest terms, Amazon wants to make sure that you are indeed the rightful owner of the music you want to be streamed so that it can make sure that everyone who should be getting paid royalties is getting paid.

To make sure that you have all your bases covered you might want to invest in Publishing Administration, which is a service offered by some distributors such as CD Baby and Tunecore. This ensures that your music is properly registered and licensed, thereby ensuring that it makes it onto Amazon Music Unlimited and that you get paid!

Physical Distribution on Amazon

As I mentioned earlier, physical music sales accounted for roughly 10% of total revenue in 2019 and that number is continuing to trend downwards as streaming continues to become the norm. However, as an independent musician, you probably shouldn’t overlook any possible revenue sources, so even if you don’t make physical distribution your number one priority it should definitely be something you look into, especially vinyl records whose sales continue to grow even as CD sales drop.

There are two main ways to distribute physical music to Amazon: through the distribution services mentioned earlier; or directly through Amazon.

Through Distribution Services: Several of the distribution services mentioned earlier, such as CD Baby, AWAL, and Horus Music, offer physical distribution to Amazon in addition to digital distribution and the deals they offer are worth looking into. The main upside of this is that they handle details such as shipping, packing, returns, and so on. Additionally, Amazon requires that all products have UPC codes (the barcodes you see on products) and working with a distribution service means that they handle the legwork of getting those codes for you, for a fee of course.

Directly through Amazon: There are several ways to sell physical media directly through Amazon such as by registering yourself as a seller or through the Media on Demand program. 

Registering yourself as a seller and selling your music directly through Amazon maximizes the profits you’ll get since you’re not paying a distribution service. However, it also raises the overhead costs such as getting those UPC codes, shipping and packaging and so on. You could sign up for the Amazon Advantage Program which helps with marketing by increasing the visibility of your music and makes for more efficient distribution because you ship your physical media to Amazon warehouses rather than to the customers directly. This allows you to ship physical media in bulk, which lowers the per item overheads. However, it’s not a perfect system and whether it’s the right choice for you depends on how many physical media you’re actually going to sell.

Media on Demand program is possibly the most convenient physical distribution option and can be used through distribution services such as Tunecore, but it is also the most limited. Through this program, you upload your digital music to the Amazon Store, and if someone wants to buy a physical CD then Amazon will essentially make the CDs, with your artwork and booklet, and ship them. Naturally, this is a very convenient method of CD distribution through Amazon, but it can’t be used for vinyl which might soon overtake CDs as the physical medium of choice for music listeners.

Is Amazon Right For You?

Amazon is the largest online marketplace on the planet and now also owns one of the largest streaming services in the world. So, from a purely commercial point of view, figuring out the best way to sell, market, promote and stream your music through Amazon is definitely an important consideration. However, if ethical considerations are important to you and the brand you are trying to build for your music, then it may also be necessary to also pay attention to the social impact of Amazon to decide if you want to do business with them. 

Ultimately, the best way to sell your music (or not) on Amazon is by making informed decisions while knowing your options, and hopefully, this guide will get you started.

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