Cheap tools to help independent musicians sell their music online are proliferating like mushrooms after a rainstorm: last month I wrote about Audiolife, which gives bands an online store to sell CDs and merchandise with absolutely no up-front costs (they take a cut of sales as you make them). Since then, Audiolife was kind enough to send me a sample CD and t-shirts, and they look and sound adequately professional--certainly fine for independent musicians on a limited budget, although nobody's going to confuse them with the deluxe version of the latest U2 album.
Upload your files to iTunes and other major online music stores with no up-front costs.
But Audiolife's download store is a little weak: instead of placing your songs in Apple's iTunes store--which accounts for more than 80 percent of online music sales--and other high-profile venues like Amazon's MP3 store, Audiolife creates a widget that you can place on your own Web page or social-networking site. That's fine if you've got a lot of fans already visiting your Web site. But what about more general music fans who often shop for music online, but wouldn't go out of their way to go to your Web site--think friends of friends, or music lovers who read about new bands online or in a paper. Do you really want them to come up blank when they run a search on iTunes?
CD Baby and Tunecore already offer digital distribution through iTunes and other stores, but both of them charge you money whether you make a sale or not. In contrast, U.K.-based RouteNote charges you nothing until you make a sale, at which point they take a 10 percent cut of whatever the store pays out.
Specifics: CDBaby charges you a one-time set-up fee of $35 (which covers setting up a store for physical CDs as well), then takes 9 percent of digital download revenues. TuneCore, which does digital distribution only (no CDs) charges you $20 a year for each album they stock, but takes no cut. So on a straight numbers basis, RouteNote's a better deal than CD Baby for digital-only distribution, and a better deal than TuneCore if you expect to sell low volumes of downloads. Of course, there are a lot of other factors to consider, like customer service and speed of submission to iTunes and the other stores, but RouteNote looks like it's worth checking out.
Matt Rosoff is an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, where he covers Microsoft's consumer products and corporate news. He's written about the technology industry since 1995, and reviewed the first Rio MP3 player for CNET.com in 1998. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network. Disclosure.