IntroductionISA Putting Your Songs On The Web
This is one of a series of short and very simplified articles, designed to improve your understanding of the songwriting business. If you know little or nothing about the industry, might we suggest that you first click on the Songwriting The Basics button at the top of this page, and continue on from there?
And remember, if having read this or any other article, you have a query, simply email us HERE and we will be more than happy to respond.
There are three important factors to consider if you want to put your songs on the web - Credibility, Money and Time. Jim Liddane examines the several options available to you.
Let's be honest about it - to us, songwriting is an obsession sort of like golf, but to the general public, it is a lucrative obsession, where everybody makes lots of money.
Now, if I tell somebody I play golf - they are unlikely to ask if I will be playing in the British Open this year. They accept that not everybody who plays golf is necessarily up to Tiger Woods standard.
But if I say I write songs - I will nearly always get the inevitable "well what have you written that I would know?" reply.
How much more effective if I could turn around and say - "I write songs and you can listen to and buy my stuff on www.jimliddane.com".
And why? Because even the man on the Clapham Omnibus knows that the music industry is increasingly web-orientated, and if Elvis is up there, and Jim is up there - then Jim just has to be a serious player. (Even if I'm not).
But ego-tripping apart, it makes sense to be out on the same pitch where all the other stars (and wannabe stars) are to be found.
And of course, it also helps if you can point a music publisher or record label or recording act, to your own website or space on the cloud, where your songs are available for perusal. And of course, when they ask you for a link, you do not want to appear to be a complete technophobe.
A songwriter not having his songs in any form on the web is like a footballer turning up for a trial with Manchester United, saying that he does not own any football boots.
So that's a "yes" anyway.
People can sell their songs on the web - in fact some people make quite a living doing nothing but that. So if there is money to be made up there - why not grab some of it?
And there's a second yes.
But then the web may also cost something - either to put up your own site, or to press some product to sell on a third party site. I say usually because a lot of cloud storage operators offer some initial free space nowadays, although you will not usually get to do much editing of your description on their platform.
So, perhaps a qualified maybe?
Being on the web can become an obsession of its own unless you remember what you are there for in the first place.
This may be the biggest problem believe it or not.
You are a songwriter - you write songs. Anything which interferes with your writing songs is a no-no, and if running the website becomes such an end in itself that the songwriting part goes clean out of the window, then you are in trouble.
Up to now, you had product but no shop-front.
But it is just as bad to have the shop-front, but no product.
I still think "yes" as long as being the owner of your song website does not prevent you from writing songs!
Well there you have it - some plusses and some minuses - but somebody is going to have to make a call, so I will.
On balance, I think any songwriter planning a long-term career, should be at least examining his/her web options - and given it is getting mighty crowded out there - sooner rather than later.
But remember, lots and lots of amateur songwriters going nowhere, are on the web.
A lot of professionals who are somewhere, have never even thought of bothering.
The web may be a means to the end - but it is not the end itself.
So What Next?
Well if you have already decided in the negative - read no further while the rest of us look at the options for launching you and your songs into cyberspace.
(1) Put Up A Full-Fledged Site which you own and you operate. If that is your intention, skip the next few lines and go straight down to "Learn HTML".
(2) Get A Facebook Page which is not quite as versatile as having your own site, but lots of songwriters go down this route.
(3) Get Some Free Storage which you probably have already anyway, with somebody like DropBox perhaps. You will have little or no control over this, but it allows you to put your songs up there where people can get at them to hear what it is you have to offer.
Well, you need no help from us with 2 or 3 - so let us concentrate on Number 1 - setting up your own site. And here, you have lots of options, so we will deal with just a few.
(1) Learn HTML (computer-speak for the language - not necessarily HTML either - needed to create a site), and produce your own web site.
(2) Use A Program which more or less builds the site for you without you having to know anything about HTML.
(3) Hire An Expert (hereafter referred to as a "webmaster") to do it all for you.
(4) Join A Site which allows the public to listen to your music for free (or to download it for a fee), or else a site which allows people to purchase your CDs from the site, to be delivered through the post.
Option 1 - Learn HTML
This seems the obvious route to go down, but unless you are a quick learner, it may prove a bridge too far time-wise.
Having said that, a large number of ISA members do it themselves, with varying degrees of success, and we know more than a few ten year olds who have learned enough HTML (or whatever) to launch some pretty impressive sites. (Having said that, they can probably also program VHS machines. Remember them?)
Learning HTML (or whatever) means you can do almost anything you want to - when you want to.
It will be the cheapest option. Also, every time the internet comes up with a new gizmo, you can easily adapt your site to include it.
Option 2 - Use A Program
This the option which the ISA picked originally for its own site, and it worked for us.
It means however, that you will not be able to do everything you might want, as you may be limited by the scope of the program chosen (although MS Front Page for example, more or less allows you to do most of the things you could ever possibly want). And there are loads of free site-building programs out there also, some of which even offer free hosting for small sites.
Not all of the professional site-building programs are cheap, although if you already have a full Microsoft Office suite for example, then MS Publisher is bundled in there with it and that can produce reasonable websites.
Option 3 - Hire An Expert
This will usually cost money. The advantage of using a webmaster is speed, and having things more or less as you want them.
The downside is that you can pay anything from hundreds to thousands of pounds - unless of course, you have a computer-literate friend who is willing to assist - but then, you will need him close by (initially anyway) every time you need to update the site.
Option 4 - Join An Existing Site
This will cost less - but your own scope will be limited. Usually you will just get a personal photo, and a picture of your album artwork, plus perhaps a few lines about yourself.
On the other hand, somebody else will be doing all the technical stuff, and as long as you have product to sell (so that the site can earn its percentage), you will be ahead of the game, because usually, just two or three sales will cover all your initial costs.
All prices, terms and conditions quoted from now on are subject to change, so check each site out first before making a decision. Prices, terms and conditions quoted here are as of January 2014.
And having said that, let us all kneel down and adore Derek Seivers.
Back in 1997, Derek Seivers, a young musician in Woodstock, New York, tried to find somebody to sell his newly recorded CD on the internet - and failed. And thus began one of rock's strangest, and most wonderful inventions - CD Baby.
Now, most songwriters would have waited for somebody else to invent the wheel - but not Derek.
Within a year, he had a website up and running, selling not only his own CD, but also recordings made by other bands and writers. Initially, he ran the operation on his own, riding down to the local post office on his bike carrying the day's orders, but by the end of 1998, he had his first employee (John Steup - currently CD Baby VP) and one hundred acts available online.
But that was then and this is now (to coin a phrase), and today, CD Baby has over 50 staff, operates from a huge warehouse complex in Portland, Oregon (Woodstock apparently being too cold in winter ), and with no fewer than 105,000 different artists on its books.
To date, it has sold over two million CDs - and more importantly, has paid out more than fifteen million dollars to songwriters and musicians worldwide.
Not bad for a hobby which turned into a sideline, and ended up as the largest outlet for independent CDs on the internet.
Since then, there have been imitators - you can offer your CD on Amazon.com nowadays for example, (although they will charge you an arm and a leg for the privilege), but CD Baby remains unrivalled in its field.
So how does it work? And, more important, how much does it cost?
Well first off, you need to have five copies (at least), of your CD available before going on the site.
The CD does not have to be professionally recorded, but obviously, if is is not up to par, it will simply not sell.
It does not have to be shrink-wrapped, or have a bar-code (although if you have one, CD Baby will report your sales figure to SoundScan for chart purposes), nor does the artwork have to be professional (although in our opinion - good artwork will help.)
All you need is a quality product in any style - CD Baby has sections devoted to Blues, Classical, Country, Easy Listening, Electronic, Folk, Gospel, Hip Hop/Rap, Jazz, Kids/Family, Latin, Metal, New Age. Pop, Rock, Spoken Word, and Urban/R&B.
But get one thing straight. Much of the product up on CD Baby may be by names you have never heard of - but most of it is very very good indeed.
Secondly, you need to decide on a resale price for your offering, keeping in mind that no matter what price you set, CD Baby will deduct a flat $4 per album sold by them. Obviously, prices differ on the site - some people are selling full albums (even doubles), while others are offering four track recordings, but on average, most prices we looked at seemed to be in the $10-$12 range.
Then, when you are ready to go, just click on http://www.cdbaby.com/ and take it from there.
First off, you fill in a form, which asks the usual details, and also requires you give an address to which cheques can be sent. (CD Baby pays weekly!).
Once past that page, you get asked about your CD and how you think you would like it promoted.
Finally, you are requested to send a one-off payment of $35 plus five CDs to Portland.
So what happens next?
Well, when your package arrives at CD Baby, they open one CD, and use that to digitise your recording (more about that later), and scan your cover artwork.
Next, they create a web page for your album, which includes sound clips of selected songs, reviews, and any text you would like included. They also include links back to your own site, if you have one.
Then, your album is entered into their onsite search engine (this site remember gets over one million hits a week!), and if somebody likes what they hear, they can order either online, or by phone (CD Baby even offers a toll-free number for orders).
Finally, each time an album is sold, CD Baby sends you an e-mail telling you who bought it, and whenever you like - they send you a cheque to cover sales to date.
One thing worth remembering is that CD Baby is not a label - it is an online record store, so there are no contracts to sign. You give up no rights whatsoever, and the arrangement is strictly non-exclusive, so you can go on to sell on as many other sites as you wish, and sign the album with any record label or music publisher who is willing to sign you up.
Earlier, I mentioned that CD Baby digitise each album as it comes in, and if you wish, you can also allow CD Baby to put your music on such legitimate music services as Apple iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, MSN Music, MP3tunes, AOL's MusicNet etc.
In return, CD Baby gets to keep 9 cents out of every dollar earned by your downloads - while you get to keep 91 cents!
However, as you cannot have multiple digital distributors, this side of the deal has to be exclusive to CD Baby for that particular album, and of course, all songs must be yours to distribute. In other words, cover versions are out, unless you can arrange to get the rights to use them on your downloaded album.
Frankly, it is hard to find a downside and we have tried. (God knows, we've tried!).
However, it will cost $35 plus the cost of five albums ($5), along with the expense of posting them to the US ($5), to find out if you are going to sell anything or not - and that means the first four albums sold will show little or no profit.
But after that - it is all profit - up to $10 per CD - and that beats anything you have ever earned from a mainstream label.
We do not recommend too many services, but this one is in our view, OK!
CD Baby Free
In September 2014, CD Baby Free was introduced, advertising itself as the new way to get your music online with no setup or annual fees.
The Press Release went as follows:
"You wanted it; you got it: Now you can sell and stream full tracks from your very own CD Baby storefront, share music and make sales with the CD Baby Music Player, and access our suite of promotional tools all for the low signup fee of ZERO.
Well handle sales just like we would with any purchase made from CDBaby.com, which means you get paid weekly. And because there's no setup fee and no renewal fees (we only keep a 15% cut of your sales, which is comparable to similar services), we dont get paid unless you do. There's nothing to lose!"
So those are the two offerings from CD Baby!
Although CD Baby does give you a sort of web presence, it is mainly a method of distributing your product, and not in itself a showcase of everything you can do.
For that, you probably do need your own web site, but before we move away from CD Baby, let's have a quick butchers at its offshoot - Hostbaby - which you can find at http://www.hostbaby.com
First off, this is a complete service - and I do mean complete! Everything you could ever need on a web site, including your own e-mail list mailer, a concert calendar, a guest book, a feedback form, auto-streaming audio, and much much more, is provided, and for a ridiculous low monthly price of just $20 (which equates roughly to just £11.50 sterling every 30 days).
So how does this all work? How simple is it to operate and what does it look like?
Well Hostbaby, claim that anybody can design and upload their first site in less than an hour, without any knowledge of computers simply by using the Hostbaby Wizard, so I thought I'd give it a try!
The Hostbaby Wizard opens a basic layout which starts by asking you some simple questions - such as your name and a slogan or title for your site (let's take "Jim Liddane - The Sound Of Soul" for example).
If "Jim Liddane" has not been registered, then I automatically get to become www.jimliddane.com - which is cute.
Following this, you get asked for contact information (e-mail address, phone numbers, postal address etc) so that your fans can contact you, before the Wizard moves on to the next item, the Calendar.
Now obviously, if you are a performer with the occasional booking, this is the chance to advertise your gigs on the web. But if you are not performing live - you can simply omit this feature from your site, and shuffle on to the News/Journal section.
Here you can pen your own daily diary if you so wish, or simply bring your fans up to speed with the latest news about your songwriting and recording.
Next you get to upload your Graphics. These can be cartoons of yourself, the artwork from your CD, your band logo, or whatever. You do have to have these images on your computer already of course, but uploading them is child's play - simply click a button and your artwork is on the web.
This is followed by your Photo Gallery. Again, you must have the photos on your PC, but once you have, it is just a matter of clicking the button, and there you are for all the world to admire.
Next, you get to show off your Music!
First off, you are asked to name each song, list the performer, and (if you wish) print the lyrics. Then you can upload the song itself.
The recording can be on a WAV, MP3 or FLAC file, and again of course, it has to be already on your computer. It also should be the full-length version but not to worry, because you get to choose exactly how much you wish to make available.
For example, you can simply limit what the visitor can hear of each song you have uploaded by deciding how many seconds he gets to listen to. Not only that, but you can decide which part of the song he gets to hear (e.g. omit the intro - play just the chorus etc).
Alternatively, you can opt for allowing the visitor to listen to (but not download) he whole song on broadband (which is hi-fi) or the whole song on modem or low-fi. (Incidentally, you can also allow the song to be streamed - in other words, to be played continuously - if you so wish). Finally, you can permit the listener to download the whole song if you like.
The important thing to remember is that you are always in complete control of what your visitor can do, and like every other option available - you get it to happen simply by reading a question, and clicking an answer.
Now it is time to write your own biography, and this can be as long or as short as you wish.
Finally, you get to choose the design of your website - in other words the "look".
At this moment, they have about 40 different designs available - Hostbaby say they paid top website designers $25,000 for these templates - and some of them are remarkably good.
As you look through each design, you can click a button allowing you to see what your site would look like if you choose that layout, and you can further vary these layouts by changing such things as the colours, typefaces used etc.
Incidentally, you also get your own e-mail service included, so no need to use Yahoo, or Hotmail or AOL any more, and you get an impressive e-mail address - something like email@example.com
Eventually (or 50 minutes later on my experiment), you get to click the magic word "Publish", and lo and behold, you are up there for all to admire (or indeed, mock).
Once up, you get a professional webserver logs showing every detail of people visiting your, site - how many hits per day, the most popular pages, what they were searching for at Google when they found you, what they downloaded, and more.
If you want to see some examples of what other writers have done using Hostbaby, try
So, that's the bumf, but how does it rate?
Well, the sites generally look great, and for under £12 a month (which is after all, only 40p a day), this has to be great value. It is also so simple to get started. As long as you can type - you can generate a web site.
Like CD Baby, Hostbaby has been very thoroughly designed, to do what it says on the box, and do it without too much hassle.
I must say - I was impressed!
Up to now, we have looked at putting yourself on the web, selling your CDs through CD Baby, or setting up your own dedicated website via Hostbaby. But of course, there are so many other sites to put your songs om - so - let's surf!
And no sooner will this list be on our site, than half of them will have disappeared!
It is a competitive business, so be prepared for no-shows! Be also prepared to have a site die suddenly, and make sure you have a copy of everything you put up there originally. Do NOT treat these sites as storage!
Soundclick.com was established in 1997, and unlike CD Baby, it features both major signed acts such as Janet Jackson and Phil Collins, as well as new unsigned artists. At last count, it offered almost one and a half million songs for download, which makes it a very substantial operation indeed.
Soundclick's free services include
· artist page
· unlimited song uploads
· private message board
· gig calendar
while, if you pay a monthly fee of $9.95, you get additional features thrown in, such as flash page, ad-free, background radio, 320 kbps mp3 option, 40MB/song uploads, deep-linking etc.
Incidentally, they offer an extra service which promotes your site and your music, starting at $4.95 per month, but the important thing to remember is that if you like - you can simply pay nothing - upload your music, and take it from there.
Music must be in MP3 format - but not to worry - Soundclick offers free MusicMatch software, which converts your music to MP3 format, and is very simple.
Upside It is a well-organised, long-established site. It is also free, and the presence of name acts like Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel should attract more potential buyers than most download operations. It is also simple to get going and with a number of major labels working with the site - then if you get onto the Soundclick charts which are compiled on the number of people who log on to play your song - you may very well get noticed by a big player.
Downside It is not so much a commercial as a promotional site, so opportunities for making money directly are more limited although there is a good shop facility.
Moyst.com is one of the newer sites which offers downloads for sale in both song and ringtone format.
This site is free to join, and each ringtone or song downloaded (which costs the music fan £1.50) earns you 20p. The more you sell, then the higher up the Moyst Unsigned chart you get, and on a weekly basis Moyst will submit the Top 10 to their database of record labels, publishers and management outfits.
Songs can be submitted in any form you wish, though obviously, if you want to submit on the web, you should have the material on MP3. However, unlike a lot of sites, Moyst accepts postal submissions also.
Upside You can make money from your songs, and if you are successful, your work will get noticed, and get promoted.
Downside At 20p a song, you will not get rich overnight, but as you have no overheads whatsoever - it is all profit.
TrackSeller.com offers writers who have a website, the opportunity of enabling downloads of their songs via a third party.
TrackSeller charge no set-up costs, there are no monthly costs and no registration fees. You can register an unlimited number of songs and files with Trackseller at no cost and you can charge what you like, with TrackSeller taking just 11.5% for each real sale you make.
(Technically you do not even need a website of your own, because there is a search facility on the TrackSeller site which enables anybody who knows you have a song on the site, to look for it and but it directly).
Upside Free to join, and the percentage you get to keep (88.5%) is generous.
Downside We think you really do also need a separate website of your own. TrackSeller is possibly more suited for those who do not want the hassle of operating a download and cash-collecting system on their own site. It is not all that simple to get started although TrackSeller claims you could have the first song up and available for sale in less than two hours.
Broadjam.com is closer to Hostbaby.com than any other site we've seen. It is not free, but for $19.95 a month, you can
Sell your music downloads from your own website
Use your own domain name (such as www.jimliddane.com)
Host up to 250 songs with unlimited streaming
Post 50 photos, 30 albums and 8 videos, and offer song downloads for sale at 99 cents each, of which you get to keep 80 cents.
Like Hostbaby, you simply choose a template for their library, and off you go. The templates incidentally, are well-designed.
Upside Nice site, nice templates, and a very generous 80% royalty.
Downside Although you are there to sell your songs as downloads, any visitor to the site can play your tune in full (there are no 30-second previews) before buying. In our opinion, people who can play the song in full anytime they like, are not as likely to buy a download unless they really want to be able to carry the song around with them.
The songwriting world has changed dramatically since 1995, and nowadays, every writer can easily sell their product on a world-wide marketplace. However, you have to remember that the web is changing daily, it is impossible to guarantee the success, or indeed longevity, of any site. Meanwhile, why not check out the above, and while you're at it, click on a few more as well - sites such as
But Suppose You Threw A Party And Nobody Came?
Now, when I was a kid, there was a very popular advertising campaign based on the premise - "Suppose you gave a party, and nobody came?"
Trouble is - I cannot recall what grievous sin the hostess had committed (nor indeed what product the catch-phrase advertised), but at least the slogan itself was memorable enough to inspire the Hy Averback 1970 movie Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? Which brings me tortuously to thoday's poser - "Suppose You Launched A Website But Nobody Visited?".
Now I have no idea just how many websites are up there in cyberspace, but let's try a little simple experiment.
Type the word "songwriter" into Google, and you will get multi-million results (and no Virginia, I am not confused by all the zeros!)
Now given that Google carries ten results per page, it is clear that if you end up in the first hundred - then your site will be found in the first ten pages (which is about as far as anybody is likely to keep searching for you - if even that).
On the other hand, if you end up in the last hundred, then you will either be parked somewhere around page four million which means that your website might as well be positioned on the dark side of the moon for all the likelihood that anybody will ever find it, or worse still, your site will not be listed at all, even though your site does actually exist.
And of course, since most people use a Search Engine to find the sites they want - then obviously, if you are not listed, or are listed too far down - you have a real problem.
So, Rule 1 - you have to be listed by the top Search Engines - and as far up as you can.
First, it is essential to understand how Google (and other Search Engines), decide which sites to list - and where to list them.
Search Engines want to carry the most interesting and the most relevant sites on their early pages, so that their readers will end up on the pages which will be of most value to them.
Google finds sites initially through its "spider" - which every day, trawls the web looking for new sites, and then rating them. (This means you do not have to submit your site to Google - it will find you anyway.)
Of course the fact that you have been found is no guarantee that you will be listed, but
(a) if your site is well written
(b) is relevant to the subject
(c) has plenty of content
you are certain of a listing somewhere.
However, what pushes you up the Search Engone charts, is a link to your site from another site which has already proved its popularity on that Search Engine.
Now why - you are probably wondering - would a link from another site help?
Well as I said earlier, Google and the other Search Engines want to provide the most relevant leads for their clients and if a site already listed by the Search Engine and which is relevant in content to your site, is providing its readers with a link to your site, then the Engine begins to think your site must be worthwhile. And if that is the case, that Engine will want to list you as well.
And if the site providing the link to you is already a highly-rated site, then your site's value in the eyes of that Engine, will be so much higher again.
So, how do you get a link from a top-rated relevant site? (Relevance is very important. A link from an irrelevant site will not help near as much).
Just ask politely! It works wonders - it costs you nothing, and you might even get a result!
Of course, not every popular site may be willing to link, particularly when it dawns on them that your site is not yet listed at all - but if you can get just one top site to provide the link, you are in business and it is worth making the effort because if you are not listed, then you are dead in the water.
So, apart from that good link, what else helps you to get (or to lose) a high position on a Search Engine?
(1) Content helps. Lots and lots of it.
(2) Frames do not help. Spiders hate them.
(3) Flash does not help - at least on your front page. By all means use it inside if you have to, but I would not use it at all.
(4) Hidden or Cloaked Text does not help. Apparently it used to work but now, the Search Engines penalise you if they catch you at it.
(5) Over-Submission does not help. If you don't want to wait for the spiders to find you, by all means submit your site manually, but use that facility very sparingly.
(6) Gateway Pages do not work. Think you can to fool the Search Engines by designing a front page specially for them which then goes on to link to another site altogether? They're wise to that!
(7) Password-Protected Pages, or Java Applets or putting Adobe Acrobat files on your front page may look good but some Search Engines are unable to index such material.
(8) Link Farms can penalise you. Sites which exist to link hundreds of sites to yours for a fee, have little or no content, and the links are usually not relevant to each other. They only get you heavily penalised.
Getting a high rating takes time, but it is not just worth it - it is essential. Without a high ranking, you really are wasting your time on the internet.
So that's it - and we have only touched briefly upon the subject.
But like riding a bike - the best way to learn is not to buy a book on the subject, but to plank your backside on the saddle, and pedal like hell.
So get going!
ISA International Songwriters Association (1967) Ltd
PO Box 46 Limerick City Ireland Tel 061-228837 Fax 061-2288379
ISA Website http://www.songwriter.co.uk Editorial E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org
International Songwriters Association Limited
Registered In Dublin, Ireland Company Number 38917
Registered Address High Chaperal, Raheen Heights, Limerick City, Ireland
Postal Address PO Box 46, Limerick City, Ireland