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How To Get Your Music On Internet Radio

If you’re an independent musician trying to get or stay heard, you don’t have to be told how rapidly and thoroughly the music industry is transforming. In many ways, the internet set the music-loving public free of the corporate airwaves: online radio streaming services have made exponential amounts of songs available, which means that listeners have the opportunity to hear a much wider variety of songs than on their local Clear Channel affiliate. (Not that you have any luck getting on the radio as an unsigned band anyway.) A 2007 survey found that even four years ago, up to 19% of U.S. consumers 12 and older listened to Web-based radio stations. And it's not just early adopters or rabid fans, either: the massive growth of services like Last.FM, Rdio, Spotify and Pandora in American culture is real. This means that luckily, as old-school FM radio declines and the saturation of online streaming music services expands, today’s indie artists have opportunities to promote their music unlike any other in history. So how do you make sure that your band’s music gets heard?

Conclusion? If you want people to listen to your music, you need to be thinking about how to get it on these services. Each of the top online streaming radio services has their own requirements and processes that govern what music they accept and how to submit it. Read on for specific information on how to get your music played on today’s most popular online stations and distribution channels, including Pandora, Last.fm, Rdio, Spotify, and the iTunes store.

Pandora: The original king of internet radio, Pandora has been around in some form (it grew out of a group called the Music Genome Project) since 2000. When it went public in June 2011, Pandora could draw from 80,000 artists and 800,000 tracks in its library to construct custom playlists for over 80 million users on the site. It’s not easy to get in, but once your music is on Pandora it can mean tens of thousands of listens (and all the publicity that comes along with those ears). It's everywhere. So how do you get a slice of that pie?

Well, you’re not the only one who wants in, and Pandora is pretty selective about who they add to their “curated” collection (read: don't get your hopes up). Or as they say on their site, Pandora tries “to balance a knowledgeable and fair evaluation of the submission's value to our collection with what we know and can predict about the interests of our listeners and the current state of Pandora stations."

Here’s how you do it. You have to have these things to submit to Pandora: a full-length CD and a unique UPC code for that CD (and the legal rights to it). The catch for many indie musicians is that your CD must be available on Amazon as a physical CD, and for the name of each track to be listed in the “Track Listing” section on the page.

Once you’re done with that, it’s easy: just start or log in to a Pandora account and submit two tracks. (Two. Not one, not four.) If they like it, they’ll get in touch with you for a hard copy and to work out the legalese. You can only submit one album at a time (and you have to wait sixth months to try again), so agonize over your choices.

Last.FM: This one’s a piece of cake compared to many of the other online stations: all you have to do to get your tracks up on LastFM is create an account, set up a label or artist account (at last.fm/uploadmusic) and then, well, upload your music! While registering you have to select how and if you wish to be paid for listens on the site. Really, the main risk you run is that somebody will have already taken the name you want, so even if you’re not ready to upload music yet it might be worth the time to stake your claim if you have a the perfect moniker in mind.

Rdio, Rhapsody, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify: You’ve Gotta Have An Aggregator

Many of the big streaming services - particularly the ones that are owned by big-media parent companies - require that you either have a label or some sort of contract with a distributor or aggregator before they’ll accept your music. Basically, they want a more established third party in there to funnel them new music.

Every one of these online distributors has its own particular business model, pricing structure and distribution network. For instance, some distributors charge a flat fee, some charge a fee and a percentage, some are “free” but require you to purchase a UPC code through them, some give you more control or less control over where your music ends up, etc etc etc. You just have to figure out which one jibes with your goals as a musician and businessperson.

Rdio only gets its music from INgrooves, Iris, The Orchard, Fontana Distribution, RED Distribution, ADA, IODA, Finetunes, Merlin, AWAL, and Oseao.

Spotify has deals to get its music with these distributors: CDBaby, Record Union, Ditto Music, AWAL, The state51 Conspiracy, Emubands, Zimbalam, Tunecore, and La Cúpula.

If you want to get your stuff on Rhapsody, you also have to go through a distributor — they recommend CDBaby, the Internet Online Distribution Alliance, and The Orchard, but whichever distributor you choose seems like it should be fine as long as they own the distribution rights for more than 1000 songs.

To get in the iTunes store — the #1 music vendor in US — you also need a distributor unless you happen to own more than twenty albums. Apple’s approved aggregators are Virtual Label, Catapult, CDBaby, IDEA, Avatar, Ingrooves, Tunecore, IODA, Iris, Redeye Distribution, and The Orchard. (There’s a chart on the Apple site that explains which of these distributors offer variable track pricing, pre-cut ringtones, and whether they accept individual artists.)

It's a pretty bewildering array of options, but they're all options - opportunities for you to get your music in front of likeminded strangers that wouldn't get to experience it otherwise. Few people love spending hours setting up and tweaking profiles, but your success in the brave new world of label-free music promotion depends on familiarizing yourself with these options for exposure. (And keeping your ear to the ground for the next important way to get heard.)

For more tech news related to indie artists, see "Are Music Cloud Services Good For Indie Artists" and "Free Music Apps For Your iPhone You Need to Know About."

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