When the iTunes Store first opened its doors, it let musical artists of all genres sell to the buying public – whether they had a record deal or not. In the 12 years since, it’s grown to become one of the biggest and most recognisable names in music retail.
It’s open to anyone (although Apple retains the right to ‘approve’ each application), and as it forms the backbone of many national charts that means it’s finally possible for solo back-bedroom composers to score a number one hit.
Here, we’ll guide you through the process of signing up and encoding your music so it’s ready to go on sale.
Getting started: using an aggregator to deal with Apple
You can sell your music direct through the store or work through an aggregator, which will handle the business side of things, deal with Apple on your behalf and hand over a share of the takings while keeping a cut for their efforts. They can simultaneously submit your work to Google Play, Amazon MP3, Spotify and more, leaving you free to spend your time working on new tracks.
If you’re happy to earn lower overall royalties and sell this way, then stop reading right here, check out Apple’s list of approved music aggregators and follow the links to the one that best suits your needs.
Getting started: dealing with Apple yourself
If you want to keep all of your proceeds – minus Apple’s 30% cut – you’ll need to deal direct, which is a little more involved. Read on.
If you prefer not to handle the admin side of the business yourself, sign up to sell your music through an aggregator and you can spend your time recording instead.
Encoding your music for iTunes
Apple will handle encoding your music for download, but you do need to supply it with the best quality source material to use as a starting point. Aim for 24-bit 96kHz resolution files or better (and certainly nothing below 16-bit 44.1kHz). Be sure to read Apple’s Mastered for iTunes documentation before encoding anything, as this is full of useful technical information explaining how best to record and present your work.
Apple is on hand to help out on the software front, with a range of tools that simplifies the task of encoding for the Store. The Master for iTunes Droplet, included in the software bundle, allows you to drag your source files onto an icon, at which point it will convert them to iTunes Plus format (256kbps, AAC Variable Bit Rate).
Apple's free Mastered for iTunes bundle includes the tools you’ll need to use to encode your music for sale on the Store.
Signing up to sell via iTunes
Any music you sell through the Store will be tied to your Apple ID. You’ll probably have one already for downloading from Apple’s App, Music and iBookstores, and you can use this for selling music on the condition that it’s not being used to sell any other media apart from TV content or films. If you’re already using it to sell books or apps you’ll have to sign up for a second ID.
Apple will need your bank details so it can pay you royalties, and also a US tax number so it can report your earnings to the IRS. You can register for a tax number online or by calling +1 267 941 1099 between 6am and 11pm Eastern Time (11am to 4am GMT).
You’ll be given the tax number on the spot, with confirmation coming later by post, accompanied by a simple tax return that you’ll need to submit at the end of the financial year. You can register for a number as an individual or company, but can’t change between the two once you’ve got your number, so choose carefully as it’s under that name that you’ll be listed on iTunes.
Once you have your Apple ID and US tax number in hand, you can apply to join iTunes Connect and sell your content through the Store.
You need a US tax number before you can sell through the Store. You can obtain one online or by phone from the IRS.
Get ready for the catalogue
You’ll need to apply for a UPC (Universal Product Code), which acts like the ISBN numbers you’ll have seen on the backs of books, and is used by outlets to track their stock. You won’t have ‘stock’ as such – just an infinitely replicable file – but iTunes and others still need to know which file to associate with each download, hence the UPC.
Apple uses UPCs to identify complete albums, and you’ll need a different UPC for each album that you upload. You’ll also need an International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) for each song within the album. You can apply for an ISRC online in the UK by first registering as a PPL recording rights holder and raising a query through your online account. Outside of the UK, you’ll find links to the various national registration agencies through the ISRC site.
Each track needs to be uniquely identified. UK artists can apply for ISRC numbers by signing up to PRS.
Uploading your content to iTunes
With your account approved and all of your IDs ready, you’re set up to start sending your content to the store. To do this, you’ll need to use iTunes Producer, which is a free download from your iTunes Connect account. Point your browser at http://itunesconnect.apple.com/, log in using the Apple ID through which you’ll be selling your music and click Resources and Help. You’ll find the download link close to the bottom of the page.
Everything you upload to iTunes needs to be sent as an ‘album’, even if it’s only a single track. Select the source of your content from the options – CD, audio files or data – and point iTunes Producer to the file or disc containing the material you want to sell. Now use the forms within the iTunes Producer screens to provide the data Apple requires in order to include your upload in its catalogue. It provides comprehensive guidance on how to fill out each section in its guide to using iTunes Producer for music.
Selling through the store – and tracking your revenue once you're on sale – is all done through an iTunes Connect account.
Tracking sales and commission
The best thing about uploading your work to iTunes is that you’ll reach a wider audience. The second best thing is earning royalties.
Once you’ve delivered your album and it goes on sale, it will appear in the iTunes Connect dashboard, where you can track downloads and, crucially, earnings over time.
Here are some other ways to make money via Apple: