The current model allows artists to sell music directly as well as go to a distribution company directly. In the old model, artists would have to find a record label that will then sell to a distribution label who will then go to retail. The internet and digital downloads have enabled less well known musicians to promote themselves and although they would have less income than artists on a major label (who have direct contact with iTunes and Spotify etc), they can do quite a lot for themselves.
Some musicians have started to use apps on smartphones to their advantage in that it can update people and provide special features that consumers may not get elsewhere. It is the internet however which holds the most power as a promotional tool. For some retailers and distributors it can be problematic as they have to expand their ideas and spend more to get an artist noticed compared to the past where physical formats were the only place to get music.
Within the musical scene I am part of, releasing physical formats is still a route most artists go down. The most widely used method I see is 4/5 track EPs on CD format . As well as getting your recordings onto a CD and selling (or handing out) at a gig near enough every band will also put their music online. In 2013, revenues from online music were higher than CD and vinyl together with 55% to 45%. There is no denying anymore that doing this is going to reach a larger audience and get you more recognition. Most artists will use Soundcloud, Reverbnation and have something linked up to their Facebook so people can listen that way too. Even professional artists use social media sites to promote their work.
The band I’m in now recorded a 4 track EP and put it online (Soundcloud, Reverbnation, Facebook) but no physical copies were made. So, to give it another chance I have taken it down from the internet and will be using one song from it as a single, which I hope will be able to boost the EP when it is re-released on 21/12/13.
The reason I chose to use a single to boost the re-release is because of the growing trend in the popularity of singles. In 2012 album sales fell 11.2% as single sales hit a record high. With streaming and playlists becoming more popular, singles have taken priority. My hope is that the single will gain enough popularity that the rest of the EP is then listened to. The physical copies of the single will be for those who attend the release gig, also on 21/12/13 and will then become available on request afterwards. However, the online release is the most important as most music these days is being bought or downloaded digitally. I imagine that after this re-release is done and we have recorded something new that we will make more use of merchandising as a promotional tool. This will include stickers, t-shirts and more.