If you’re an independent artist looking to release music, then you’re probably looking for information on music distribution. Releasing music today is much easier than at any other time in music history. Today, artists can release music on a global level. If we look just a few decades back in history, we can see how unprecedented this experience is for the modern generations. It used to be that to hear someone’s music, you had to be able to read sheet music and play it. Or alternatively, learn an instrument from a local musician and learn local traditions by ear. From there we have a radio which helped spread new kinds of music around larger communities of people, which eventually led to the distribution of audio recordings. And even then, certain types of music didn’t make it across the world. Today you can listen to music from anywhere in the world on your smartphone. This is a fantastic potential opportunity for artists looking to build an audience, but it’s essential to know a few basics before getting started.
What It Is and Why Artists Need It
Music distribution allows artists to deliver and publish their music to music stores. It’s pretty much as simple as that. Different distributors may be required for digital vs. physical releases as some only deal with digital releases. Physical releases fluctuate in popularity with vinyl and tapes being popular ways to offer a physical product for fans to purchase. But they cost quite a bit more to produce and distribute.
Artists need music distribution to get their music in any music store, digital or physical. These services allow musicians, bands and artists to get their music onto streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal just to name a few of the popular platforms consumers are using to listen to music. Without a distribution service bands and artists are limited to user-operated platforms such as Bandcamp or Soundcloud.
This is a crucial detail to explore when choosing a music distributor. Some allow artists to keep 100% of their royalties after the streaming service takes its cut while others may take a percentage of your profits to use their service. We’ll go over this a bit more in the pricing section of this article, but it’s best to go with a service that delivers all of your royalties rather than taking any kind of cut from you. Remember, you’re already paying the streaming services a heft penny to host your music in the first place. Royalties aren’t what they used to be but it’s important to hold on to whatever you can as an independent artist.
Different providers have different pricing structures to use of their service. Some may offer a yearly rate for unlimited releases throughout the year, while others may charge per release. Depending on an artist’s release schedule either model could be ideal for various artists. A model to look out for are music distribution services that take a percentage of royalties. Streams already pay less than a penny and artists should be hoarding their profits from external companies with every possible chance they can get. The best music distribution services offer yearly fees for unlimited releases with no hidden fees or charges associated with getting your music to the platforms it needs to get to.
What You Need and How to Do It
The first thing an artist needs is completed music. Completed means that the track, or tracks, are finished being recorded, mixed and mastered for release. Make sure you have high-quality album art to attach to your release and you’re good to go! In general, it’s good to leave about a month of headroom for a release to promote and create buzz for your release. It’s important to note that for new artists it’s best practice to save your promotional efforts for after release. This is because without a dedicated fanbase, promotional efforts may fall flat and prove to be thankless in the end.
Music distribution is essential for any musician wanting to release their music globally across the major streaming platforms. Without it, artists are limited to user-operated platforms that allow manual uploads. These can be great ways to generate direct sales like in the example of Bandcamp which on occasion, will waive its share of sales for a day. However, this doesn’t help spread artists’ music in a widespread way. If you want to get playlisted on Spotify and be able to share your music with other artists and fans quickly then you’ll need to research the options of music distributors to start that process. Once you’re signed up with a service, all you need is your finished album and artwork to start sharing your art with the world.