Music Distribution 101

Music Distribution 101
November 29, 2017 Paul Olubayo

Music distribution is the link between your finished record and your future fans.

Distribution is a crucial part of music promotion. Brick and mortar music distributors used to be the only way for record labels and independent artists to get their records in the hands of listeners.

But digital music distribution has taken the center stage. Digital surpassed sales of physical mediums for the first time in 2015.

As an artist, digital distribution has become a must in order to reach all your potential fans. Smart distribution grows your visibility. It gets your music into as many ears as possible. And it helps you get paid for your music.

So here is everything you need to know about digital music distribution and how to do it right.

How Digital Music Distribution Works: Then and Now
Traditionally, distributors got records into stores and labels got people to go buy them (through promotion). Along the way, each of these middlemen took a percentage of the revenue.

This system still exists today. At least to some extent…

But the role of distributors and record labels has changed dramatically. Not to mention the changes the internet has brought in the way people consume music. People spend more time online, and less money on physical music.

 

Plus, the resources and energy of physical distributors are often focused on top-selling records only. Smaller bands who sign to them get trapped in exclusive agreements that end up hindering their success.

That’s why digital distribution has become the smart way to get your records out there, keep full rights to your music, and start building a name.

What Is Music Distribution?
Music distribution is how music gets delivered to the listener. Traditionally, distributors enter agreements with record labels to sell to stores. However, digital distribution changed all of that by cutting out the middleman—allowing artists to distribute music directly to online stores while keeping 100% of their royalties.

How Digital Music Distribution Works Today
The goal of digital distribution is to get your music on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, and other streaming platforms and digital music stores.

Think of them like a digital record shop—Once you get your music in them, people can stream, download and buy your music. In exchange you receive royalties depending on how and where your music was listened to.

Just like traditional record stores, digital music stores receive music from digital distribution companies. But instead of shipping boxes of vinyl every week, digital distributors deliver digital music to the major music stores I mentioned above.

So what used to take weeks or months of shipping and manufacturing—not to mention a lot of upfront costs—is now as simple and fast as a couple of clicks.

The Best Music Distribution Companies
There are tons of music distribution services out there. Keeping 100% of your royalties is key. Educate yourself on all their fees and what you’re getting into before you decide. Some say they don’t take a cut, but there are hidden fees in some cases. Do your research!

  1. LANDR
  2. CD Baby
  3. 5ive Music Group
  4. TuneCore
  5. Ditto Music
  6. Loudr
  7. Record Union
  8. MondoTunes
  9. Reverbnation
  10. Symphonic
  11. iMusician
  12. The Orchard (they work with labels only)
  13. AWAL (selected applications only)
  14. More about choosing your digital distributor below, read on!

The Many Benefits of Digital Distribution
Why choose digital distribution?

Digital music sells the best, and will continue to rise. The revenues of the music industry make it clear – digital is the way to go. Here are the global revenues of the industry in 2016:

50% from digital revenues
34% from physical format sales (CDs, vinyl, cassettes)
14% from performance rights (radio, shows, etc)
2% from Synchronization revenues (movies and ad syncs)

So be strategic. Make your music available where your fans actually hang out: online. You’ll have more chance of reaching them.

Save yourself the costs and hassle of physical distribution – especially on a first album. Start by building an audience and a name with digital releases.

Plus, many digital distributors don’t have exclusivity deals. It means that you’re not giving up the rights to your music. That’s huge. Because if your next record is better represented by another distributor, you’re free to end the non-exclusive agreement anytime.

There’s also added perks like recommendation algorithms. These might suggest your tracks to people based on what they listen to. That’s how people discover new music in the digital world!

Ready to jump into distribution? Here are the steps to follow:

1. Find The Right Digital Distribution Platform
Ok, so your record is ready. You’ve mixed it and mastered it. Your album art is ready to go. You’re excited to get it out.

Now you might be wondering how to get your music on iTunes, Spotify and all the other major stores. The first step is to find the right online music distribution platform.

Remember that a distributor is a new professional partnership. Choose the most beneficial one for you. Make sure the distributor fits your needs, your resources, and your goals.

2. Make Your Music Searchable
In traditional distribution artists had to submit a ‘one-sheet’. That’s literally one page that contains all the info about your record (artist name, album title, release date, a short bio, genre, etc.)

The equivalent in the digital world is metadata. These are the short descriptions and keywords that make it easy to classify and find something on the web.

Metadata is crucial in digital distribution. All digital distributors ask for this information. That’s how people browse for music online – especially with genre. You want your potential fans to find your music easily.

So when submit your album for digital distribution, include a list of metadata:

artist name
title (of album or single)
the release date
record label
track titles
genre
composer information
artist bio
Make it short. Use the most common words. Make it simple and timeless: avoid using trendy words or hashtags. You want people to find your music 30 years from now!

3. Promote Promote Promote
“Your distributor will only be as good as your marketing plans to sell the record. Don’t expect them to do your [promotional] work for you.” – Indie Bible

Make sure you have a realistic budget for your promotion. Distribution companies tend to focus their promotional efforts on top-selling artists.

So do your own thing – create a powerful social media presence and put yourself out there.

Create buzz about your album even before it drops. Post sneak previews of your jam sessions to Instagram. Play a show in your studio and live stream it. Post 30 second previews of your tracks to SoundCloud.

Get your music to as many ears as possible. Use radio play, blogs, shows, word-of-mouth, and any other way you can think of to get your name out there. Send those emails and make those phone calls. There’s no hack around it!

Distribution Revolution
Physical distributors are closing their doors. What if that means better alternatives for you?

Digital distribution now gives all artists a chance: “Whether an artist sells 500 albums or 500,000, they should be housed in the same place and treated with the same level of respect” says the A&R for EMPIRE.

Having a solid digital distribution track record is like having a stellar CV. It’ll get you better shows, better visibility and more negotiating power.

Digital distribution is the most direct route to the ears of fans. Do it right! Do it digital!

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