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Your Music, Everywhere: A Starter Guide to Music Distribution

Getting your music heard has never been more difficult. With over 60,000 tracks uploaded to Spotify daily and countless songs on other platforms, standing out feels impossible. The problem is that most independent artists lack access to music distribution – the process of getting songs onto major streaming services and stores.

Without a distribution strategy, your music has no chance of finding listeners. You could write the next hit song, but it would just sit unpublished on your computer. And paying for a recording provides no value if you have no way to release it.

The good news is that today’s digital tools make music distribution accessible even for unsigned DIY musicians. 

In this guide, you’ll learn what distribution is, the different methods available, which streaming platforms you need to be on, how to pick the best distributor for your needs, and step-by-step instructions for releasing music online.

What is music distribution?

What is music distribution

When it comes to releasing your music online, one of the most crucial components is music distribution. Put simply, music distribution is the process of getting your songs onto major streaming platforms and digital music stores so that fans can access and listen to your tracks. 

It is the vehicle that takes your music from your computer and delivers it to listeners all over the world. In other words, distribution gets your music into all of the key places where fans discover and consume new tunes. 

Without a proper distribution strategy, it would be incredibly difficult for fans to actually find and play your songs, even if you have a strong marketing campaign driving people to check out your music. 

You could have high demand from fans but with nowhere legitimate for them to actually hear your tracks. That’s where music distributors come in – their technology and infrastructure make sure your songs get onto the top streaming services and stores.

So to recap, music distribution is fundamentally about publishing your music digitally to the main platforms and services that dominate today’s music consumption, including the likes of Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, Deezer, and many more. 

It pushes your music out globally and makes it available on both subscription streaming platforms as well as digital music stores for download or purchase. Distribution turns you from an unsigned artist into an official releasing act.

Why distribute your music?

Without a doubt, distributing your music is an essential step for any artist or band looking to expand their audience reach and gain more exposure. Simply put, most fans listen to music through major streaming platforms and music sites these days. 

If your songs aren’t distributed onto Spotify, Apple Music, and other leading services, the harsh truth is that hardly anyone will get to hear your tracks! 

Even if you have an existing local fan base that supports your live performances or purchases your CDs, reaching new listeners becomes extremely difficult if your music isn’t available on the digital platforms where people actively go to discover new artists. 

Simply uploading your songs to YouTube, SoundCloud, and social media is no longer enough – you need to tap into the major music services that listeners constantly engage with.

Additionally, global music distribution opens up new revenue streams through streaming royalties and download stores. Landing placements in popular playlists also helps drive more plays and followers. 

Distribution essentially takes your music out of obscurity so it has a fighting chance of resonating with fans all over the world. Staying independent and unsigned doesn’t mean you can’t distribute – today’s tools make professional distribution accessible to do-it-yourself musicians.

Methods of Distribution

Methods of Distribution

There are two main methods that artists use to distribute their music – physical distribution and digital distribution.

Physical distribution

Although digital consumption now dominates the music industry, physical sales still play an important role for many artists. Let’s explore the world of physical music distribution and how you can get your CDs, vinyl, and cassettes sold in record stores.

Traditionally, record labels handled physical distribution by striking deals with large entertainment retailers to carry new album releases in stores across multiple regions. 

But the beauty of today’s distribution landscape is that independent unsigned musicians can now tap into very similar physical retail networks by using distribution companies that specialize in placing music products in brick-and-mortar outlets globally. 

Digital Distribution

Shifting gears, digital music distribution works quite differently from the physical format. This involves getting a distributor to publish your songs to major streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, as well as digital music stores for download sales and streaming revenue. Let’s explore how this system functions.  

In essence, digital distributors act as the middlemen to facilitate your music getting onto these digital music services. 

They handle the technical process of encoding files, delivering music to platforms, getting songs approved and live, collecting royalties, resolving issues, and managing relationships with DSPs (digital service providers) like Spotify. Artists handle the creative work, while distributors deal with the business and logistical administration that’s required to take music global digitally.

The platforms that dominate music listening nowadays are on-demand streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, YouTube Music, and Tidal. 

These let fans access millions of songs via internet streaming for a monthly subscription fee. There are also download stores like iTunes and Amazon MP3 where fans can directly buy your songs as permanent downloads.

In exchange for publishing artists’ music to DSPs, distributors take a cut of any streaming royalties earned or download revenue generated. 

So it pays for them to maximize distribution reach and placements. Top aggregators like CD Baby, TuneCore, DistroKid, and Ditto Music have secured premium partnerships to cover hundreds of key stores and streaming services in one go.

We’ll analyze different types of digital distributors later. But in essence, they are the vehicle for artists to tap into the booming digital music market globally by getting songs in front of listening audiences everywhere.

Digital Distribution Models

Digital Distribution Models

When publishing music digitally, artists have a few models to choose from when selecting a distribution partner. The three main options come down to digital aggregators, DIY direct distribution, or full-service companies. Let’s break these down:

Digital aggregators like CD BabySymphonic Distribution, DistroKid, and TuneCore function by distributing your music to various streaming platforms and download stores on your behalf. Their technology automates the delivery process and gets your songs live across hundreds of digital services all at once. 

This saves artists considerable hassle. The more stores they can publish to, the wider the reach for fans to find your music.  

In exchange for handling distribution, aggregators take a percentage commission from the royalties earned – usually around 10-15%. Symphonic is an example of a leading aggregator that offers both free and paid tiers depending on distribution needs.

Alternatively, some platforms like Spotify for Artists allow direct DIY distribution by artists themselves. This requires more effort to upload tracks individually per service, but you keep a higher revenue share compared to aggregators. AWAL offers premium account management combined with direct distribution to several platforms.

Finally, full-service companies like Horus provide distribution plus additional label services like playlist pitching, PR campaigns, and royalty accounting in one package. However, management commissions tend to be higher.

There are pros and cons to each approach that warrant consideration depending on your needs and priorities as an artist. The right distribution model can maximize income potential and get your music heard globally.

Choosing a Distributor

Selecting the right music distributor is an important decision that will impact your artist’s career. There are a few key factors to evaluate when choosing a distribution partner, including cost structure, platform coverage, and customer support reliability.   

Naturally, rates and fees should be a top consideration since distributors take a revenue share. Most aggregators charge within the 10-15% range, but lower and higher commissions exist too. 

It pays to model potential income based on your streaming and sales forecasts to see which company offers the best value. Additionally, find out things like PayPal fees, accounting charges, shelf lives, etc.

However, cost shouldn’t be assessed in isolation – the distribution reach also warrants comparison. Assess which streaming services, digital stores, territories, etc. each aggregator or distributor covers. Wider effective distribution translates to more potential discovery by fans and income to earn from. 

Finally, size up customer support responsiveness. Distribution issues inevitably arise – delays, content ID claims, missing payments, etc. 

You want to know your distributor will tackle problems that hamper your artist career. So check user reviews and test response times by contacting sales and support teams before committing.

Doing this research upfront ensures you find the most affordable distributor fit for your needs and success as an independent artist. For a comprehensive feature comparison, see our dedicated guide ranking the top music distribution companies this year.

Getting Started

Getting Started

So you’ve recorded some killer tracks and now want to release your music to streaming platforms. What are the next steps to take as an unsigned DIY musician? Let’s walk through the process of launching a professional distribution campaign.  

It takes both creative talent and business strategy to excel as an independent artist today. Before uploading your songs online, first set commercial intent around what you hope to accomplish with the distribution. 

Are you looking to grow your fanbase? Generate steady streaming income? Land spots on popular playlists? Define the goals to shape your plan. 

You’ll also want to research the leading streaming platforms and stores to determine which ones hold the most value for your genre and target demographic. While companies like DistroKid and CD Baby cover hundreds of services automatically, you’ll ideally want to focus on tailoring uploads to priority DSP partners for marketing after. 

From there, it’s time to set release dates for your tracks and choose a reliable distribution partner like Ditto Music or iMusician Distribution to deliver your tracks to the platforms and manage royalty payouts. Most distributors make uploading incredibly quick and seamless.  

Lastly, have an engagement plan ready around the release to drive traffic – share teasers leading up, pitch to relevant playlists during launch week, promote across your social media networks, etc. 

Rinse and repeat to build momentum with each subsequent release! The distribution journey will equip you with valuable data to inform future strategies.

Conclusion

Music distribution is fundamental for reaching fans, yet remains elusive for many independent artists. Without properly publishing music online, tracks sit unseen regardless of marketing efforts. The key is leveraging distribution companies to unlock access to leading streaming platforms and stores.

We explored the major distribution models from digital aggregators to DIY direct options. Key considerations include revenue shares, coverage breadth, and adequate support systems. Researching providers in-depth allows informed selection tailored to your needs and priorities.

In today’s industry, prolific recording is only half the formula. Pairing that output with recurring distribution campaigns gives songs their best chance at resonating with listening audiences. 

There are no longer barriers for unsigned musicians – ample tools help route your catalog to music fans globally. Distribute widely and consistently to realize the full potential of your artistic creations.

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