Music distribution is the process of releasing your music to a public market, whether that be physical or digital. In this article, we’ll explain the difference between the two and share how you can distribute your music easily.
What Is Music Distribution? (Answer)
Music distribution is the process of taking a song and releasing it on physical forms such as vinyl or CD, or releasing it to digital streaming platforms (like Spotify, and Apple Music) and digital music stores such as iTunes and Amazon Music.
Music distributors provide services that connect you with these digital stores, or provide you the physical services you need to get your music on CD, Vinyl etc.
Usually these services take royalties for your use of the service.
With physical distribution – they will take money upfront to print your music, and money upfront to get your music into stores. On top of that they will additionally take a cut of every sale obtained through the physical store distribution.
With digital distribution – companies will take a percentage of the money you earn on platforms, or will charge a yearly fee for you to use their service.
Different distributors offer different perks, prices and benefits, so it’s important to find a music distribution service best for your situation.
Physical Music Distribution
Physical music distribution is where a music distribution company will provide services that allow you to get your music printed to vinyl, CD, cassette, and into physical retail stores. They act as the middle-man between record labels, retail music stores, and print houses to provide an all-in-one solution for distributing music.
Different physical distribution companies in the music industry will offer different services.
- The all-in-one package – physical distribution with print to vinyl, CD, or whatever format you like, retail marketing, storage units, and release to physical stores.
- Direct distribution – a service where you can order, CDs, LPs etc. for a cost and directly sell them to your fans for a profit
Digital Music Distribution
Digital music distribution is the process of taking your single, EP, or Album and releasing it to DSPs (digital service providers) like Spotify and Apple Music, alongside digital stores where users can purchase music available for download (like iTunes), and social media platforms such as Instagram Music, TikTok, and more.
Musicians can choose from an incredible range of music distribution services that offer this. They are all extremely fast but offer different perks for being a member of them.
Many services do this for either a yearly fee or take a commission from the streaming royalties that your music recording earns from services like Spotify, Apple Music etc.
To learn more about the royalties each music distributor takes and the different benefits of each distribution platform, read our complete guide to every music distribution company that’s worth your time.
The way your streaming royalties are distributed is also extremely complicated and varies from platform to platform, so to be more transparent about your earnings and what you’re giving away when signing up with a distributor, we recommend reading our in-depth piece on how your music earns money online and how you get paid by each platform.
Physical vs Digital Distribution
Digital distribution is commonly the best option for a new, independent artist because it allows you to get on multiple platforms and allows your music the exposure it potentially needs to build a fan base.
Additionally, with many free distribution options available, there is no barrier to entry and you don’t need to raise any capital in order to start getting your music heard by people everywhere.
Many independent artists can build a fanbase with a shoestring budget DIY marketing plan and start to develop from there.
Physical distribution is great for already-established artists who have a following. You can earn a lot of money by physically distributing directly to a loyal fan base.
How To Distribute Music
To distribute your music you need to do this:
- Choose a digital music distributor that suits your needs
- Pay for a plan or make an account
- Upload your music, and artwork and categorize + title your song
- Set a release date in the future to maximize marketing time
- Promote your release online
We recommend using Distrokid to distribute your music, because it’s the easiest, quickest and cheapest option for independent musicians. However, if you don’t have any money, you can utilize Routenote’s free music distribution, which is a great service to get started.
What Are The Best Music Distribution Services?
The top 3 free music distribution services are:
Routenote offers a completely free solution for unlimited music distribution but takes a 15% commission on streaming royalties for this. They will publish your music to Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and pretty much every digital store you can think of.
They offer split payments between artists, Chinese store distribution (like tencent), and great marketing tools like pre-saves, playlisting options etc.
Check out our full review of Routenote here.
Amuse offers 12 free releases every year on all the major streaming services and digital stores. They are one of the few free distribution companies who allow you to keep 100% of your streaming royalties. However, it takes 4 weeks to distribute and the customer service isn’t all that great.
You can also apply for artist advances with Amuse if your trajectory and fanbase look like they are going to be profitable.
Amuse offers pre-save links and all the other stuff other free platforms do, but you’re limited to 12 releases on the free plan. This is sufficient for starting musicians.
Soundrop allows you to distribute music to all stores for a really low price of $0.99/single. They take 15% commission on royalties but are one of the only free services to offer cover song licensing. This is fantastic for independent artists who write covers and want them to get heard and earn money through them.
You additionally get great marketing tools, royalty splits and exclusive discounts on artist related services.
The top 3 paid music distribution services are:
Distrokid offers the fastest unlimited distribution for $19.99/year, with the best customer service. They have tools to help you get playlisted, an artist social media where you can meet other artists and help eachother grow, great marketing tools like pre-saves, video generators and more.
It’s the most simple, most trusted music distribution service by artists for digital distribution.
However, their dashboard is extremely outdated, and they don’t offer music publishing royalty collection as of yet (but it has been stated their working on a solution). You can still collect publishing royalties with Distrokid, but you have to sign up for a different service alongside it.
Ditto offers a very similar service to Distrokid, but they’re not considered a Spotify Preferred distributor. They additionally offer music publishing royalty collection for an additional fee, which is something Distrokid is yet to introduce.
Ditto takes 0% royalties, and charges $19/year for unlimited releases. They offer better analytical tools and a much, much improved dashboard over Distrokid, with all the playlisting and marketing tools that Distrokid has.
It’s just slower to distribute and the customer service is worse.
Repost Network (SoundCloud for Artists)
Repost Network is for SoundCloud users. You get access to Repost Network with SoundCloud pro, so if you’re already a SoundCloud Pro user it’s really useful. They take a 15% commission on all streaming royalties, but you get SoundCloud monetization, and other perks like special SoundCloud marketing banners and full-width art panels to help your music stand out on the platform.
I personally use SoundCloud Repost Network, because I use SoundCloud religiously and it lines everything up with your SoundCloud releases.
With Repost Network you also get access to SCPlanner which gives you the ability to join repost chains and maximize your listener reach, as well as playlisting tools for Spotify. If you build a good plan for getting more plays on SoundCloud, this can be one of the most useful tools to build an audience (I know from first-hand use)
With over 8 years of hands-on experience in the music industry, Harry has run successful raves, played alongside industry heavyweights such as Max Chapman, DJ EZ, DJ Zinc and more (pictured below), had music played on national radio, DJ’d on live radio, produced until he hated every song, mixed until his ears bled, created sample packs from scratch using just a Zoom H1n and some sound design skills… and pretty much anything related to music production – he’s done it, tested it, tried it.