Everything You Should Know about Digital Music Distribution

Everything You Should Know about Digital Music Distribution
3 years ago

Are you an indie artist who’s wondering about digital music distributors? What do they do and what are your benefits? Even if you already did a quick search on digital distribution companies, you’re probably a little confused by all the choices. Before you take the route of digital distribution, learn more details about the different companies.

Music Distribution at a Glance

There are two ways how music distribution works, although one has been fairly new: digital distribution. Music distribution generally concerns the methods of how to bring your music to your listeners.

Traditional music distribution

The traditional way of distributing music has been via physical records like vinyl, tapes, or CDs. For indie artists, it’s been tough to get a foot into the door of physical distribution. Before they could record their music, they first had to sign a record deal with a label. Record labels, in turn, have had contracts with record stores where they’d sell your music.

Brick and mortar stores have come out of fashion with the onset of the digital era, though. They still do exist, but there are certainly not as many left as there used to be. Today, you’ve mostly got only a few stores that have a small corner for CDs or vinyl records. However, there are still online retailers.

Digital music distribution

Digital music distribution evolved at the end of the last century when the music started to be sold via platforms as mp3 files. iTunes was probably one of the first digital music distributors where you could buy music to play on your iPod or other mp3 players. These days there are countless platforms where you can stream and buy music in a digital format. Thus, digital music distribution is the way to get your music to those platforms.

The Benefits of Digital Distribution Companies

Already in the year 2000, physical record sales plummeted by nearly 50%. However, there are still quite a few people who prefer to hold the actual CD in their hands. Japan, for example, continues to see good sales numbers for physical records. But in general, physical records have turned more into some kind of merchandise for die-hard fans. On the other hand, digital sales have risen to more than 60% over the last two decades. Of course, it appears more lucrative to opt for digital distribution.

You can reach more listeners

With physical records, your reach is rather limited. Only when you’re signed with a music label can you eventually sell your music worldwide. As an indie musician, you’d only reach local listeners. With any luck, you might be able to garner more fans via tours to sell your records.

With digital distribution companies, on the other hand, you can directly reach listeners from all over the world. They distribute your music to hundreds of music outlets, including:

  • Spotify
  • Deezer
  • Tidal
  • Amazon
  • Apple Music
  • YouTube
  • NetEase
  • And a lot more!

They help upload your music to streaming platforms

Streaming platforms don’t accept uploads from individual indie artists anymore. Some used to in the beginning, but then they were overwhelmed. Besides, you’d have to put in quite some effort to upload your music to every music platform there is. Don’t even mention different formatting requirements by all outlets. Digital distribution companies do this part for you.

Your royalties are sorted

Again,even if you could upload your music directly to all music outlets, you’d have to collect royalties from each platform individually. That would create quite an additional workload for you. Digital distribution services also collect your royalties. Depending on your distributor, you can receive your royalties weekly or monthly, with or without payment thresholds or payment splitting.

You keep all of your rights

Contrary to record deals, you keep all of your rights if you choose digital distributors. This also reflects in your royalties as you keep most of them, if not 100%. Signed artists usually only receive about 20% of their royalties.

What to Look For When Choosing a Distribution Companies

With such a huge number of digital distributors out there, it can be tough to find the right one. Just be aware, there isn’t the perfect one to suit all your needs. You only have to find the one that works for you. Luckily, you don’t have to stick with one digital music distributor. You can release your music with several companies. Just don’t release the same song with all of them or it’ll create a mess at the music outlets.

Check their fees

Digital distribution companies are your business partner. Of course, they’d like to see a penny for their effort to get your music out there. They usually have two types of fees:

  • Distribution fees (either per single/album or annually per artist)
  • Commission

Their commission would be deducted from your royalties and it can range between 8 and 20%. However, some companies demand both, such as CD Baby. The only distributor that doesn’t take any fees is currently Fresh Tunes. Some also have hidden fees, apart from ONErpm, RouteNote, Songtradr, or Soundrop. So always make sure to read all the small print.

Choose the one that distributes to most outlets

Although there are some major streaming platforms, a lot of them come and go. To make the most of digital distribution, choose the service that sends your music to hundreds of music outlets, like CD Baby, AWAL, Distrokid, Horus Music, ONErpm, or RouteNote. The wider you cast your net, the better chances you have for success.

Parting Words

Since you’re not signed with a music label, all the promotion is completely down to you. Some digital music distributors, like CD Baby or ONErpm, offer a bit of free marketing with Spotify pre-saves. RouteNote also tends to approach tastemakers and playlist editors if they notice your tunes are catching on, but it’s not exactly marketing. You need to have a website, create a strong social media presence and contact bloggers to get the word out. Furthermore, you need to create content regularly by releasing one song a month at least.

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