What is Music Distribution?
Have you ever wondered what music distribution is and why you need it? You have finished your next single and read about all the wonderful ways to showcase this track on Spotify. You’ve also booked a photographer for your next batch of press photos and set out a time to create content for social media. But before all of that happens… How do you upload your track to Spotify?
This is where music distribution comes in! It has been around for decades. Traditional distributors delivered physical media – CDs, vinyl, cassettes – to retailers who would in turn pay the distributors once that media had sold. In essence, they were the middle person between the retailer and the record label.
In today’s world, where streaming dominates the way we consume music, distributors play a different version of this role. They act as the aggregator between the record label or you as the artist (more on that later) and the streaming giants. In simple terms, the distributor takes the new music and all the metadata and uploads the file to DSPs including Spotify, Apple Music, TIDAL, and even some services you’ve never heard of! They also ensure your music can be accessed on social media platforms.
But distribution is much more than just a delivery service. Distribution plays a significant role in the overall promotion of your music. Using their contacts and relationships, a distributor can pitch your music to DSPs directly in the hopes of securing playlists to help you reach a wider audience.
How Do I Pick The Right Music Distribution?
With so many distributors to choose from, it can be difficult to understand which one is right for you. While there are no “wrong” distributors to pick from, there are definitely some that will suit your needs more than others. Whether you’re working solo, with a small team or signed to a record label, the right distributor will be an asset to your promotional efforts.
Let’s look at the various types of distribution, both young and old, and see which one is right for you.
If you’ve released a track on your own in the last 5 years, it’s likely you know the name Distrokid. Online distributors like Distrokid, CD Baby and TuneCore are the easiest to access and navigate, where uploading your music is as simple as submitting a form.
Who’s it for? If you’re new to releasing music or working solo, this will be the easiest option for you. A really simple, all online method where everything is in your control.
- 100% online and in your control – no middle person required
- Easy to access and understand
- Quick to use with instant confirmation that your song is ready to go
- Typically hard to contact a support team if you run into any issues
- Limited local market knowledge and contacts for playlisting
- Can include large upfront fees and additional costs (varies)
For a comparison of popular online aggregators, including upfront costs, royalty commissions and more, check out this comprehensive chart over on Ari’s Take.
Independent Music Distributors
When you’re dedicating time to a marketing plan and PR strategy, you probably want to have a distributor that is as invested in the release as you are. This is where small and/or local distribution can be of real benefit! In Australia, distributors like GYROstream, Ditto, MGM Distribution and many more have great connections to DSPs alongside a local team for customer support.
Who’s it for? This is for your small indie artist or label who want a bit more support from their distributor. With strong, local connections to Spotify and other DSPs, you can become a priority for their pitching and land some strong playlisting support.
- Real-life people to talk to for support and advice
- Good knowledge and connections in their local market
- Opportunity to become a priority artist
- Can be a longer process to upload a track
- Making changes requires communication with support team
- High royalty rates and upfront fees (varies)
The Big Music Distributors
Finally we have the global distribution companies. A mix of independent and major-label-backed distributors, these are the distributors that are going to take your music to all corners of the world. AWAL, Ingrooves, Believe, EMPIRE and The Orchard among others have offices in multiple countries and can offer even greater support for your promotion, funding, marketing and label services.
Who’s it for? This is for your established artists who are currently or on the verge of breaking into multiple territories outside of their own. These big distributors can even replace your traditional record label, offering all the same services and even funding in some cases.
- Offices around the globe offering support in multiple territories
- Opportunity to receive extra services like PR, marketing and label
- Opportunity to receive considerable funding and advances
- Easy to get lost in the pack if you are a smaller artist
- Hard to reach support if you are a smaller artist
- Will take a larger royalty commission which grows as more services are offered (varies)
The New Generation of music distribution services
Some newer distributors offer unique and enticing propositions for indie artists! LANDR originally started as an AI mastering tool, offering a quick and relatively cheap mastering service based on analysis of thousands of mastered songs. In 2017, they began offering unlimited distribution and you can now purchase a yearly subscription that includes mastering, distribution and production tools (even including Ableton Lite!).
SoundOn is even newer. From the parent company of TikTok, SoundOn offers distribution to all the major DSPs (including their own streaming service Resso). With every artist incorporating TikTok into their marketing strategy, SoundOn’s selling point is their promise of more opportunities on TikTok. According to their website, you’ll have the chance to pitch for playlisting on TikTok and Resso, work with creators on the platform and get your music into TikTok’s commercial music library for more sync opportunities. Bonus, there’s no upfront fees for signing up and you keep 100% of all royalties for the first year.
At the End of the Day…
Picking the right music distributor can help you reach a larger audience and earn more streams and listeners. Whether you’re releasing your debut single or have an extensive catalogue, there’s a distributor with the specific tools you need. Our advice is to think about what support you want for your music – ease of upload, a support team, extra promotional tools – and shop around to see who can provide the most value. But don’t forget to keep an eye out for upfront costs and royalty fees!