Music Distribution: Everything You Need To Know

computer screen showing a music distribution service

What To Expect?

If we as musicians have successfully finished producing an album or any other musical masterpiece, we all come to the point where we just want to share it with the world and start working on our next projects. If you want to upload your tracks to Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer, or any other music streaming platform, you’ll have to do your homework and find a great music distribution company that is ideal for your own purpose. But did you know that music distribution is not only limited to getting your songs on different streaming platforms? In this article, I am giving you all the information that you will need, to find out which type of distribution is ideal for your specific situation and how you can identify a music distribution-service that fits your needs.

Table of Contents

  1. What Is Music Distribution?
  2. How Music Distribution Has Changed
    1. Music Industry Back In The Days
    2. Music Industry Now
  3. How Music Distribution Works
    1. Recorded Music Distribution
    2. Live Music Distribution
    3. Music Licensing
  4. What Should You Consider When Choosing A Music-Distribution Service?
  5. Music Distribution FAQ
  6. Conclusion

What Is Music Distribution?

Before we can dive into the different aspects that matter when searching for a legit music distribution company, I want to quickly explain this topic to you, so you will get a better understanding of it in general. When having a look at the term in general, we can clearly see that it contains two words „Music“ and „Distribution“. While I am pretty sure, that I don’t have to explain the word music to you, let us have a look at the definition of the word „distribution“: according to Wikipedia, the term distribution in an economic context is defined as followed:

Definition Of Distribution

„Distribution is the process of making a product or service available for the consumer or business user who needs it. This can be done directly by the producer or service provider or using indirect channels with distributors or intermediaries.“

Source: Wikipedia

To make it simple: distribution is basically the art of making a product available to the people who will potentially need it. Pretty simple, right? After we have understood this term, we can easily transfer our knowledge to the main topic of this article and get a general idea about what music distribution is all about:

Your main goal when releasing an EP, LP, Album, Single, etc. is to make your product available for the customers who will potentially listen to it and fall in love with your creative work. The key here is to identify the preferred medium your potential listeners will consume your music on. This can be very different from who your listeners actually are. If you are an independent LoFi Hip Hop producer, people will probably listen to your beats on streaming platforms or even could be interested in buying some tapes or vinyl from you. If you are a producer who especially focuses on working together with other artists, you should probably think about building a beat shop or uploading your beats regularly on YouTube, so artists can find some cool beats that will fit the style of their next album.

The best way of how you should distribute your music is really depending on your so-called „target audience“. I would recommend you to do some research about the market you are acting in first. This will give you a strategic direction on how you have to release your music and is very helpful when picking the right distribution service for your situation.

How Music Distribution Has Changed

When thinking about the best way to distribute our music to your potential listeners, it is essential to know about how the music industry has changed over the past years, at least in my opinion. This will not only help you to understand the different ways of how you can distribute music, but also will give you a general overview of the music-market nowadays. In this section, I will give you a short overview of a scientific article on the website of BBVA that dives very deep into this topic. If you want to get some more detailed information, you can read the full article here.

Music Industry Back In The Days

Back in the days when people did not have the option to hear music on a portable device like a smartphone or iPod, selling physical sound carriers like Vinyl or CD was easy. It even was the most profitable way to make money with music. People were used to buying records in-store and treated their purchases like a musical journal. Labels made huge profits from selling albums and even took the risk to pay for a tour that wasn’t even profitable at all because it was seen as a marketing measure to promote physical Products like CDs or Vinyl Records.

Since then, a lot has changed. With the rise of the internet platforms like Napster or Pirate Bay made music available for free. Times were hard for everyone including labels, record stores, and musicians. Every time an illegal platform was shut down through legal actions another one appeared and people were searching desperately for a way to monetize the hard work they have put into their musical career. But one thing never has been consistent – the three pillars of the music industry:


Music Licensing

Distribution of music licenses is intended to ensure that the owner of copyrights on musical works is compensated for certain uses of their work. The copyright-owner usually achieves this by selling individual rights to a customer, who is able to use the song in a certain way after the purchase.

Live-Music

Playing live as a band or solo artist is also some kind of distribution. The music gets available for the listener in the form of a live performance. Artists usually get their money by either selling some tickets or collecting donations before or after a music-event.

Recorded Music

Recorded music can be distributed to listeners in many different ways. Some examples are album-downloads, music streaming, or vinyl records.
The many different shapes can be divided into two categories for simplicity: physical- and digital products.


Music Industry Now

Nowadays digitalization is growing fast and has a huge influence on our everyday lives. Companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, or Spotify have changed the way we consume media and are highly profitable. According to the Forbes list of billionaires, Jeff Bezos (Founder of Amazon) is the richest man in the world in 2020. In these fast-moving times, most of the music is consumed on streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal Deezer, etc. Same with ticket-purchases.

I remember the time when I had to go to a local store in order to buy tickets for a concert that I wanted to visit. Nowadays, most of the business is handled through online companies, because it’s just more comfortable to order them online. To sum it up: if you want to distribute music, no matter if recorded, licensed, or live, you’ll have to be active online and distribute your music the right way in order to keep up with this enormously huge megatrend called digitalization.

How Music Distribution Works

Now after we know what music distribution is all about, we can finally dive into how it works in general. Like I have said before, there are lots of different ways you can make your music available to the public. Because the three pillars of the music industry are very different to handle when it comes to music-distribution. In the following three sections, I am giving you some ideas of how you can handle this effectively.

Recorded Music Distribution

When distributing recorded music, your goal simply is to make the music that you have created available to the public. You can do this by making it available on different online platforms like streaming services or download portals, or by creating physical copies like CDs or Vinyl. In the following section, I will give you an overview of what possibilities you have here and what you have to think about when you start out planning t release an album and distribute it in these formats.

Digital

apps cellphone communication computer

Digital music distribution includes every way you can make your creative work available to the public by uploading it to different platforms. You can do this by either selling it in the form of digital downloads or by making them available on streaming services like Spotify or Amazon Music. While some platforms like Bandcamp allow you to upload your music for free, you will need to sign up for a music distribution service in order to be able to get your music on streaming platforms like spotify or deezer. After you have created an account for a digital distributor, you will normally pay a fee based on its pricing model. The different models are listed in this part of the article.

Physical

woman standing and holding vinyl record sleeve inside shop

When you want to sell vinyl records, CDs, tapes, or any other kind of physical sound carrier, you will have to deal with the topic of physical music-distribution. You can do this by choosing some kind of service that will produce something like 500 vinyl records in advance for you, so you can sell it to some record stores or at your concerts.

Another thing you could think about is taking advantage of an on-demand service like qrates. When starting a project on this site, you are able to choose a crowdfunding option. The way this works is that you first upload your tracks and people will order your vinyl record in advance. After a certain number of people (something around 300 for example) have completed an order, you will receive some test pressings and the customers will get their records. The best part about it? If not enough people have ordered the record, it won’t cost you or your listeners a cent – Definitely a great option to have an eye on!


Options for distributing recorded music nowadays are endless. You can just upload some recordings to platforms like YouTube or SoundCloud for free, produce some vinyl records, making it only available on streaming services by choosing an online music distributor or even could think about selling your sound carriers as merch on a website or create a shop on Bandcamp.

If you want to focus on this segment of the music industry throughout your career as a musician, I would definitely recommend you to think about what you want to focus on. Doing everything at once is a loooot of work. You can identify the platforms that make sense for your specific case by having a look at the release-strategies of music industry professionals that are already established in your niche. This will definitely give you a great starting point for your future projects and you will definitely learn a lot.


Live-Music Distribution

When focusing on distributing live-music throughout your career as an artist, your main goal is to play live shows as often as you possibly can. The way you present your creative work to your audience is by creating an outstanding live show and giving them a great time by playing it. You can distribute that by either selling tickets directly to your fanbase or booking gigs for support shows or small festivals and events in your area. In the following section, I will give you an overview of how these two methods work in general.

Ticket Distribution

When selling tickets for a specific show you will play in the future, you will have to do a lot of event managing-work in advance. The thing about this particular way of distribution is, that you will carry all the financial risks but you will definitely keep more earnings if it works out well. If you are a small artist and it comes to distributing tickets, you usually have two options to choose from: You can sell them online on a ticketing platform or collect the money directly in the entrance of your venue. To maximize the financial outcome of this project, you should do both.

Because organizing your own events can be very time and money consuming, it is not something I would recommend you do all the time. But when planning out a release concert for example it is always a great idea to sell tickets on your own.

To keep it simple, I will give you a shortlist of the different steps that you will have to think about when planning a concert. Please note, that this is just a general overview, and describing this topic in detail would go way beyond the scope of this article.

The Different Steps Of Planning A Concert:

  1. Consider the budget
  2. Find a Venue
  3. Find some other artists that will support you on that date
  4. Consider your onsite team (audio engineer, lightning expert etc.)
  5. Consider ticketing/pricing
  6. Promote your concert.

Booking Gigs

Playing gigs on events that already exist is probably a more simple way to distribute live music to people. There are lots of options to get on local stages and promote your music. But you’ll have to notice that, especially if you are an upcoming musician, you will play a lot of them for free or you will earn a very low fee. But that shouldn’t stop you from doing it. With every new gig, you will meet new people, improve your skills, and will be able to sell some merch. If you are wondering how to get some gigs, here is a shortlist of inspirational ideas:

  1. Search for some open-stage sessions in your area. They are always a great opportunity to play live and get some attention from locals.
  2. Connect with other musicians. If you have a good relationship, there is always a good chance to get asked to support someone at his release show.
  3. Apply for some small festivals in your area – If you do some research on Google, you will definitely find some cool ones that you have never heard about.
  4. Find some cool locations in your area and ask them on social media or via e-mail if you could play a gig there.
  5. If you hear about a local legend playing a gig in your area, ask them on social media if you could be their support act.

Music Licensing

Last but not least, it’s time to have a look at a very special way to monetize music: Selling licenses. Like mentioned before, the music industry has been disrupted extremely fast by the digitalization of the modern world. The same goes for music licensing. While selling recorded music has become harder and harder these days, music licensing can be a great alternative, because profits in this segment have been more stable than in any other sector of the music industry. A simple example of distributing music licenses is advertising. If a marketer in a company needs a soundtrack for a commercial, he usually has to pay for it. Pretty obvious right? But how can you make your music available for these people? There are basically two ways of doing it:

Platform VS Own Website

When selling music-licenses of tracks that you have produced, you’ll have to make sure that people can get it in the format that fits their needs best and also get all the rights they have to own for the case they want to use it for. If you sell beats for a rapper, for example, they could potentially need the different stems of your beat in order to mix the finished track properly or just the WAV file if they don’t have proper production skills. When selling licenses to a YouTuber, things may be different, because he wants to focus on producing great videos and will potentially just need a single file of your produced track.

When selling those licenses, you have two options to make those available to your customers: creating an account on relevant platforms like beatstars or the Envato market, or selling them through your own website. Both options have pros and cons and should be considered in order to focus on the right kind of distribution method for your music-projects:

Platforms

  • Platforms are like online shopping malls of the internet. When creating an account in a relevant market place, you will be able to reach out to the customers of these marketplaces and sell your licenses directly to them.
  • Selling on patforms is cheaper, because you don’t have to spent that much money for marketing, website hosting etc.
  • Platforms are well protcted against cyber-attacks, so they are way more secure than any online shop.

  • When selling on a platform and you want to decide to open an own online shop, you will start from 0, because you won’t be able to export the data of your customers.
  • You will have limited designing options.
  • There is lots of competition on a marketplace. There are always tons of other sellers on a platform, so it can be extremely hard to improve your profits.
  • Selling on platforms may be cheaper, but is not for free. You either have to pay a monthly fee to be able to use advanced features of the platform or you will have to pay a fee for every sold license of your product.

Own Website

  • When selling on your own website, people will only be able to purchase your own products. In fact, you’ll face less competition. When selling on a platform, chances are high, that someone else is offering a similar license for a lower price and you have to make yours cheaper in order to be able to compete with your competitors.
  • You pay your monthly fee and that’s it. When selling licenses on your own website, you don’t have to pay selling fees, which can be pretty annoying when your sales are increasing.
  • You will have more control over the overall appearance of you shop. A fancy looking website can induce trust and some buyers feel more comfortable about buying your licenses.

  • Creatig a website is a lot of work and will definitely take more time to be finished.
  • Customers won’t come overnight, you will have to think about spending some money to get some traffic on your site and build your personal brand.
  • When selling on a website, you will have to fix technical problems on your own.
  • Creating a website is more expensive in the beginning, because you will have to pay some money for webhosting, legal advice etc.

Because selling licenses in both ways is very time and money consuming, I would recommend you to choose your descision wisely and invest some time in it, because both options will take some time to grow. I also want to mention, that some platforms like beatstars or arbit offer a monthly subscription model, where you don’t have to pay a fee for every license you sell on this platform. You should always consider what you personal preferences are and what you can afford in terms of time and the budget you can spend.

What Should You Consider When Choosing A Music-Distribution Service?

Now after we have covered the music-distribution possibilities for the three sectors of the music industry, I also want to give you a short overview of the different points that you’ll have to consider when picking the perfect service for you:

Customers

Having a look at the customers of a music distributor is very important. Especially if you want to sell your music on platforms like beatstars or the envato market. Some things you should ask yourself before creating an account and start selling your licenses on these platforms would be: for which people was this platform built for? Who is the typical person that buys licenses on this website and so on.

If you want to sell licenses to marketers who are searching for royalty free music to use in their social media spots for example, they would usually rather search for them on more „mainstream“ platforms that was built for that specific case. Before you start distributing your music, you should definitely ask yourself first: What music you want to create and where people typically consume it. After you’ve done some competitive research, you will definitely get a pretty clear direction to finding the best possible distributor for your music.

Pricing

Pretty obvious right? The more you have to spend, the more you’ll have to earn to make profits. I would recommend you to first identify what kind of distribution service is relevant for your specific situation and then compare pricing models. After that you will definitely get a good idea on which service you should focus on.

Some Things You Should Consider In Terms Of Pricing:

  • Is the distributor commision-based, or do I have to pay a monthly fee in order to be able to use it.
  • What do you get for the money ou pay? Are there any extra services that are worth paying more?
  • Do you get a discount when you pay annualy?
  • Is there some kind of notice period when you want to stop using the service?
  • How much are you planning to earn through your music and how much can you afford to still be able to make some profits?

Statistics

If you don’t know your numbers, you won’t know what works and what doesn’t. Having a look at statistics can sometimes give you a great idea on what different marketing-strategies work well and where you could improve. If you spend some money on promoting an album for instance, it could be cool to see where most of your listeners come from. If you know that most of your listeners come from australia for example, you can use that information to optimize your ad-budget and only deliver ads to people who live there, instead of wasting money on people who aren’t even interested in your music.

The more statistics you get, the better. I would recommend you to consistently have a look at them to get a feeling of your audience and your music in general. This will help you to understand your current situation and will help you to figure out how you could possibly improve.

Service

If something doesn’t work the way it should be, having the option to contact a support can be beneficial in order to fix problems quickly. It’s pretty obvious that the cheapest music distributor won’t give you the best service, because hiring people who fix problems of others requires to pay them a salary. That’s also something you need to keep in mind, when picking a music distributor. Problems will always occur and it’s great to know someone on your side when you have to fix them.

Music Distribution FAQ

What Is A Music Distribution Company?

A music distribution company helps you to make your music available to the public. To be able to use its service, you will either need to create an account on a specific platform, or get in touch with a label that already created one.

How Do Music Distribution Deals Work?

You usually create an account on a music distribution platform. While creating that account is free, you will pay for every release based on the pricing model of that specific music distributor.

How Much Does Music Distribution Cost?

The cost of music distribution depends on the pricing model of your music distributor. While some companys offer a subscription-model, others will earn a certain amount of your income or will charge you everytime you release something.

What’s The Best Music Distribution Service?

Every music distribution platform has its pros and cons. Before you commit to a certain service, you should first be clear about the requirements that arise from your situation and what goals you are pursuing with your music.

Conclusion

Making our music accessible to the world is probably one of the hardest things for a musician to plan for. In addition to choosing a suitable distribution service, we should first of all be clear about who our listeners actually are and where our music is consumed. After we have identified that, the selection of a suitable partner is much easier and we can start looking for ways to publish our music in a targeted manner. If you have any further questions or comments about the content of this article, I would be very happy if you share them with me using the comment function at the end of the post.

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