Digital music distribution has revolutionized the world of music promotion. Although vinyl has made a comeback in recent years, digital has been outpacing physical sales since 2014. However, the principles of music distribution remain the same. It's a vital process for musicians that gets their content in the ears of the consumer.
Today, this typically involves musicians partnering with music distribution companies. A music aggregator then submits content on behalf of an artist to streaming platforms or online stores. It's an affordable way for independent artists to extend their outreach, getting their music onto as many platforms as possible. What's more, it makes collecting royalties simple.
Ready to have your music heard across the globe? Read on for everything you need to know about music distribution.
Types of Music Distribution Channels
Emerging artists have a few major music distribution channels available to them. While streaming is the most obvious choice, both online stores and physical sales are worth considering.
Streaming has changed the music landscape. In 2022, streaming accounted for 84% of total revenues in the music industry. Although artists can't upload their content directly to music distribution channels like Amazon Music and Spotify, they can use distributors like IndieFlow to do this. As well as ensuring content is uploaded to these channels, a distributor is responsible for delivering all royalties to relevant rights-holders.
Streaming offers an inexpensive and flexible approach to distribution. It allows artists to decide when they want their content to drop, allowing them to fine-tune music marketing campaigns around this. Streaming can also generate useful data, letting artists know where their music is being played, making it easy to build a clear picture of the listening audience.
However, getting music promoted on editorial playlists can be difficult for less-established artists. While they're accessible, the average platform is incredibly competitive. It can be tricky to cut through the noise if you're putting out music in an oversaturated genre. Furthermore, it can take a long time to see any return on investment. While streaming payouts per platform vary, even the most generous returns aren't going to make you rich overnight. That being said, you do benefit from a continual source of income.
Streaming platforms aren't the only way to distribute your music digitally. Offering your tracks via online music stores is another way to broaden your reach and capitalize on new revenue streams. As with streaming platforms, you'll need to partner with music distribution companies to sell your tracks digitally.
Musicians tend to make more money from digital stores than they do with streaming. However, some are far more popular than others. You'll face stiff competition if you're selling your music via the iTunes Store or Amazon Music, but consumers do tend to purchase from platforms they trust.
Online stores have several major drawbacks. Many sell music in compressed file formats, while others use formats that don't allow for metadata to be embedded. If a listener stumbles upon one of your tracks by chance and pays to download it, there's less incentive for them to seek out more of your content if this extra data is missing.
It's never too early to start thinking about releasing your music physically. While you have to consider manufacturing costs, there remains a market for physical formats. CDs are still in circulation. In 2022, more than 33 million units were sold in the US alone. However, this is a marked drop in sales when compared to 2021.
However, other formats are thriving. Soaring vinyl sales show no sign of slowing down. Even the cassette is seeing something of a renaissance, with major acts like Dua Lipa and Lady Gaga releasing entire albums on tape.
Ultimately, you'll need to weigh up the cost and benefits of releasing your music physically. While it's a good idea to invest in hard copies of an EP to sell at live gigs, you don't want to sink your life savings into vinyl printing of an untested album.
Choosing the Best Distribution Channels for Your Music
Inexperienced artists often struggle to pick the right music distribution channels for their music. To increase the odds of your recordings getting heard, consider your audience. Are you catering to a niche market made up of older listeners? Such audiences are more likely to engage with your music if it's being offered as a download, rather than stream-only audio.
If you're planning on embracing a do-it-yourself approach to music marketing, a streaming channel is a better fit. You'll be able to use direct-to-fan marketing and social media channels to drum up interest before your tracks go live.
Step-by-Step Guide to Music Distribution on Popular Platforms
Ready to get your music heard? Distributing your music on streaming platforms is fairly straightforward. We've outlined the basic steps for some of the biggest platforms below:
Spotify is the go-to streaming service for more than 134 million subscribers worldwide. To use Spotify as an artist, you'll first need to find a distributor. Once you've selected one, you'll need to upload your music. High-resolution audio files are the standard here, so opt for something like lossless WAV.
You'll also need to provide metadata. This goes beyond the basics like the artist name and track title. Make sure you're including extra information relating to genre, additional writing credits, and track numbers. It's also worth adding copyright information.
Finally, make sure you provide artwork that can be uploaded along with your music. If you've yet to cut a complete album or EP, you might not have artwork at the ready. Instead, use a high-resolution promo image of you or your band.
Aiming to have your music live by a certain date? To ensure those release schedules aren't compromised, you'll want to deliver your content and all required metadata with plenty of time to spare.
Apple Music falls short of Spotify's subscriber count by 66 million, but still has a huge pool of potential listeners. The good news is that Apple makes quick work of music marketing. You'll want to claim your Apple Music for Artists so you can promote your latest single, engage with your audience, and customize your artist page. However, before you can do this, you'll need to select a distributor and have tracks live on Apple Music.
As with other channels, you'll need to be using an Apple-preferred distributor. Once you've chosen one, you'll be able to send singles or albums for upload. Along with tracks, make sure you include any associated covert art. You'll also need to include the names of any contributors who may have worked on your tracks to ensure they're credited and can receive royalty splits.
Amazon Music is often overlooked in favor of other streaming platforms. However, with more than 55 million subscribers and perks for Prime members, it's becoming increasingly popular with audiophiles.
As with other platforms, you'll need to settle on a distributor. Once that's done, you're ready to upload your single, EP, or album. Along with your tracks, ensure you have that artwork and metadata ready to go. Finally, be sure to include any contributors so they can receive their share of royalties.
Looking for a music distributor you can count on? IndieFlow can distribute your music to major streaming channels and stores including Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer, and many more.
Music Distribution Strategies
Getting your music uploaded to digital service providers is only one piece of the puzzle. To get your music heard and enjoy significant exposure, you need to consider music distribution strategies.
Direct-to-fan marketing is an effective promotional strategy that every independent artist should be using. It's all about creating a high-value connection with followers that can help establish emerging artists as someone with real credibility and who cares deeply about their fans.
It's an expensive approach, requiring little more than the occasional live stream. If there's an established audience there already, subscription models and paywalled content can also be used.
For those in the early stage of their career, there's plenty of time to take advantage of the direct-to-fan marketing model. Artists can cultivate rich relationships with fans if their audience base is small. This not only informs the artist's brand but also takes care of a lot of the promotional work as the musician becomes more popular. English singer YUNGBLUD was an early adopter of direct-to-fan marketing and continues to engage with fans via social media and platforms like YouTube.
Many streaming platforms offer playlist promotion. For up-and-coming artists, this can significantly increase exposure. Spotify is one platform that offers playlist promotion, or playlisting. With more than 100 million songs, it can be almost impossible to make waves if you're starting with a limited tracklist. Thankfully, playlisting lets less established musicians get their time in the spotlight.
Playlist promotion connects your content with playlist curators. Artists can select moods, genres, and existing playlists that apply to their music before songs are sent out to playlist curators for consideration. A successful campaign can boost your monthly listeners and streams while increasing the odds of you landing a spot on one of Spotify's editorial playlists.
More than 50 million people now claim to be influencers, with the majority of them active on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. As of 2023, more than 37 million influencers are active on Instagram alone. Artists can capitalize on this growing sector to help market their music and expand their audience.
Influencer marketing is about collaborating with people who already have large online followings. Once you've struck a deal with an influencer, you can piggyback on their audience to introduce your music to legions of potential fans.
Big brands like Motorola and Adidas have been using influencers for years. However, it's not just electronics and sportswear that influencers enforce. Recently, musicians have been waking up to the potential of influencer marketing.
Before you buddy up with one, take a moment to consider if you're choosing the right person to attach to your brand. Firstly, follower numbers aren't everything. It's a useful metric to go by, but A-list influencers are going to be out of your price range. A lower-level influencer is not only going to be more affordable, but far more likely to put in the hours when it comes to promoting your music.
Next, make sure that there's synergy between you and the influencer. It's great that a vintage fashion influencer wants to engage with you, but you'd be better off chasing a partnership with someone with a passion for indie music. Whoever you settle on, be prepared to step back and let them do their thing. Influencers walk a fine line between credibility and inauthenticity, so don't attempt to micromanage one.
Need convincing that influencer music marketing can work? In 2019, TikTok star Brent Rivera used the track Dance Monkey by Australian artist Tones and I in one of his videos. This increased exposure for the song quickly, catapulting Tones and I to the top of the Australian Singles Chart. By the end of 2020, the song had become the third-most streamed track on Spotify.
Common Mistakes To Avoid When Distributing Music
Don't assume that physical distribution is dead. In 2022, physical revenues stood at $1.7 billion, which was 4% higher than in 2021. Booming vinyl sales are the main driving factor here. Pressing vinyl isn't cheap. You can pay upwards of $3,000 to have 100 copies produced. However, if you're gradually building an audience and there's a real appetite for hard copies of your work, you should be thinking about offering it.
Next, think about file formats. Back in the file-sharing era, MP3 was king. However, MP3s don't cut it when it comes to streaming. High-resolution WAV files are the preferred format for most streaming platforms.
Are you holding back because your content isn't quite there yet? Worried that your songwriting isn't as sharp as it could be? Rather than sit around and wait for your creative muse to awaken, turn to your existing demos and half-developed material. Think about uploading those rough cuts to YouTube to get a feel of what the average listener has to say.
Another misconception people have about distribution is that the revenues will start rolling in as soon as your music is uploaded. While uploading your music to digital distribution services is a crucial step toward success, it's not going to make you a fortune. In fact, most artists will barely be able to cover the incidentals with streaming revenues.
Finally, avoid the pitfall of not making your music discoverable. Just because your tracks have been uploaded, doesn't mean they're going to be easy to find. Make sure all that metadata has been delivered to your distribution partner. Key tags include things like release year and date, album titles, collaborators, and genre.
Start Distributing Your Music Today
If you've spent time cultivating your sound and developing as an artist, there's no point waiting around. Now's the time to start thinking seriously about music distribution. First, you'll need to decide on what distribution channels you want to target. Just about every artist will want to distribute on streaming services, but digital online stores can also prove lucrative. Even physical sales are something to think about.
Do these channels fit with your music? Is your target audience likely to engage with stream-only services? Answering these questions will ensure you're not wasting time and energy. You're now ready to choose a preferred distribution partner that can upload your music to platforms of your choice. Along with high-resolution audio files, you'll need a full set of metadata and album art ready to go.
You can increase the odds of success by implementing effective music distribution strategies. Direct-to-fan marketing has worked for many major stars, while playlist promotion has the potential to get your music into the ears of millions of listeners. Influencer marketing can also be worthwhile if you can find someone who's a natural fit with your brand.
Ready to tap into worldwide audiences? Find your music distribution partner today and take your music career to the next level.