Digital distribution, the devil’s in the details

So you’ve finished your EP, album, single or whatever, and you’re looking for a way to get your music online. You want to be just like all the big artists you look up to, findable on Spotify, Deezer,Apple Music, etc. But how to get your music there?

How to spread your music around the globe

First of all, we refer to these streaming services as DSPs, Digital Service Providers. Unfortunately it’s not possible to directly upload to them. There are platforms that do allow this, such as Soundcloud, Youtube or Bandcamp, but the other DSPs are walled off as it were. Now to get on these platforms, you’re going to have to go through a third party or have a direct deal with them yourself. Unfortunately, it’s quite hard for individual artists and smaller labels to get these direct deals, so they can align with a distributor or an aggregator to still get their music on the different DSPs. There are several options for this, so let’s go through some of the options together.

Who can distribute my music?

There are different kinds of third parties that can distribute your music, and of course, you guessed it, different kinds of deals that come with them. Just like any other revenue stream, there are percentages you can give away, flat fees you can pay or rights you can sign away. So let’s take an overall look at these third parties. Armed with this information you can hopefully make an informed decision and find out who fits best for your project.

Record labels

In a way, this is the most hassle-free way but it is also the most complicated way to get your music online. When you sign to a record label, part of their job is to distribute your music online (and sometimes also physically). Now this is the most hassle-free way because it’s someone else’s job to make sure your music will land safely on the different DSPs. So, for the actual distribution it’s quite easy. The labels have loads of experience and know what to do. On the flip side, this is also the most complicated way simply because you have to get signed to a record label, and that can be a bit of a struggle. But once you are signed, they’ll gladly take care of this for you (for a percentage of your earnings of course). How much money you make off of the actual music streaming really depends on what kind of contract you have with the label. Trying to get a record deal just for the purpose of digital distribution doesn’t make much sense, though. Always try to sign to a label only when they have proven added value.

Distributors

Distributors often form the pipeline between labels and DPSs. As a solitary artist it’s often impossible to make a direct deal with the distributors, unless you have enough clout, income and connections. Distributors often have their own promo services, since if the music on their roster is doing well, they are doing well. Win win. Distributors are often more technology-focussed companies, they build and maintain the digital pipeline to all DSPs they can find. This is no simple task and it’s highly technical.

Aggregators

In the good ol’ days, distributors would make sure your records would get to record stores, they’d hang a couple of posters in said stores and would maintain stock and keep track of all shipments. Now of course the world we live in has radically changed. There’s still a need for physical records but thanks to Bandcamp, WooCommerce, Shopify etc. the need for a middle man has essentially been eliminated, thus also ensuring a bigger revenue for artists and record labels. But next to physical distribution you also want your music to appear on Apple Music, Spotify and Deezer. 

As discussed above, record labels often have their own digital distributors, but of course not all DIY labels and artists have access to such a big company. So then it’s up to artists themselves to distribute their music. This is often done through what is called an aggregator. This is a company that collects your music and metadata and sends it off to Apple, Spotify etc.

DIY Distribution services

So for the ambitious and entrepreneurial artists out there looking for a list of who can distribute their music, look no further. Here’s LINK a snazzy little round-up of what I think are some of the best or most relevant parties around. If you want to get more in-depth I suggest you check each entry out and decide for yourself what the best deal is. If it’s a one-off project one flat fee makes sense, but if you are going to be releasing year-round a yearly fee might make more sense. At the end of the day there’s a solution that fits every artist out there.

First off all, we should make a small distinction between aggregators. There are bigger aggregators that offer the possibility to grow out of the entry tier and get more perks, etc. And then there are purely service-oriented aggregators who just release your music, and that’s it. The differences between these parties have increasingly grown murkier, so bear with me as we go through a list of who’s who. Some aggregators have a quality check in place as well, but most don’t. Some are independent, some are major owned, and as with everything in life they all have pros and cons.

Ultimately, it’s important to check what percentage they take (if any), what rights, what territories they service and what extra services they can offer. It’s getting easier and easier to get your music to different DSPs, so make sure that whoever you choose has an added value. Spinnup and AWAL are major owned so it makes sense that you could more easily grow towards a major deal with them, while on the other hand Distrokid is still very independent with the new option of showcasing your data to interested labels. Aggregators are increasingly becoming incubators of young talent, so make no mistake when choosing one.

At the end of the day it’s up to you to decide who’s the best fit. Either way, you should now have an idea of how to get on the different DSPs. How to get people to listen on the different DSPs? Boy, that’s a whole other story. Take a look here. For more information and more in-depth pricing comparisons I suggest checking out Ari’s excellent article here.

Let me know in the comments or at info@bohemianmgmt.com if I missed anything or if you have any comments!

Advanced reading / watching

Ari’s Take – https://aristake.com/digital-distribution-comparison

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