Overview: What is Music Distribution, How Does Music Distribution Work?, Traditional versus Digital Distribution, Free versus Paid Music Distribution Services, Different Types of Music Distributors, What is the Best Music Distribution Service?, Extra Tips

If you’re a huge music lover, you may have fond memories of discovering new album releases at your local music store. Fast forward to today, and most music discovery happens on streaming services like Spotify. As a budding musician crafting your own hits in Studio, you might be wondering, “How can I get my songs on these major platforms?” Well, this is where music distribution comes in.

In this guide, we break down everything you need to know about distribution. This includes the different types of music distribution services you can tap on, and how you can choose the right one for yourself.

What is music distribution? 

Music distribution is essentially a way to make your music available to the public – and it’s not as complicated as you might think. This can involve getting your albums into physical stores in the form of CDs or records; or sharing it on online platforms for downloading and streaming. 

Through music distributors, you can establish your identity as an artist, broaden the reach of your songs, attract new fans from around the world, and generate income from your music. The best part? It’s more and more attainable in today’s world.

How does music distribution work? 

Let’s have a look at how music distribution works. It all starts with the creation of a single, album, or EP. Once you’ve got a piece of music you’re proud of and ready to share with the world, the next step is determining how and where to make it accessible to listeners.

If you happen to have a distribution partner such as a record label or distribution company, you can leverage their resources to reach a wide range of outlets. Or, you can tap on music distributors and distribution services to get your music on popular digital service providers (DSPs). These are platforms where music is streamed, sold, and distributed to audiences worldwide. Think Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, and TIDAL.

Sharing your music on DSPs can also be a source of income through royalties – a sum of money that gets paid to you whenever your songs are streamed or downloaded. 

There are two types of royalties you need to be aware of: mechanical and performance. Mechanical royalties are paid to you when your music is purchased or streamed by listeners; and performance royalties are paid when your music is publicly performed or broadcasted. This includes live performances, radio airplay, TV broadcasts, and even background music in public places.

Payments could be made to you on a monthly or quarterly basis, depending on the platform. Your chosen DSPs may also deduct a distribution fee or royalty cut that can go as high as 30%. 

Here’s a handy tip: use BandLab Distribution with an active Membership and 100% of the royalties will be yours to keep. Plus, you’ll still continue receiving 80% of royalties for distributed music even if you decide to lose the Membership.

Traditional versus digital distribution

In the earlier days of music distribution, you’d have to rely on physical formats like vinyl records, cassette tapes, and CDs to share your music. This traditional approach often involved the production of physical album copies, packaging, and ensuring availability in brick-and-mortar stores. If you were signed to a record label, you would receive assistance in distributing and promoting your music.

Later on when rapid digitalization took place in the 2000s, platforms such as iTunes, Spotify, and other streaming services opened up new avenues for artists to connect with global audiences. Digital distribution helped to alleviate some of the cons associated with traditional distribution, including high production costs, piracy concerns, and geographical limitations.

So is one form of distribution superior over the other? We’d say that’s subjective. They both have their advantages, and it depends on what you’re trying to achieve. 

For example, traditional distribution allows you to release limited edition physical albums with special artwork and features, which could act as collectibles for your fans. It also evokes nostalgia and offers a tangible music appreciation experience.

On the other hand, digital distribution presents a multitude of benefits. It’s cost-effective, since there’s no need to produce physical copies of albums. A big plus? It allows you to conveniently reach a global audience. You can upload your tracks to a DSP like Spotify, and instantly have listeners grooving to your music on the other side of the world.

On top of that, digital platforms bring analytics into the mix. Now you can dive into data about your listeners and gain insights into their preferences. For instance, if you find that a significant number of people in a town or country are listening to your songs, you can plan a gig there to connect with your fans directly.

Music distribution services – Free versus paid

If you’ve decided to include digital distribution in your music strategy, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of opting for a free or paid music distribution service. 

The obvious advantage of using a free music distributor is the cost savings. These free services usually come with basic access to established streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, and TIDAL. If you’re an emerging artist on a tight budget, this is a great option to release your music without having to pay a huge sum of fees.

However, while this may be an appealing option, there are some potential drawbacks.  Firstly, you may lose out on valuable features like advanced analytics, promotional tools, or customizability of your release. Additionally, most free music distribution services operate on a revenue-sharing model, which means they take a percentage of your earnings from sales and streams. 

Reliability can also be a concern with some of these free services, as they can have lengthy review times, taking months to get your song reviewed before it’s sent to DSPs. This delay could hinder your release schedule, and may not offer the peace of mind that your track will consistently be hosted and accessible, potentially affecting your listeners’ experience.

If that’s not ideal for you, a paid music distributor can grant you access to a more comprehensive range of features like detailed reporting, and precise release scheduling. You also gain greater control over how your music is presented, and since paid services typically operate on a subscription basis, you get to keep a larger percentage (or even all) of your earnings. Plus, the broader release capability of paid distribution services allows your music to effortlessly reach a wide array of platforms without cumbersome delays, ensuring maximum exposure for your work. 

Take BandLab Distribution, for example, which guarantees you get to keep 100% of the royalties you earn as long as you have an active Membership. Thanks to our speedy review system, your music promptly finds its way to prominent DSPs, fitting seamlessly into your release strategy without any disruptions.

Each option comes with its own set of benefits and limitations, so your decision should depend on your specific goals and needs as an artist. If your priority is to get your music heard by as many people as possible, and you can tolerate some downsides, a free distribution service can serve as a great starting point. But if you’re looking for reliable income, and a suite of value-added services to boot, a paid distribution service may prove to be the better choice.

Different types of music distributors

In order to choose the best music distribution service for your requirements, it’s helpful to know about the different kinds of music distributors. After all, your choice of distributor will impact your music’s reach, revenue, and even your overall career trajectory. Let’s run through the five main types to be aware of.

1. Aggregators: These are third-party services like BandLab Distribution that help to bridge the gap between artists and DSPs. They help you get your music to a wider audience by distributing it to various online stores and streaming services (like Spotify and Apple Music). This is a great option if you’re an artist that’s looking to release music without signing with a record label. Plus, it also allows you to retain control of your music.

2. Independent distribution partners: As its name suggests, independent distribution partners are boutique-style distributors that offer personalized services. They may not have the same reach as major distributors, but their customized, hands-on approach can be advantageous for independent artists. For example, if you’re a folk singer-songwriter with a loyal following, an independent distribution partner could put together a tailored strategy to help you reach your specific audience or artistic goals.

3. Major distributors: Major distributors are the organizations with the big guns. Think prominent industry players with vast networks and resources to tap on. They usually have strong ties with major record labels like Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, and Sony Music Entertainment. This means they can secure placements in popular playlists and stores. If you’re a rising pop star with chart-topping potential, major distributors can get your music to wider audiences in international markets.

4. Semi-label distribution services: On the other hand, if you’re looking for a partner that offers comprehensive support for your budding music career, a semi-label distribution service might be a good fit. These offer a combination of elements from traditional record labels and distribution companies – including additional services such as marketing, promotion, and artist development.

5. White-label distribution solutions: White-label distribution solutions streamline distribution operations for record labels and aggregators. They provide them with the technology, infrastructure, and tools for distributing music, which gives them time to focus on providing support in other areas like marketing and development. 

So, what is the best music distribution service?

How do you go about selecting the right distribution service based on your needs as an emerging artist? Here are key factors to think about when you’re making this choice.

1. Where your music will go: Your first consideration should be where you want your music to be available. Different distribution services can get your music onto various platforms, helping you reach diverse audiences. The more places your music can be heard, the greater your potential for building a fanbase and gaining recognition. For example, BandLab Distribution can get your creations on a wide range of major music platforms like Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, TIDAL, SoundCloud, and even TikTok Music.

2. How much it costs: As we covered earlier, there are music distributors that won’t cost you a cent, and others that you need to pay for. When picking the best music distribution service for yourself, consider your budget. Some services may take a cut of the earnings you make from your music. If you want to keep all the money you make with BandLab Distribution, signing up for BandLab Membership is a great choice, as you will get to keep 100% of your royalties. 

3. Value-added services: Many distributors add small benefits to sweeten the deal and increase your chance of success. BandLab Membership takes this to a new level with value-added services aimed at accelerating your growth as an artist. These include Profile Boost, which amplifies your exposure within the BandLab community; Fan Reach, a promotion tool to foster genuine connections and grow your fanbase; and Opportunities, a service that assists you in achieving your music goals, whether it’s securing gigs, sync placements, or even coveted record deals.

Some extra tips to cover all the bases

To make your journey to releasing and distributing music smoother, here are some extra factors to consider before you begin.

1. Using AI cover art: Your cover art will make an impression on first-time listeners. It’s important to ensure that it’s both visually stunning, and captures your music’s essence. If hiring a designer isn’t an option, you can consider using AI tools like Artguru or Fotor for a convenient way to create compelling cover art. However, it’s good to keep in mind that while AI can be a helpful option, working with a designer could give it that extra personal touch, perfectly conveying the message you want to share.

Create AI Cover art for your release.

2. Royalty splits in music: Collaborations can lead to some of the most epic music creations. But, it can also lead to messy disputes over financial arrangements. To avoid this, craft a clear plan for royalty splits upfront with your collaborators, and decide whether it’s an equal split, tiered system, or based on specific contributions.

3. Distribution time: Don’t underestimate the importance of distribution time. It’s not just a logistical concern, it can significantly impact the success of your music. Swift distribution ensures that your music aligns seamlessly with your release strategy, allowing you to engage your fans, stay competitive, and capitalize on timely opportunities. Delayed releases can disrupt your promotional efforts and hinder revenue generation. BandLab Distribution ensures that your submitted tracks are promptly reviewed and approved, typically within two business days, before they are distributed to multiple top DSPs. This sets it apart from other platforms that often subject you to extended waiting times of weeks or even months.

4. Mobile and desktop interfaces: As an artist, your schedule may often be packed with gigs and projects that keep you on the move. That’s why it’s essential to opt for a music distributor that provides a user-friendly experience on both your mobile device and desktop computer. This flexibility allows you to easily release new tracks and monitor your streaming performance, ensuring you stay connected wherever you are. Thankfully, BandLab Distribution is now available on both web AND mobile – making it even more convenient for you to release your music on major streaming platforms.

BandLab Distribution is available on web and mobile.

5. Membership cancellations: Before signing up for a music distribution service, don’t forget to understand the process and implications of canceling your membership. Your career priorities may shift as you evolve. So be aware of any contractual obligations, termination fees, or consequences for your music releases. For instance, with BandLab Distribution, your releases will continue to be available on all DSPs, but you’ll retain 80% of royalties instead of 100%.

Excited to share your original music on popular platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, SoundCloud, TikTok and beyond? Kickstart your music distribution experience by trying out BandLab Distribution with a complimentary three-day trial. 

Psst… got more questions on how BandLab Distribution works? Check out this handy FAQ.