Music distribution – it’s something that’s often overlooked.
Quite the crazy thought, when you consider that for most indie artists, it’s one of (if not ‘the’) most crucial step in getting their music heard. Fact is – you can create the best music to ever exist, BUT if it’s not distributed correctly, it’s not going to be heard. Ever come across a single/ album post 2010 that’s made No1 without being available on Spotify & Apple Music??
Which is why you’d be an utter fool not to (A) understand the distribution process, & (B) work out what you want from a distribution partner. As only then can you choose the music distributor that makes the most business sense, in terms of: exposure, what they offer & of course – price. So with that in mind, how do you spot the best music distribution platform? & what’s some of the differences you should be looking out for? Read on & we reveal all.
After something specific about how to choose a music distribution platform? Or just curious how to spot the best platform for you? Use the menu below to get all your answers in 1 click…
What is music distribution? & why do artists need it?
Music distribution is pretty much the key to monetising your music online.
Without it, no indie would be able to list their music for sale on iTunes or claim their profile as a Spotify artist. Nor would they be able to safeguard their music against copyright, via systems like Content ID or even collect royalties in a matter of minutes.
So yes – while some may say music distribution is the industry’s last ditch attempt to ‘retain control’ due to the decreasing popularity of labels, really it’s nothing more than a HUGE convenience… especially when you consider the low cost!! Membership to a distributor for 1 year will only set you back somewhere in the region of $50-$100. A small price to pay for the sheer amount of revenue streams it opens up.
& if that’s not enough, distributors also collect these royalties too. Yet another boring piece of admin that you as a musician don’t need to worry about. Think of them as a paid PRO for online stores & streaming platforms; choose to go without a distributor & you’d be limited to just selling physical CDs. Hardly what you’d call ’21st century’.
Plus, it’s also worth considering the extra marketing & branding opportunities that distribution opens up too; you can now leverage Spotify to sell merch, as well as YouTube & Instagram. Yet more ways of gaining exposure, building your brand & turning your creative aspirations into a paying career.
NOTE: Some distribution platforms can make the whole paying experience even easier by automatically splitting revenue between each contributor credited on the song. Yet another piece of admin out of the window.
Examples of music distribution services..
While there’s a LOT of music distribution companies out there, some of the most popular are…
How to choose a good music distribution service?
DON’T BE FOOLED!!
Although it may look like music distributors all do the same thing, the way they operate & make £$€ is slightly different. No 2 distribution companies are the same, which is why you need to (A) understand what these differences are & (B) how they’ll affect you.
So without further ado, here’s 8 things to weigh up when choosing a distribution partner for your music…
1. Investigate the company’s age/ reputation
Sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed how many artists overlook this.
REMEMBER: The age of a distributor tells you an awful lot about it!!
Understand this & you can immediately pinpoint which distributors are likely to be the most reliable & reputable; the longer a distributor’s been around, the longer they’ve had to develop their user interface off consumer feedback & (crucially) develop the relationships needed to get your music into the most amount of stores possible.
All things you need if you value a stress-free experience & want to muscle your releases into as many stores as possible.
& then of course, there’s the whole topic of security & payments. With distributors also collecting your royalties, by picking an established & trusted distributor you significantly lower the risk of loosing out on any payments because of a data breach, or the company filing for bankruptcy.
PS/ Older distributors are also less likely to try & pull the wool over your eyes with fancy legal jargon, as evidence of dodgy practices could easily undermine the countless years of trust-building they’ve done to reach the point they’re @ today. So you could call them a safe bet.
2. Read all sorts of reviews
As great as YouTube is, don’t trust everything people say.
Because a good amount of the reviews about music distributors are affiliated – i.e. designed to sell you on the thought of signing up, so that the creator gets a financial kickback. We’ve come across a LOT of online creators that try to ‘sell’ you on specific distributors (by conveniently glossing over the drawbacks). So watch your back!!
When weighing up distributors, you’ve got to be resourceful; social media is just 1 source. Do some digging through the company’s Google reviews, as well as those on third party review sites, & you’ll begin to build a more rounded understanding of how each distributor performs + their common pitfalls.
FYI: Keep reading a lot about DistroKid? That’s because they have one of the highest paying affiliate programmes of any music distributor. #ToldYaSo
3. Check whether they offer ‘unlimited’ distribution
With music distribution being a service & not all companies making their £$€ in the same way, distributors need to act in certain ways in order to remain profitable.
Which is why one of the 1st things you should do is check (A) what companies offer ‘unlimited’ distribution & (B) understand their definition of ‘unlimited’. Because while some companies will offer all paid customers ‘unlimited’ distribution, others may not. & even when a company advertises ‘unlimited’, they may still have a cap on frequency or certain terms you need to abide by.
Fine-print you might want to look into if you plan on releasing songs in quick succession… the last thing you want is to splash mega £$€ on a high-intensity marketing campaign only to realise you don’t have the ability to distribute your music fast enough.
That just annoys your fans & makes you look bad.
4. How many stores does the distributor support?
IMPORTANT CLARIFICATION: the phrase ‘all stores‘ doesn’t mean ‘all stores in existence‘.
It means that you can get your music into all of the stores that the distribution company can get your music into. Why does this matter?
Well you see… not all distributors have access to the same amount of stores. Tunecore for instance, can get your music into excess of 150 stores – a pretty solid number. While other distributors (especially newer platforms) can come in quite a way underneath that. Another high performer when it comes to store count is Ditto.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that while some services (cough- DistroKid) boast a high store count, you’ll be liable to pay a reoccurring yearly fee to keep your releases in certain stores. Stores that other distributors include for FREE!
From a marketing perspective, it’s also worth considering your reach. The more stores you distribute to, the higher the likelihood of sales & larger streaming figures. So really, doing your homework around distribution is really just good business sense.
FYI: It’s also worth noting that some distributors will automatically distribute your music to new stores as they come available. Whilst others will not. Yet another reason why we like Tunecore, because they do so automatically & FREE of charge!
5. Watch out for dodgy legal jargon
Sounds boring, but deal with it – you NEED to read a distributor’s terms of service.
We say so because for 1 simple reason. A LOT the people behind distribution companies have ties to some of the world’s largest record labels. & as we all know, the man who doesn’t read his record contract… he’ll end up kicking himself sooner or later, wishing that he did.
When signing up to any distribution company, you need to be confident that by doing so you retain your Intellectual Property Rights & won’t be signing away any rights to a third party in the process. Want proof that is is a real thing??
At one time, the terms of service for United Masters included a phrase called the First Right Of Refusal. A legal clause that meant that those who distributed their music through United Masters, would have to approach the company for permission when choosing to accept any form of brand or record deal.
Just one of the sneaky legal backdoors that have the ability to limit the scope of your career before its even begun!!
6. Keep tabs on withdrawal fees
To accrue thousands in royalties with a distributor is great – but that’s only half the story.
The real number you need to focus on is how much of that ‘royalty credit’ will hit your bank. & to calculate that you need to understand the incredibly ‘sexy’ subject that is payment processors. In short, these are those services which take your money out of your distribution account & deposit it into your bank.
Typically all payment processors take a fee that looks something like: 2.9% + 30 cents. However, this is where you need to be careful, because while certain distributors cap this fee – others don’t. To put this into perspective, if you were to withdraw $1000 in royalties from the following 3 distributors, here’s how much you’d actually receive…
- Tunecore = $999.75 (25 cent cap)
- CD Baby = £1000 (no fees whatsoever)
- Ditto = £971.70 (uncapped)
Magnify this by several thousands, & the sheer dent which uncapped transaction fees can make in your finances, soon becomes apparent.
7. Know the costs/ perks of Content ID
While most distributors include Content ID as part of their service, it’s NOT free.
Each platform will charge a different percentage of your Content ID revenue in exchange for protecting your music against copyright. Figures can range anywhere from 20% to above 30%, with some distributors (cough – DistroKid) also charging a yearly renewal fee per release. A pricy addition if you’ve got a seriously large back catalog.
What’s more, in regards to Content ID there’s also the subject of whitelisting to consider too. This is what allows you to post your music videos on your own YouTube channel without receiving a copyright strike from your distributor.
The most convenient platform out there (by a mile) for this is Tunecore. They allow you to whitelist your entire channel once… & that’s it. It’s pretty much a ‘set-&-forget’ type of thing. While with DistroKid, you have to whitelist every single video individually as you post new music, & with CD Baby – there is no whitelisting feature. Leaving you having to dispute a copyright claim EVERY time you post a video!!
So if you value ease of use & your fans, for the love of God, pay attention to content ID.
8. The situation with UPC/ ISRC codes
If you’re confident that you’ve got the ability to chart, then listen up – because UPC/ ISRC codes are another area you need to focus on when choosing your distributor.
Incase you’re unsure…
& as you’ve probably gathered by now, when it comes to UPC/ ISRC codes, the trend is much the same – each distributor is different. Some distributors give you all the codes for FREE, while other charge them as an additional extra. Some distributors require you to be on a certain level of plan to even access these sorts of codes too.
& if that’s no enough, there’s only a handful of distributors which allow you to print out your codes to use on physical products.
If you plan on selling physical CDs as merch, then understanding the situation with codes, is vital.
Enjoy this article on what to look for when choosing a music distributor, & eager for more? Jump into our latest Latest Music Industry Advice, as well as all the knowledge we’ve accrued around Labels & Deals. Recently, we also wrote an article on Signing To Music Labels + another on Questions You Should Ask A Music Lawyer, which may also be a good read.