When it comes to releasing music, whether you’re tired of waiting for labels to, planning to start a label or want to keep your music in your control, distributing your music yourself is a viable way to success that many have taken. The pace of music in 2020 however is faster than ever, and it will no doubt continue to increase. As such Artists, Managers and potential label owners need to know which music distribution services are best for their needs.
Artists at all levels of the industry are seeking to maintain more control and ownership in their music than ever, and rightly so when many of you control the communication with your fan base. While there is a strong argument for what labels can do to build a career unless you’re at the top of your game they might not really do that much for you and waiting for them can hold you back.
So if you have music to share, an audience, and a strategy to engage them, you don’t really need to wait for a label. It’s might be time to give them some music independently and build your own momentum. If that sounds anything like you, we’re here to shed some light on the main distribution services available and breakdown what exactly they can do for you. Hopefully, by the end of it you can make an informed decision and choose which one is right for you.
Every indie label has a distribution partner while major labels such as Universal, Sony and Warner have their own internal distribution services. In their original role, distributors were focused on helping labels get vinyl and CD’s to record shops, this was an expensive process that involved manufacturing and negotiating placements in the record shops. Nowadays everything is digital, and while there isn’t a huge cost or barrier to distributing music they still play a role in getting you in the places that matter. Distributors in the modern-day unanimously serve one basic role, an engine to upload your music to DSP’s (Digital Service Providers) such as Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music, Tidal and iTunes.
However, while they all place your music on the stores, getting the releases heard is generally up to you. Certain distributors however can help you pitch your releases to the music stores and streaming services for extra coverage and build on your efforts and audience. Whether that be getting placed on a playlist or other storefronts and in places that have lots of traffic seeking for new music.
In the current industry, we have two models for music distribution, one of which is available to almost anyone who wants their services, we’ll mostly focus on those services which you can apply to right now to get your music out to the world. The first is Fee-Based where you keep 100% of the profits from sales/streams in exchange for a fee. The alternative is Commission Services where they’ll put your music out in exchange for a share of the sales. Some companies do offer both options depending on your preference.
Each company has built up its resources for artists in an effort to differentiate themselves from one another, offering their own set of tools and support to provide value. Additional services include playlist pitching, royalty tracking apps, synchronisation, customer support, marketing support, pre-save tools and other tools.
When it comes to the DSP’s (Digital Service Providers) there are hundreds around the world, but when you are doing it on your own you just need to think where your fans are to start with. For the majority of you, the focus should be on platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer. However, for certain countries, there’s a range of other popular and important platforms to know about JioSaavn (India) and NetEase (China) and Joox (Indonesia) for example.
Commission based services often require a wait to get accepted, have more complex deals that can change as you grow and often require being approved by their A&R team. They are investing staff time into you and they want to see an opportunity to cover those costs, so not everyone can be accepted. If you do get to work with them you should know that most require 1 month lead time when you want to release to allow everyone enough time to share it with the right people and set up the pitching around the release into their schedule.
Fee / Rates: Varying (10-15%)
Standing for Artist Without A Label, AWAL was built on the back of worldwide publishing mega-house Kobalt. It’s a premium service that has an all in one mode catering to both new and established rising talents. Artists who have used the service include FINNEAS (Billie Eilish’s brother), Lauv, R3hab and Madison Beer all of which have gained significant streaming numbers. With AWAL you may have access to a label rep that you can discuss your release promotional plans and seek for them to present it to DSP’s for Playlist placement. However, if you’re just starting out they’ll likely just give you access to the platform and reach out to you if you start to pick up steam.
+ Amazing royalty and streaming tracking app to see your earnings
+ Get notifications when you are added to Spotify playlists
+ Known toActively pitch music to Spotify & Other Services with results
+ If your Music does really well they may offer marketing support, on more in-depth deals.
+ Is connected to a worldwide music publisher which opens opportunities for licensing in movies.
Distrokid – (Fee-Based)
A digital-only distribution company started in 2013 which is now in partnership with Spotify. It’s probably the most known self-service, you join on an annual subscription basis but you keep 100% of your income. This is a mainly do it yourself option with minimal support in the promotion. However, along with distributing your music, Distrokid also offers a variety of quite helpful tools such as getting access to your Spotify Artists profile, fixing when tracks appear on the wrong profile, and setting up pre-save links to promote your music ahead of release.
+ Get instant access to Spotify for Artists
+ Hyper-Follow (Spotify Pre Save Tool)
+ Keep 100% Profits
+ Set up “splits” to automatically route any percentage of earnings
– Extra’s can add up if you have a large catalog
– No Playlist Pitching
– Minimal Personal Support Service
Fee: $19 Annually For Unlimited Releases
This distribution company has been around for a while and in terms of service fits on the more premium end of the scale. Through Ditto you can release your music on the world’s biggest platforms and keep 100% of the rights to your songs and earn all the money you earn from sales. In addition, Ditto boast 20 offices across 16 countries, and with that more than 100 staff on-standby to help support and promote your music globally.
+ Own Your Music
+ Helpful Support Team
+ Reasonable Pricing
+ Easy to use upload system
Sign Up With Ditto
In addition to artist distribution, it offers a service called Record Label In A Box, this comes with company registration, artist-friendly contracts for you to customise and use in just a few clicks, as well as Advanced royalty software to monitor and manage your income. It also includes one-to-one access to the right Ditto Music expert, regardless of whether you want help with shows, business loans, setting up a campaign or simply some advice.
Routenote (Commission or Subscription)
Fee / Rates: Choose between 15% cut in your royalties or an annual membership fee as well as 10$ Per a single, 20$ for an EP and $30 for an Album.
Offering a hybrid of both options, RouteNote introduces a different option and also recently announced a partnership with various asian platforms partners such as Tencent and NetEase in China and Kpop and Korean music titans YG Entertainment who combined control a huge amount of the regions flow of music.
+ Collect music from YouTube & Soundcloud
+ Good Reporting
+ Option to earn 100% of royalties
+ Deliver to Tencent, NetEase, Naver & VIBE
– Expensive Upfront Cost
– Dated Website & No App
In summary, setting up your own distribution is a bit like airline travel in that there’s a few options and lots of hidden things to note. Fee Based Distributors are your stock standard self-service budget airline economy seat – they are the cheapest options with nothing special. If you’re already driving strong numbers to your music, have a fan base and don’t feel like you need any extra support from Music Services then these might be a good option. But as there’s no benefit to them in your success, don’t expect to much of personalised service in return. The alternative are Revenue Shared Based Distributors which are your Premium Economy ticket including companies such asAWAL, ADA and Fuga.
Independent Labels use these services, you just don’t see them as the income on your royalties is after they have taken their cut. As they have a vested interest in your songs doing, they like to have a direct relationship with you as an artist or manager and they’re usually quick to fix issues.
However, they are till not a label and you have to be realistic in your expectation from them as on your first releases unless you have already proven you have notable commercial success on your own. Their share usually ranges from 5% to 15% and if your music is doing well they’re also likely to want to help you grow more too and can help fund music videos, marketing, or other recording costs through an advance.
It is also worth noting some of the artists who’ve reached major success also have direct relationships with the gatekeepers and may have done much of the work themselves with the distributor doing nothing more than upload the music. Before releasing music, make sure you plan and create the implement marketing both online and by playing shows to real people and build an audience through a website, mailing lists and more.
So knowing all of that, do you think your music is ready, have an artwork finished and know a release date you want? Sign up to DistroKid and you can get 7% of via this link.