Which Distributor Should You Use? (2019 Updated)

Artists need to know which music distribution services are best for their needs. They 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. If you have an audience, great music and a strategy to engage them through content online and/or live shows, it could be time to give them some music yourself instead of waiting for a label to sign your tracks. So if you were to wanting to release your records without one, here's our summary of the main distribution services available and what they do for you:

First we have two key models. You have Subscription/Fee Based Services where you pay a set fee to put your music on DSP’s (Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music, Tidal) and you keep 100% of the profits from sales/streams. The alternative is Commission Services where in exchange for a share of the sales they offer varying levels of global distribution, playlist pitching for placements, marketing, design and support on a number of levels. Many of the services come with additional tools and resources such as apps, interfaces, rights holder management, customer support and more.

The most basic worldwide stores you should be on are Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, YouTube and Amazon, but based on your audience in specific countries you should note that in Asia theres a range of other popular platforms to know about JioSaavn (India) and NetEase (China) for example.

Commission based services often take a long wait to get accepted, have more complex deals and require being approved by their curation team. If you do get to work with them you should know that most require 1 month lead time when you want to release, which is recommended in order to allow everyone enough time to share it with the right people and set up the pitching around the release into their schedule.

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AWAL (Commission)
Fee / Rates: Varying (10-15%)
Standing for Artist Without A Label, AWAL was built on the back of worldwide publishing mega-house Kobalt. Its a premium service that has an all in one mode catering to both new and established rising talents. Artist using the service include FINNEAS (Billie EIlish’s brother), Lauv, R3hab and Madison Beer who've all gained significant streaming numbers using the service. With AWAL you may have acces 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.

Amazing royalty and streaming tracking app to see your earnings
+ Get notifications when you are added to Spotify playlists
+ Known to Actively 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.

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Distrokid - (Fee Based)
Website: https://distrokid.com
Fee / Rates: Starting at $19 Annually
An independent digital only distribution company started in 2013. It's probably the most known self-service today at $19 for an Annual basic distribution Subscription. If you're achieving strong results the fee's are insignificant though and far less than giving up 15-20%.   

+ 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 catalogue
- Minimal Personal Support Service

Stem (Commission)
Fee / Rates:  5% Royalty Cut

With most self distribution services, the full royalties go to the main artist who's then responsible for sending on the payments to the other parties. Today its common for four or more producers, topliners, writers to work on a song, introduce Stem. It was the first to make the payment of each artist seamless and transparent for everyone involved, however many have now added this service. Everyone with a split needs to agree on percentage splits via their site and until everyone has done so, no one receives payment. The service introduced us to Frank Ocean's "Blonde" and is now used by Childish Gambino and Deadmau5. 

+ Great for collaborations
+ Collect music from YouTube
+ Great data insight
- Mixed reports on DSP pitching support

Routenote (Commission or Subscription)
Website:  https://routenote.com/
Fee / Rates:  15% Cut or an annul membership 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 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
+ Deliver to Tencent, NetEase, Naver & VIBE
- Expensive Upfront Cost
- Dated Website & No App

SpinnUP (Fee Based)
Website: https://spinnup.com
Fee: Starts from 7.99 GBP Per single / Per Year
SpinnUP is Universal Music’s own distribution platform for unsigned artists. They claim their scouts have a direct line to the A&R's at Universal Music. However this may be more of a marketing tool than an actual feature. That being said with access to the raw data they would be able to identify successful artists on the rise and wouldn't surprise me to see them sign acts from it in an effort to build its reputation. It should be noted that some users pointed out that terms in the agreements gave Spinnup non-exclusive eternal rights to distribute the music, even if you should want to take it down from the service. 

Other Alternatives: Tunecore (Fee Based), CD Baby (Fee Based), United Masters (Percentage Based), Ditto (Fee Based), Symphonic (Fee + Commission)

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 as AWAL, 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 artist who have 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