Everything Musicians Need to Know About Music Distribution

The way music is directly delivered to a listener is known as music distribution. And the goal of any musician is to master the art of smart distribution in order to get in the heads of as many listeners as possible. 

Back in the day, the only way a musician was able to have their music heard was through traditional brick-and-mortar stores. And usually, this came after recording with a specific label that was in charge of how many albums were made and where they were distributed. The audience was out of the musician’s hands, and rather up to groups of individuals, which left artists vulnerable and at the mercy of a bigger band of people. However, the model worked for decades and, clearly, wasn’t all bad. The only major downside was the lack of authority, which many business-savvy bands took into their own hands.

Fortunately, today, more artists have more control over their music distribution which provides them a bigger part in the connection between their art and their audience. Thanks to a predominately digital realm, fans, both existing and potential, have access to music and it’s never been easier.

When you know and understand all of the intricate details of music distribution you’ll have the ability to strategically plan out your music’s visibility. And this visible growth leads to more money, which may or may not be your ultimate goal.

How it used to work

Before the dawn of the digital age, we had record stores and labels. These labels would broker a deal with record stores in order to provide physical copies of music and help with promotion. The benefit is that artists didn’t have to focus beyond the music. The downside is that there was a person in the middle who took a percent.

The ways it’s changed

Without the need for physical stores anymore (think about the last time you entered a music store), music distribution has become a lot more streamlined. The internet brings music to an audience that is able to consume much more directly. Music stores still exist but in a more vintage fashion. Today, the majority of individuals prefer to head online for their audible needs.

Big labels are no longer needed

As a result of the internet, the requirement for all musicians to be signed with a big label is no longer needed. Independent artists can make and create their own albums, thanks to newer technology that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to purchase. Plus, the exclusive agreements put on by big labels once costs artists, both monetarily and by giving up control. Digital distribution allows musicians to maintain their rights to their music without needing a big label to put in the work for them. Cutting out big labels is especially a good method for the savvy business type, those who feel they can handle the business end of things.

That’s not to say big labels don’t come with their benefits

When you sign with a major label you’re able to have your music distributed in a tried and true way. This is for musicians who prefer to take a back seat to the marketing and channels to connect to their audience, and prefer to focus on the music itself. 

Digital distribution allows you to keep your royalties

Record labels once took a significant cut of all the profits sold to stores, because they are the ones who created the agreements. This makes sense, because if you’re using a middle man then that middle man reasonably deserves to get paid. But as a result, they also cut your profits. With digital distribution, artists are able to keep one-hundred percent of the profits made and royalties. 

Examples of digital streaming platforms

Some of the key players in digital streaming platforms are Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube, Amazon Music, Pandora, and SoundCloud. Even social media has become an avenue for music distribution to make major headway. Think about all of the viral videos on TikTok and Instagram. 

Why digital mediums are a tremendous benefit

Well, for one they are easier to access. Unlike a standalone storefront, a digital record shop provides listeners to binge on your music as much as they’d like. They can download, stream, and even buy. Plus, they are able to share instantaneously. As a result, you make royalties. What’s more, because the music is delivered digitally rather than in shipping boxes, more of that music is widely available much quicker. 

But how do these music distribution companies make money?

Yes, it’s true. You will keep a large portion of the money earned on your music but you can’t get away with keeping all of it. Most music distribution companies require a fee upfront for providing a service, or sometimes even get you with hidden fees in their contracts. That’s why it’s of the utmost importance to know the details of the company you work with. 

Understanding the ins and outs of music distribution is crucial for any artist. But the more you educate yourself on the process the more success you are likely to have in the future.

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