While there are services out there that claim to make the music distribution process more manageable, they often miss out on essential features. Getting your song from zero streams to being able to collect royalties will take time and effort, often more than it took to produce your music.
We’ve put together this guide to ten-part guide to show you how music distribution works and how to make a success of it. There are three elements to making a success of your music distribution – the creative process, the business element, and getting your music out there.
1. Writing Your Song
Once you’ve got your lyrics done, you want to consider how it sounds to a new set of ears. When you’re writing songs, it’ll often sound different to you than the average listener. Take some time away and come back with a fresh set of ears (and eyes!) to look at your lyrics again. This stage is also the perfect time to ask a friend or family member to listen to your vocals.
You may find that you need to rearrange your lyrics to make them flow smoothly and sound a little catchier.
What does the writing process have to do with music distribution? If your lyrics are memorable and catchy, people are more likely to listen to the song for a longer time and hit ‘repeat.’ You need listeners to engage with your music for at least 15 seconds for the stream to count towards your distribution numbers.
2. The Technical Side of It
People often rush through the technical aspects of their music, assuming they can go back and fix them before distribution. You might write the next big hit, but if it’s not recorded correctly, it’s going to get lost on the internet.
For your music distribution to be successful, you want to make it as professional as possible. With the advancements in technology, you don’t need to be in a recording studio to get top-quality sound. If you’re looking to turn your music career into a full-time job, it’s worth investing in the proper equipment. If you don’t have the budget to start with, you can often hire or collaborate with a sound engineer to get that studio-quality sound.
You want to make sure you’re using a microphone and preamps to reduce background noise while recording in a vocal booth or an acoustically treated room. Even little things like the distance of your mouth from the microphone will impact the technical quality of your recording.
Although you can record a song on your iPhone, you don’t want it to sound like you did.
3. Mixing and Mastering
You want to pay attention to details, making sure to take the time to look at every vocal note or instrument in detail. For your song to be successful, you need to make the listening experience as enjoyable and easy as possible. Your listener isn’t going to hit ‘repeat’ if they struggle to understand your lyrics under the beat.
The focal point of mastering is to ensure your song maintains its quality across all platforms. People often overlook the mastering process because they don’t see the importance of it. Mastering allows you to optimize your song for music distribution.
Most algorithms on sites like Apple Music and Spotify will also examine the quality of your music before pushing it out to their listeners. Taking the time to perfect the mix and mastering of your music will help you in the long run.
4. Choosing Your Artwork
People will see your music through this artwork before they hear it. When it comes to curating your image as an artist, your artwork plays a significant role. You can incorporate key elements of your identity as an artist into your artwork, whether it’s your logo, symbols, or the inspiration behind the piece.
Some music artwork is more iconic than the songs themselves – think of how many t-shirts you’ve seen with an artist’s album on the front.
You have two options when it comes to your artwork. You can either try to make one yourself using a free platform like Canva or outsource the production to a graphic designer. This process will usually depend on your budget, but it’s worth investing in your artwork to create that vital first impression and make your marketing easier.
5. Understanding Your Rights
If you’ve licensed an instrumental from a third-party website, it’s a good idea to double-check your agreement. Most of these licensing agreements include a licensing cap, meaning you’ll have to renew your contract after a certain number of streams. You’ll also need to renew the license after a set period, usually within ten years. Not every instrumental license will allow you to use the music for digital streaming, which you’ll want to make sure of at the time of signing your licensing agreement.
As part of your music distribution, you may decide to upload the song to YouTube’s Content ID system. It allows you to be notified about the copyright owner every time your song is used in a video. You can block the music, monetize the video, or track the success of the video. You’ll only be able to put a copyright claim in if you own the master rights to the music.
6. Understanding Copyright
The two most important types of copyright are ‘performing arts’ and ‘sound recording’ for music distribution.
Unless you’ve done everything yourself, you won’t have complete performing arts copyright. For example, you’ll own the lyrics as the writer, but a producer will own the PA copyright to your music. You’ll have to credit everyone involved with their PA copyright. In terms of royalties, the money is usually equally split between the producer and writer.
Sound recording copyright (known as ‘master rights’) will determine whether you can distribute your song. If your music is licensed on a non-exclusive basis, you won’t hold the sound recording copyright. You’ll own the sound recording copyright if you’ve written and produced everything relating to your song, including paying for it. If a third party has been involved in financing your song, you won’t qualify as the master right owner.
7. How to Collect Royalties
Third parties collect your royalties on your behalf, which will pass on your earnings to you. You’ll need to register with a Publishing Administration service to collect royalties from platforms like Spotify.
8. Performing Rights Organization + Publishing Administration Services
Instead of you collecting your royalties directly from these companies, a Performing Rights Organization (ASCAP or BMI) will do it on your behalf. Platforms like Spotify will require you to be affiliated and registered with a Performing Rights Organization to claim your royalties. It’s a good idea to do this process before you start distributing your music.
You’ll also need to sign up to a music publisher or publishing company to collect all your royalties and earnings. The revenue gathered from your streaming service will be divided into different types of royalties. To collect all of these, you’ll need to be registered with both a PRO and publishing administration service.
If you don’t want to use a third-party publishing organization, you can do it yourself through Songtrust.
9. Choose Your Distributor
Choosing a distributor is your next big hurdle. Streaming services are now out-performing physical stores. When was the last time you visited a music shop to purchase a CD before opening your Apple Music or Spotify account? Streaming platforms make music more accessible than ever.
Most of these streaming platforms prefer to work with a distributor than the artist themselves to streamline the process.
There are dozens of music distributors for you to choose from, such as Distrokid, CD Baby, TuneCore, and United Masters. It’s worth doing your due diligence and researching as many as possible to find the best fit for you. Any distributor will help you get your music onto streaming platforms, but every company will have unique features that you can take advantage of.
It’s a good idea to stick to one distributor, as having more than one can cause violation issues and complicate the process. Once you’ve signed up with your distributor, you’ll submit your song and decide factors like its release date and synching opportunities.
10. Marketing Your Music
When you have an existing following ready to support you, you’ll have a core supporter base to help make your song a success on release day.
Understanding how to market your song is worthy of its own guide, but there are a few points to remember.
- • Tell the story of your music – what inspired you?
- • Incorporate your branding and logo to boost awareness of your music
- • Create organic content that your followers can easily share, including social media posts advertising the release date of your song and where it can be accessed.
With these ten steps, you’ll be setting yourself up for a successful song. Being an independent artist can be a challenge but understanding how the music distribution process works can make it easier.