Ultimate Guide to Digital Music Distribution

Music distribution is the act of displaying your recordings to the physical and digital music stores. However, due to the digitalisation in the music industry, the number of physical stores is slowly declining with the rise of digital retails. We are going to focus on the latter.

If you are a musician who works independently, registering your music to a digital music distribution company can be a beneficial option. You can upload your piece to streaming services while receiving royalties from sales and streams simultaneously.

What is digital music distribution?

Digital music distribution is the process of placing music recordings to digital service providers (DSP). Digital service providers consist of online stores such as iTunes and Amazon Music. Streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Youtube Music are also part of DSP.

Musicians and record labels are unable to post their creations directly to any digital platform. Hence they need to collaborate with digital music distributors to publish their music on digital platforms. 

Publishing songs on streaming services is barely the sole reason why musicians and labels register to digital distributors. Uploading their singles or albums can boost the number of people who listen to their music. It’s a strategy to be popular and grow their fanbase.

What is the best digital music distributor?

Dividing digital distributors into the best and worst categories is almost impossible. This is because each company offers different kinds of services and regulations. You can select a music distributor that suits your needs and budget.

Since each distributor has its own rules, taking the time to weigh the pros and cons of each one can help you discern which one is the most suitable for you. Understand what kind of contracts your prospective music aggregators give and evaluate what does and doesn’t match your expectations. 

For example, some digital distributors offer basic plans by only placing your music on the streaming services without administering them to the music publishers. Having your creations registered to music publishers can be beneficial because the publishing companies will manage your copyrighted compositions, and you will be able to collect more revenues.

Choosing the type of service that only puts your music on DSP might be a cheaper option. However, without the help of music publishers, you will not be able to earn royalties from outside streaming services. 

Publishers’ fees might be slightly more expensive, but you will be allowed to receive royalties besides the ones generated from streaming services. Music publishers will handle and grant the license for your song compositions copyrights.

Hence, your music can be used by other professionals for different purposes. For example, movie producers and advertising agencies can use your recordings for their visual media outputs.

Comparing digital music distributors

We can differentiate music distributors into two major types: bulk and specialised aggregators. Bulk aggregators don’t have specific requirements for content submissions, and they are available for online registration. Independent musicians who just started their careers will usually prefer using their services for convenience.

In comparison, specialised distributors have their own standards for submissions. Hence their specialised service, big labels, and established musicians typically collaborate to maintain their market quality.

Bulk aggregators

  1. CD Baby

CD Baby became the first distribution partner of iTunes in 2004. Their branding was for independent musicians who wished to publish their songs to the digital streaming providers but were not interested in joining record labels.

CD Baby offers basic and PRO plans. Musicians are allowed to publish an unlimited amount of singles and albums using both plans. However, CD Baby will handle the publishing administration and licence your music by subscribing to the PRO plan.

  1. Ditto Music

Ditto Music is a UK-based online music distributor company. Their most significant achievement was distributing the song Blag, Steal & Borrow by Koopa and became the first UK Top 40 singles from an unsigned musician in 2007.

Ditto Music’s leading service offers an unlimited release of singles and albums with an annual subscription. You can also pay more money for them to licence your music and handle the publishing administration.

  1. DistroKid

DistroKid is one of the popular worldwide music distributor companies that is located in New York City. They offer the cheapest annual fees for its package that holds basic features.

Other than that, DistroKid has an automatic royalties split feature. This feature allows musicians in the same band to receive their royalties without manually separating them.

Unfortunately, despite its superior services, DistroKid is missing the publishing administration service. This means you are unable to licence your music to be used outside of digital streaming providers. 

  1. TuneCore

TuneCore is a New York City-based digital music distribution company founded in 2005. TuneCore has helped a lot of musicians in distributing and selling their music through digital streaming providers. 

TuneCore’s service offers full royalties payment to their registered musicians. However, if the composers and songwriters wish to licence their production, TuneCore can do that, but they charge an additional fee.

Specialised aggregators

  1. The Orchard

The Orchard is a specialised music distribution company based in NYC. The company is a subsidiary of Sony Music and has helped musicians and independent labels grow their careers.

Several famous musicians such as BTS, 21 Savage, Flipp Dinero, and many others have their success stories by releasing music through The Orchard. This company can be an excellent choice if you are an artist who wishes to receive their individualised service, such as marketing resources, career consultation, and analytic tools.

  1. INgrooves

Ingrooves Music Group is a digital distribution company owned by Universal Music Group. They offer individualised services for worldwide artists and independent record labels. 

This company provides scalable distribution tools such as analytics, rights management services, and marketing solutions.

How do digital distributions work?

Knowing how digital distributions work is an essential part of growing your career in the industry. Start by registering to a trustworthy music aggregator, and the procedure is quite simple to follow. 

You can follow these steps to get your music distributed by the aggregators:

  • Visit a music distributor’s website and choose the sign-up option.
  • Prepare your audio files. (WAV. format with 44.1 kHz and 16 bit)
  • Provide artwork samples (jpg format)
  • Provide metadata that includes your profile information
  • Review before deciding to sign the agreement document

Aggregator companies will send your music to digital service providers once they have approved your submission. You will need to wait within a few delivery days for your music to be displayed on digital platforms. The distribution company will then hand the royalties payout to you when your recordings are successfully making streams or sales. 

Things that you should know

  • Submission criteria:

Some digital distribution companies will set their standard and do screenings for all submitted content from their clients. This means that there is no guarantee that your songs will qualify to be distributed through these aggregators.

  • Delivery times:

Deliver time regulations may vary depending on which digital distributor you sign up with. Delivery time can be shorter if your distributors have close relationships with the digital service providers.

  • Legal agreement:

Signing legal agreements is a part of the requirements. The legal contracts will include the distributors’ rights to sell and distribute your music to the stores and collect royalties from streams and sales. 

Ensure that you read the agreements carefully and ask questions without hesitation. Negotiating can also be beneficial as you will be the one who decides which company accommodates your purposes. 

For example, look up the termination clauses and terms of agreements. As a newbie musician, you need to be wary about the terms and conditions in the contract to avoid any issues that might conflict with your own personal interests.

  • ISRC and EAN codes:

ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) is an identification code for a single music track. The number of released tracks can be accounted for by using this code. 

ISRC contains 12 characters that are attached to every single release. This means each song will have 1 ISRC code.

EAN (European Article Number) or International Article Number is a code to identify digital publishers. EAN is a product-related code that can typically add to singles, EPs, and albums releases. 

EAN consists of 13 numbers that also serve as barcodes. If you released an album with 6 tracks in it, you would have 1 EAN code and 6 ISRC codes. 

Organisations that are related in both single and product code generation are the International Federation of Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and Global Standards 1 (GS1). You should go to IFPI to get your ISRC and GS1 for the EAN. 

How much do digital distribution services cost?

Choosing a music aggregator that suits your budget is important because similar companies offer different fees with various advantages. These fees can vary depending on subscription (i.e., annual) or a simple flat fee.

However, most digital distributors will demand you an upfront fee payment. This is because the companies are unable to guarantee whether your music will generate streams or sales in the digital service provided. Upfront fees are compulsory to prevent these aggregators from profit loss.

While choosing the cheapest distributor can be an enticing idea, you still need to evaluate the features they are offering. Take your time for consideration and look at the following price ranges listed below:

  • CD Baby

CD Baby’s pricing starts at US$9.95 for a standard single subscription. At this price, you will be allowed to release a single to hundreds of streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and many more. 

However, if you wish your single to be registered with global royalty collection societies, you can opt for a PRO Single subscription that costs US$29.95.

CD Baby also offers an album release package that starts at US$29. For 29 bucks, you can distribute your album to various digital service providers such as iTunes, Amazon Music, Google Play Music, and many others. 

The album release package also comes with a PRO subscription that costs US$69. The plan offers a publishing administrations service so you can earn royalties outside of the streaming services.

  • Ditto Music

Ditto Music provides a flat-fee annual subscription that allows its clients to release unlimited singles and albums. If you are an independent musician, you can choose the individual plan for £19/year.

The annual fee regulation also applies to the professional and label plans. A professional package that costs £29/year facilitates unlimited releases for 2 artists. 

Meanwhile, the label plan allows small recording labels for up to 5 musicians unlimited uploads for £69/year. Both professional and label packages come with compilation release add-ons.

It’s also possible if you want Ditto Music to handle the licencing and publishing administration. However, you will be required to pay an additional annual fee of £39 to receive the service.

  • DistroKid

DistroKid offers a flat-fee package starting from US$19.99/year. The annual plan allows individuals to upload unlimited singles or albums. You can choose a cheaper subscription that costs US$35.99/year available for 2 artists.

Moreover, DistroKid also provides services for recording labels. Annual subscriptions for independent labels that consist of 5 artists are valued at US$79.99. Besides that, bigger labels with 10 artists are required to pay US$139.99 to register their recordings.

Furthermore, DistroKid is also open for labels that consist of 20, 50, and 100 artists. The annual fees vary from US$ 239.99, US$599.99, and US$1,199.99.

DistroKid will put your songs on social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Twitch. Music synchronisation has been increasing in popularity; hence you can benefit from that besides getting your music published on digital streaming providers.

  • TuneCore

TuneCore has a one-time payment regulation that starts at US$9.99 for single releases. If the artists want to publish their albums, they will be required to pay US$29.99 to distribute their albums.

All of the songs and albums distributed by TuneCore will be published on hundreds of streaming services and online music stores without annual fees.

Moreover, TuneCore also provides publishing administration and licencing services to protect your songwriting and composition royalties. You can choose to pay a one-time setup US$75 fee or decide to share a 10% to 20% commission off your royalties.

How do music publishers differ from music distributors?

Music publishing is an add-on service of digital distribution. It’s a method that enables you to collect your songwriting and composition royalties. 

If you are an independent artist, you can register for music publishing administration services commonly offered by digital distribution companies (TuneCore, Ditto Music, and CD Baby).

In comparison with digital distributors, music publishers will take you to the next step. Music publishers in Singapore will handle the registration and licencing of your distributed music to the collective management organisations (CMO).

By registering to the music publishing company, your songs have the opportunity to be displayed outside of the streaming services. You can learn more about music publisher’s responsibilities by reading the explanations below:

Music publishers responsibilities

Music publishers are responsible for 3 basic areas of importance to the songwriters and composers.

  • Song registration: 

Music publishers will register your songs with CMO. They will also provide relevant information, including meta-information, audio files, and artwork photos.

  • Licensing

Music publishers are responsible for issuing licences for your music. The publishing companies will grant your music with mechanical and synchronisation licences. That way, you can collect more royalties.

  • Royalty collection

Music publishing companies will collect revenues from various sources. This includes performance, mechanical, and synchronisation royalties. So royalties are generated from licencing or the permissions to use the compositions for various purposes (e.g., games, movies, advertisements).

In Singapore, the collective management organisations will recognise your ownership, and you can collect your mechanical and synchronisation royalties. Mechanical royalties are earned when someone purchases a sound recording. 

At the same time, synchronisation royalties are earned when someone uses your music for movies, games, advertisements, and many other purposes.

Types of music publishers

  • Publishing administrators

Publishing administration is the type of service usually offered by digital distribution companies like TuneCore, CD Baby, and Ditto Music. They will handle all aspects of registration, licencing, and collection processes with small fees. However, they don’t provide any creative services. 

  • Independent publishers

Independent publishers offer similar services as publishing administrators, yet they also provide creative services for their clients. Mid-level artists and songwriters will commonly opt for this type of music publisher. 

  • Major publishers

Major publishers are big names such as Universal Warner Chappell, Sony, BMG, and EMI. They will typically pay their established artists in advance in order to maintain their market share.

Maybe you are wondering what do they mean by creative services?

Creative services are a kind of compliance given by a music publisher. They will spend time trying to pitch the song to the advertising agencies. They will also offer the pieces to the music supervisors in the TV and film or video games industries.

Utilising creative services can benefit songwriters and composers by getting new opportunities both artistically and financially.

Will my music be copyrighted when I put it on a digital distributor?

According to Singapore’s copyright law, your music is automatically copyrighted when you put your pieces into any tangible medium such as recording and written down on paper. 

No copyright registrations to the government office are needed prior to distributing your music through the digital aggregators.

However, you can still choose to register your copyrighted pieces so you can strengthen the protection over your songwriting and composition rights.

Will I receive equal earnings from the sales and streams?

Various factors underlie the amount of royalties payout from streaming and online music stores. The pricing and subscription fee regulations differ from one platform to another, impacting the revenues they generate from the submitted content.

Apple Music is known to give higher pay for their artists. This is because they only offer paid listening services. So if the users wish to use Apple Music, they are required to subscribe to a monthly plan.

This is contrary to Spotify, which provides a free listening service with advertisements. There is no obligation to register to any paid plan to use Spotify, which impacts lesser royalties earnings. The regulation also automatically generates fewer revenues for their artists. 

Other than subscription obligations, there are still few factors that determine the amount of royalties payout that streaming services can give based on the number of sales and streams:

  • Regions

Streaming services are known to generate more revenue from US streams and sales. This is because the subscription plan in the US is higher than in any other place. 

For example, Spotify USA will charge people US$10 for a monthly premium subscription. Compared to Spotify Singapore, which charges 9.99 SGD for a premium subscription. As you can see, the price is higher in the US than in Singapore.

  • Subscription plan

The next one is a subscription plan. Streaming services will generate revenues based on what type of subscription plan users choose. For example, Spotify has Individual, Family, Student, Duo, and free subscriptions. 

Spotify will benchmark the type of subscription its users have and generate the total revenues from that. However, Spotify will still give royalties, but the amount will be lesser than the premium subscription ones.

  • Promotional stream

Promotional streaming is what Spotify is experimenting with at the moment, and they will offer labels and artists to advertise their music on suggested songs platforms. 

The songs will be promoted to the listeners based on their algorithms. Every time the users finish listening to your song or album, Spotify will generate royalties for you. 

There is no upfront fee payment before being put on suggested songs. Spotify will give you a lower payout rate for the promotional stream. This is great for artists who are starting their careers because your music can reach a bigger audience through the “suggested songs” feature. 

  • Distributor and label negotiated rates

The significant reason behind the absence of specific payouts from each digital service provider is the negotiated rates between DSP and distributors or record labels.

Different distributors or labels will earn varying amounts of royalties payout based on the negotiated percentage shares.

Conclusion

After this discussion, you must have realised that digital music distributors serve as middlemen in distributing your pieces of recordings. Since you are not eligible to submit your content directly to the DSPs, you need the aggregators to do the job.

There are many digital distribution companies, and they offer distinctive services with a variety of fees and regulations. Take a look at the features and pricing policies and decide which one accommodates your needs and budgets.

Now it’s time to prepare your recordings and the other supporting files. Arrange the submission requirements and register to a music distributor of your choice. Get ready to boost your career as your music will be displayed on hundreds of streaming services!

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