THE TOP 7 DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION SERVICES TO RELEASE YOUR MUSIC TODAY
There’s absolutely no doubt digital music distribution services have been a blessing for independent artists. Remember (if you can?) back in the day when you actually needed a Record Label to manufacture your physical CD or Vinyl (or God forbid, a cassette) … and then actually ship them to brick and mortar stores? Yeah, and don’t forget - back then, you also needed a label to help provide a budget and funding, so you could actually record and produce your music in the first place!
But circa back to today - and to quote Humphrey Bogart in the amazing classic film, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” you might exclaim: “Labels? … LABELS??! We don’t need no STINKIN' LABELS!!”
Well maybe you do and maybe you don’t.
Now, as far as digital distribution services ... for all the musicians and artists - looking to sell your music and get your songs directly online to Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, Deezer, Amazon, etc, well, it’s just been amazing!
On the other hand, for the listeners, well - how can we say it politely...
It can be a bottomless ocean (some good, some great, mostly mediocre, and some terrible) of new sounds being beamed into our smartphones without pause. And we’re talking 40-60,000 releases - per day! (Yes! That’s the actual figure!)
No doubt - that’s WAY too much. We’re spoiled for choice and, if we're not careful, we risk seeing (or not hearing, in this case) the best artists of our time, slip through our proverbial fingers (or ears) and never get discovered, amidst the cacophony of new artist releases (but then that's why I also started the A&R resource, www.WeAreTheGuard.com).
And I wanted to preface the plethora of releases and volume before diving into our reviews - because you need to know what you’re up against as far as “sticking out” in the crowd and getting attention.
So, with that being said, we're going to take a look at digital distribution services, as you might have been asking yourself:
“How do I get my music on Spotify, iTunes, etc?”
Well, we're going to offer an overview of some of the most popular digital distribution companies, with in-depth reviews. We’ll let you know what's worth your time and the pros and cons for each.
And by the way, if you’re an artist or a musician uploading your music, getting your music online is one thing – actually having a PLAN is another! There’s no website or coach I’ve actually found to show you how to do this! That’s why I created a digital release plan. It’s actually “the” plan I use for my own label, We Are: The Guard. Literally, there are over 70 video modules telling you exactly how and when to do everything! Check it out here at Teachable. (and p.s. Read the entire post to find a secret discount code for 20% off!).
Before you even begin reading this list, you'd do well to first consider what you're hoping to accomplish with digital distribution and the service they provide as far as getting your music on and promoted to the digital service providers.
For sake of reference, let’s quickly get some definitions out of the way. Digital distribution services: (AWAL, TuneCore, CD Baby, Orchard, Tunecore, etc.) are the platforms that help get your music on the digital service providers (the DSPs i.e. Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, etc.). There’s a clear distinction of course there, and for artists who might be completely new to this process, it’s important to make that distinction.
HOW DOES DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION WORK?
Before we review our favorite digital distribution services, it’s worth covering some basics.
The core of digital distribution, is quite simple – you’re signing up to a company who has all the digital pathways to all the streaming and downloading platforms around the world. On the other hand, how it’s actually done behind the scenes – is incredibly complex. That being said there are numerous services and companies who’ve streamlined the entire process to get your music on line.
So how does it work? Let’s first clarify, you just don’t go to Apple.com and look for the tab to “upload your music!” Nope. You need a third-party platform to do that for you. Hence – digital distributors.
Now, once you chosen your digital distribution service and you’ve filled out the appropriate paperwork and you have your assets ready (this means your WAV audio file, your artwork, your ISRC Code (get your ISRC code here) that identifies your track, your release date, etc.). you’ll log into the product uploader for your digital distribution service and start the upload process. Essentially, you’ll be giving your service provider all the audio and artwork files and information they’ll need, which will open the floodgates and your music. In as quickly as a few days your music will be live in 150 digital service providers around the world. Pretty neat.
Basically, the way to look at this is - your digital distribution provider is the gateway to the Spotify’s, Apple’s, Pandora’s, Tidal’s, Amazon’s of the world and the “source” of your song data (both the actual song, artwork and the meta data). Your digital distributor will automatically connect with these services around the world and essentially be the conduit for your music.
In essence, almost effortlessly, your music “shows up” on the release date (which you choose) around the world on all the music services. It’s a testimony to the huge network your digital distributor has created for you.
Also, don’t forget, your digital distributor will collect all those awesome master royalties from these platforms (usually via monthly or quarterly payouts). Additionally, you’ll receive robust data reports (imagine all your data sortable by: song, country, service, time frame, royalties, etc.). The better distribution services (as we’ll review in this post) will also provide an in-depth report of playlisting activities (both official playlisting and user generated playlists). We’ll get into some of those data reports and royalties as we review each distributor below.
WHO IS THE BEST ONLINE MUSIC DISTRIBUTOR?
Now, as far as the best digital distribution services, and who you decide to use - it really depends.
What are your needs? Are you looking for a service to simultaneously submit all your music to all the various streaming platforms? Digital music distribution will handle that for you.
Or are you wondering how to get your music playlisted and editorially featured on Spotify, Apple Play, and iTunes? We’ll cover who might do the best to handle that. Or - maybe you’re looking for deep analytics into your data - you know, who exactly is listening to your music and where and how?
Knowing exactly what you're looking for, as well as the associated costs of each service, will help you hone in on which service will be right for you.
Keep in mind that all of these digital distributors, at a core level, pretty much provide the same core service at the end of the day - which is getting your music on all the streaming and download stores (which numbers over 150 at the time of this writing). As mentioned, they also offer monthly payments of your royalties, as well as some type of access to your data (i.e. where your listeners are, what playlists you’re on, how people interact with your music, etc.).
One thing to also keep in mind. The below companies, at their core “digital” service only provide – digital! That’s right. This post is all about the digital resources of each company. So, just to clarify, don’t look for Tunecore to get your physical CD in … well, wherever they sell physical CDs anymore (here’s looking at you Amoeba Records and Newbury Comics : ).
With that in mind, now let's take a look at some of the most popular digital distribution services, with thorough reviews for each. Let's start with our favorite and who we use to release our own releases on We Are: The Guard. Let’s get started – I think you’ll agree it’s the best time ever to be an independent artist.
Author: AWAL and Co-written with J. Simpson