The process of getting your music in stores and out into the public can sometimes seem like a daunting prospect. How do you even know where to start?
Digital distribution companies provide the answer and are largely very helpful and provide a brilliant way to help you earn a living from your music while also helping you to reach a wider audience.
Here, Nikki Halliwell of Horus Music walks us through the process.
What is music distribution?
Music distribution, also known as music aggregation, and is the process of getting your music in front of your fans and other music listeners. Essentially, to sell your music in the digital marketplace you need digital distribution.
How does music distribution work?
Each distribution company operates slightly differently, but the process is similar for each. Artists and labels can upload their music, where it is then checked for quality including any metadata and file errors. Once everything is correct, your music is then sent out the relevant digital stores and platforms.
Before you get started though, and to help speed up the distribution process, it is important to know what files you need and what formats they should be in.
Your artwork should be in jpeg format and must be a minimum of 3000 x 3000 px, it should also be in RGB format with a dpi of 300. If your artwork is not quite in the correct format, there are a few ways you can use to correct it, but we recommend creating and exporting your artwork in the correct format to begin with.
Your music files should be in wav format (this limits any potential loss of quality as it converted by stores - some of them have their own file formats). Music files should also be in stereo and have a bit depth of 16 or 24 bit with a sample rate of 44. 1kHz.
You also need to have the appropriate metadata to go along with your release. This includes the artist name, release name, which territories you own the license to and who owns the copyright to both the music and the artwork. The barcodes and ISRC’s are also needed to identify your release. Don’t worry if you don’t have your own barcodes and ISRC’s as most distributors can supply them for you - many even do this for free.
As long as you have everything you need before you start uploading your music to your chosen distributor, the process can be completed quite quickly.
What to look for in a distributor?
There are many factors which can determine the distributor you choose, and it ultimately comes down to what help you need upfront and how much of your royalties you would like to receive in return.
Let’s dive into some of the major factors here:
- Do they charge for Barcodes and ISRCs? If you have your own it usually isn't a problem to add them in, but some distributors do charge for them to add these codes for you.
- Are their contracts with stores direct? Find out whether they are direct partners with each of the stores they send to or whether they use additional middlemen, or even a bigger distributor. This will directly affect the amount of royalties that gets back to you.
- Are Digital Booklets and Pre-orders available and do they charge to add them? Digital booklets are basically a digital version of the insert with lyrics and photos that you would traditionally see inside CD or even vinyl releases. Not all stores support them, but you should still be able to supply one for the stores that do if you wish. The same applies to pre-orders too, find out whether or not they will charge you to set these up.
- Are there any annual fees? Some distributors will charge you a yearly fee to keep your music on stores, whereas others won’t charge you anything. Make you find an option which works for you.
- Do you need to earn over a certain amount before they will pay your royalties? Find out if you will get paid regardless of whether you have earned 1p or £1 million. Some have a minimum threshold that you need to meet before they can pay you anything and it is useful to know this before you start planning anything.
- Are there any sign up fees? Instead of a yearly fee, some distributors charge a one-off upfront fee to distribute your music, after that is paid you’re good to go and don’t have to worry about earning enough royalties to keep your music on store each year.
- Do they take a percentage of your royalties, if so, how much? It is important to know if your chosen distributor will take a percentage of your royalties or if they will pay you back 100% of what you earn, as this will also directly impact on the amount of royalties you earn. Otherwise, it would be worth discovering if they have other options for distribution that may be more suited to you.
- How long do they take to deliver your music to stores? Some distributors can deliver your music to the major stores within 24 hours, whereas others can take up to a week. It is important to know this before hand as this could affect your promotional plan and release strategy.
- How responsive are they to email and phone communications? If you have a problem that needs sorting, you need to know if can you speak to them on the same day so that you can both work on getting it sorted, or whether they will take a couple of days simply to get around to your message.
- Do they offer any additional services you may be interested in? Distribution may not be all they offer. Some distributors also offer additional services such as video distribution, mastering, publishing and marketing which can be highly beneficial.
- Do they charge you to take down your music? There are a few reasons why you may need your music to be taken down at some point, but hopefully not, so it is worth discovering if they will charge you to remove your music from stores or whether they will take it down without an issue.
Finding out the answers to important questions such as these before you start can make sure you don’t get caught by any nasty surprised further down the line.
Take the time to research all options for your digital music distribution and make sure that you understand the process and find the right distribution partner for you.
Having a good relationship with your distributor can also open up a whole host of other marketing and collaboration possibilities, which can all help you to earn a higher royalty from your music.