After you’ve made your latest and greatest track or album, your next task at hand is to get it to your listeners. Seems simple, right? It can be with the right distributor.
Historically, music distributors did just as their name implies: They distributed your physical music (CDs, vinyl, and cassettes — remember those?) to stores and points of sale. Today, their role is very similar, except, in the digital realm, it’s gravitated for the most part towards pushing your music to digital stores like iTunes and Amazon and streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play and Deezer.
As you might guess, however, all digital music distribution is not created equal, which is why it’s vital to choose the right distributor for you and your music. Depending on your distribution deal, you could be basically left to your own devices as far as support and promotion, miss out on certain platforms and amenities, or straight-up pay too much for the service, so make sure to shop around before deciding on which distributor you want to work with. The last thing you want to do is say “yes” to the first option you stumble across.
To help you find the best digital music distribution service, here are the major considerations to evaluate before coming to a final decision: the right time to start looking for one and the qualifications that really matter.
When is the right time to look for a digital music distribution service?
You’ll want to start thinking about finding a digital distributor when:
1. Your music is ready or near completion
Because the core function of a distributor is to get your music into services such as Apple Music/iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Google Play, Deezer, and Pandora, you obviously don’t need a distributor until you’re ready to release your music, whether it’s a song or two or an entire album.
2. You have established your online presence and social media profiles
Today, whether we like it or not, social media reigns king. The number of followers we have, likes we’ve received, and shares we accumulate can play a pretty big role in how we’re ultimately perceived. So, for artists, showcasing strong social numbers can give you a sense of credibility. Additionally, cohesive social visuals and branding can also play a role in your credibility.
With that being said, it’s essential to ensure your socials are all in order before distributing your music because, as more music fans discover you via streaming services, they’ll look for more information on you. When this lands them on your social profiles or website, you’ll certainly want to make a good first impression.
Need some social media tips? We’ve got you.
3. You have formulated plans and/or a team to help you execute
When planning your releases, it’s worth noting that there’s not one exact and universal formula. There are things that you can achieve as a self-sufficient artist across your creative and your business, but there are natural benefits of having areas of your outreach and activity covered by your management and/or other professionals in the industry.
As you’re planning, think about whether bringing on other team members like a live agent, a publicist, or a radio plugger would be helpful. With strong vision and marketing plans, along with pros around you to help, you’re positioned to reach audiences and garner attention from curators and tastemakers.
4. You have content and follow-up content ready
This means everything from the final assets for your release, including digital artwork, to the flow of visual and interactive content for social and streaming platforms. Make sure you have a release and engagement plan in place for the entire process — even after your release is unleashed to the world — including follow-up tracks.
If you’re looking for advice on releasing your music, check out these helpful posts:
- 10 Things to Think About Before Your Next Release
- 7 Ideas for a Crazy Successful Release Day
- 7 Things to Think About Post Release Day
What are the major qualifications I should be looking for in a digital music distribution partner?
With any distributor, you’ll want to make sure it has the technical capabilities, resources, and, in some cases, relationships to get your music on platforms around the world. Sometimes this is achieved simply by pushing tracks out to worldwide services and partners; other times, it can include working with a music distribution team to facilitate your tracks reaching both digital platforms and playlists around the world. Do some research to make sure a distributor has these abilities.
Rising artist Lauv, who has about 400 million lifetime streams to date, distributes his music via AWAL and knows for sure it’s getting pushed worldwide.
Fairness and flexibility
Besides wanting a music distribution service dedicated to providing you with excellent support, you want to know that you’re getting a fair deal. You want a company that puts creators first and offers flexible terms. Sometimes music distribution deals vary as far as an upfront fee vs. revenue sharing and other components, so it’s crucial you know how the distributor is incentivized to push your music. Other times, contracts can be complex and lock you in for a set amount of time. Be sure to read the fine print and understand what these terms mean for you and your catalog.
Evaluate how the music distribution service provides support and if there are bigger-picture opportunities. Many distributors just accept everyone, so see if there’s some sort of curation before you even sign up. Otherwise, you might end up just a number in a vast volume of clients. Having access to a support team means that if an issue arises, you have dedicated points of contact who can start resolving it.
You also want to see that the company has built infrastructure around supporting artists in areas that could move the needle of discovery, such as playlisting. Areas like these are ancillary to the primary function of distributing, but they’re increasingly important in the digital age. Again, not all distributors will have client support or discovery resources, so do some digging.
You also want to know that there are ways to potentially grow within the ecosystem of the music distribution service, and even find out if the distributor might provide funding to fuel other parts of your release strategy.
You want to know that you aren’t just putting up your music online and seeing what happens. It’s always good advice ask other artists you encounter about experiences they’ve had with distribution services and read up on music-industry resources online covering distribution.
You want to know that the company pushing your music is committed to the ongoing development of tools to help with planning digital releases, analyzing engagement, and accessing all of the data and analytics behind your music. A distributor’s investment in technology lets you know you’re partnering with a forward-thinking company and not one with an outdated, old-school model.
For example, at AWAL, we developed our App primarily to make it easy for our clients to see and analyze data and information from demographics to YouTube watch time. Our goal is to always be at the forefront of technology and put that power into artists’ hands so they can apply it real time to their careers.
You should pay attention to the mission and the way a digital distributor positions its service and offerings. You want to resonate with the company’s values and service approach. Don’t underestimate the importance of what you pick up from the people and culture of a company based on its online properties and what you hear from peers as well as conversations with representatives of the services you’re exploring.
Depending on your needs, what matters most to you might not matter at all to other musicians when it comes to digital music distribution. That’s why it’s so important to do a thorough search before committing to a distributor. Ideally, your distributor becomes your partner in making sure your music takes off.
We pride ourselves on going beyond music distribution by offering our artists everything they need to succeed. Of course, we offer our clients digital distribution onto all major platforms — including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Tidal, Google Play, and more — in almost 200 countries worldwide. Because we’re a music and a technology company, we’ll always be at the forefront of the digital frontier. We offer extensive client support through our team, who are dedicated to helping artists grow, no matter where they are in their careers. Instead of charging an upfront fee to distribute your music, we participate in revenue sharing, which means we never make money until you do. And at our very core is ensuring that our artists are treated fairly and on flexible terms that work for their unique journeys.