Once your songs are recorded, mixed and mastered the next step is digital distribution: releasing your music online by posting your songs on streaming and download platforms.
You can’t send your music to iTunes, Spotify, Amazon music, the Google Store or any other streaming or download platform. You need to use a digital distributor, one of over a dozen services, that acts as an intermediary between music creators (you) and online music platforms.
It’s up to you to figure out which distributor makes the most sense to help you reach your goals. Keep reading and find out what you need to know…
In this article you’ll learn:
- How digital distributors work, including the two main business models they use,
- What to look for and what to avoid when choosing a distributor, and
- How to sign up and upload your music.
In the video, I break down what you need to know to choose a digital distributor and let you watch as I sign up and upload one of my songs.
After the video you can read a written summary of everything I cover in the video and get deeper insights into the similarities and differences between digital distributors.
Note: All digital distributor prices and details are accurate on the publishing date of the article, January 2021. Prices are listed in $USD.
There are no affiliate links in this article.
What is Digital Distribution?
A digital distribution company is a service that takes care of all the details to send your songs to all the streaming and download platforms. Instead of repeating the same information countless times, you submit your music to one digital distributor, who sends it to everywhere you need it to go.
The only hard part is choosing which one to use!
Choose Your Digital Distributor By Defining Your Musical Goals
Start by defining your musical goals, including your “must haves.” this will help you focus on finding the digital distributor that fits your needs.
The biggest difference is some digital distribution companies don’t produce CDs. If part of your plan is selling your CDs at your merch table at your gigs you’ve instantly narrowed the decision!
Which Digital Distributor is Right For Me?
Once you’re clear with your goals, it’s easier to make an informed decision. There are other details that are included in the basic price with some digital distributors, but are an additional cost with others. Some digital distributors have different tiers of service with different prices.
Digital distributors use one of two main business models, either you pay a one time fee for each single or album or you pay an annual subscription that you have to continue paying to keep your song in circulation. Some distributors also keep a portion of your royalties and streaming payments. Some have additional services or options for release for an extra cost. Some distributors have different tiers of service for different prices.
Read the fine print, some of “must haves” will increase the sticker price.
For example, DistroKid offers three tiers. If you have a detailed release plan for your EP and want to set a specific release date you have to upgrade to at least the second tier.
Even though an annual subscription allows unlimited uploads, DistroKid also offers add ons when you upload a song (that have to be purchased for each upload). The price can add up…
I’m using examples for DistroKid because I did my research and that’s the digital distribution company I chose. It may not be the one for you. I was interested in the annual subscription with unlimited uploads. If I wanted to get CDs made I’d probably have picked CD Baby but I don’t play enough live shows to worry about selling physical CDs.
What’s The Actual Price Difference Between CD Baby and DistroKid?
I’m going to break down the major differences between the two business models, one time payment vs annual subscription, using two examples CD Baby and DistroKid.
Let’s put some actual numbers together to get a clear picture. You can adjust them to fit your situation.
1. Suppose you plan to release an album a year for the next ten years, with the goal of maximizing your song royalties.
2. Suppose you plan to release a single a month for the next ten years, with the goal of maximizing your song royalties.
CD Baby Costs…
10 albums @ $69USD + $25 for a bar code (necessary for SoundScan to track your plays) = $940USD
120 singles @ $29USD + $5 for a bar code = $4080
10 years at $35USD (tier 2 to allow customizable label name, release date, pre-order date and iTunes pricing) = $350USD
And add $49 for each album, or $29 for each single for “Leave a Legacy” so your songs stay up even if you stop paying your subscription… 10 albums = $490 and 120 singles = $3480.
10 albums over ten years is $350 + 490 = $840.
120 singles over ten years is $350 + 3480 = $3840.
And the Winner is…
You! Your songs are out in the world where people can hear them!
For ten albums over ten years, CD Baby would cost you $940 and DistroKid costs $850.
For a single a month over ten years, CD Baby charges you $4080 and DistroKid $3840.
Honestly, the price difference over ten years isn’t enough to worry about, especially if you maximize your spend by releasing albums instead of singles. What’s more crucial is what additional services you might want or need!
Putting the Price of Digital Distribution into Musical Perspective
Sure, you looked at those prices and had a moment… it looks like a lot of $, but let’s put it in perspective. If you’re not ready to invest some money in your music, you’re stuck!
If you made $100 a gig (I’d hope you’re getting more than that, but lets play with easy numbers) you could pay for distribution for an album. If you were working for $15 an hour (once again, I hope you’re earning more than that and I’m not including income tax deductions!), you’d make enough to cover 10 years of DistroKid by working for three 8 hours shifts.
Now think about the phone or computer you’re reading this article on… bet it costs more than a few albums worth of distribution.
How much did you pay for your last guitar, or amp, or your keyboards, or your audio interface?
Action Steps to Start Your Online Music Empire
1. Define your musical goals.
2. Research digital distributors… if you’re still uncertain check out this article for Ari Herstad’s take on 17 Digital Distributors.
3. Pick a digital distributor…
1. Create an account.
2. Choose a payment method
3. Start uploading your music and cover art!
What You Need To Upload Your First Song
When I signed up for DistroKid I entered:
To upload music, I needed:
1. A mixed and mastered song in WAV format, at least 44.1kHz sample rate, 16bit
2. Cover Art, 3000 by 3000 square jpg format
Check with the digital distributor you choose for the minimum suggested file formats.
And my song, Exotic Bean is online, ready to be streamed or purchased…
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