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By Emőke Csoma
Bouts of ambivalent feelings are to be expected once you’re finished with a track or a whole album you’ve been working on for weeks, months, or perhaps even years. What’s next? You’ve reached a point of no return — it’s release time.
And it’s time to share your sound with the rest of the world; no biggie, right?! But in order to do that, you have to unleash your magic on all major streaming platforms. And for that, unless you have a label backing you up, you need a digital music distributor to serve as your middleman.
This could be the beginning of a (hopefully) beautiful professional friendship, just make sure your chosen distributor fits your needs and resources. Since you’re here reading this article, you’ve probably already made up your mind about taking charge of your own success, being your own boss, and distributing your music online so you can start earning royalties from it. There are plenty of services to choose from, but where do you even start?
To help you make a more informed decision, here are six important things you should consider when choosing a digital distributor as an independent musician.
1. Pricing Structure
Unless you’re rolling in it, the cost will be a super important determining factor when you’re making a decision. When you’re trying to calculate how much a service would cost you, there are several key aspects to consider.
- Different distributors have different business models; usually there’s a royalty fee cut, but you also might be charged a monthly or yearly fee.
- The price might also depend on how many releases you have and how many digital stores you want to get your music on.
- Some might be one-off fees, some might be recurring fees.
- Some distributors might offer you 100% of your sales profits, but in that case, you will be charged some other way.
The most important thing is to make sure you know exactly what you are expected to pay and what you are getting for your money. Watch out for hidden fees!
2. Selection of Digital Outlets Offered
A lot of music distributors offer the same selection of digital stores (ie: Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer, YouTube Music, etc.). But in case you are looking for something specific, such as making sure your music is on TikTok, or posted to Beatport, you need to make sure that your selected distributor covers it.
Distributors are usually constantly working on adding new stores to their roster, so you need to verify that the information on the website is updated and valid. When in doubt, it’s best to reach out to their customer support and double-check. And speaking of which…
3. Customer Support Quality
Exceptional customer support is the make or break characteristic of every business. I’m sorry but if you have a problem with your release showing up on some other artist’s page, do you really want to wait two weeks to get a response? No!
It should be easy to reach a representative of the company and get help in a timely manner. This usually shouldn’t take longer than a few days max. You can always test this yourself by reaching out to ask questions about the service. You can also do some extra research online — if a company has notoriously bad customer service, you will probably find a lot of complaints just by searching. If there are too many red flags, be careful.
4. Company Values
This might not be something you would normally pay close attention to. But the mission and values a company stands for under the “surface of business” are perhaps more important than you’d think.
As a great example, one such distributor, Record Union, has previously donated $30,000 to prevent mental illness among music makers, and they’re known for their work to help create a healthier music climate by nudging the music industry in the right directions. Record Union was also behind The Wellness Starter Pack initiative, a toolbox for well-being, created with music makers in mind, that we here at Soundfly shared widely when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
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5. Reporting and Metrics
If you’re taking your music-making a bit more seriously, stats are probably quite important for your professional career. That’s why having easy access to quality data will play an important role in choosing the right distributor.
Accessing reports and metrics should be easy. Especially if numbers are not your strongest feat, the service should make it simple enough for you to interpret and understand your stats. You should be able to see how many overall plays your music had and who your listeners are (location, age, gender). You should be able to get a good picture of how your music is consumed, so you know where and how to do your marketing efforts.
6. Growth Opportunities for Artists
While the success of your music career mostly depends on your own hard work, it’s good to get some support whenever you can. If a distributor can help you get some extra exposure, that’s always a bonus!
Some distributors offer regular playlist pitching to the major music streaming services, some have their own playlists you can get featured on. You could also get in the spotlight by being interviewed for a blog or getting featured and highlighted on the distributor’s social channels.
There are so many digital distributors out there and what might be the first choice for someone, might not be the right choice for you. One size does not fit all in the wide ranging spectrum of the music industry; so a little extra research goes a long way.
If it turns out that you are not happy with a service, changing distributors and moving your releases elsewhere is not that complicated. However, it could cost you time and money that you won’t get back. So take it slow and try one of your favored distributors for one release, then it see how it goes?
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Emőke Csoma is a Transylvanian-born and Sweden-based ardent music aficionado with a passion for experimental electronic music. As a music blogger and festival organizer, she has been supporting hundreds of talented musicians who deserve to be heard. She secretly has a knack for DJing, but has only had one public gig so far.