Music distribution is the final step in the process that will make the independent artist’s music available to consumers. It has become rather challenging to navigate this step because of rapidly changing consumption models. In this post, I will relay my experiences.
A little background first on the previous step, mastering
Audio mastering is a bit mystifying, and, like many other aspects of music production, it has changed considerably in the last 10 years. It is the final step in the production process. It prepares the music for distribution. The below article does a great job in explaining it in more detail.
I followed the advice of that article, and the advice of many other experienced producers, and hired a professional mastering engineer to master my album. Based on my limited experience, I felt it was a no-brainer. I simply needed a second set of ears on it before it was released. Not to mention that mastering is a separate skill set that I didn’t have and didn’t feel it would be efficient or effective to learn.
With mastering complete, we are ready to distribute the album to the world
Prior to digital music, this would normally just involve making a physical CD. Now, with downloading and streaming, it involves some research and understanding of the different ways and different platforms that are used to consume music. Because the CD is not completely dead yet, and there is demand for it, we have to have those made in addition to dealing with digital services.
Here was my approach to both:
- Physical CD’s – The service that best met my needs and budget was one called EasyDisc. I simply uploaded my audio and album artwork to their service and the physical discs arrived in a mail a couple weeks later. I am certainly oversimplifying this. I spent a decent amount of time reading the help pages on their website to make sure I provided them exactly what they needed in terms of information and format.
- Digital Distribution – Services such as CD Baby, DistroKid, and TuneCore will manage the distribution of your music and the royalties from streams and downloads. After reviewing the options, I went with CD Baby. So, I just uploaded my audio and album cover to them and they distributed it out to Spotify, Google Play, iTunes, Amazon and several other outlets. The other nice feature of CD Baby is that they will manage your affiliation with a Performing Rights Organization (PRO) such as ASCAP or BMI. I hadn’t previously affiliated with one of these, so it made sense to me to let CD Baby handle it all.
Once again, I am greatly oversimplifying this. I spent considerable time researching this process and understanding the options. Rather than go into great detail here, I will share some of the most useful resources that I found for navigating this step.
- Who Is The Best Digital Distribution Company For Music?
- Comparison of Music Distribution Services
- Future of Music Coalition – Digital Distribution
- How To Release A Record (this goes into a lot of detail about distribution and also release)
Bandcamp is a popular music outlet for independent artists to sell their music and to grow a fanbase. The previous distribution steps mentioned above do not cover Bandcamp, so it is handled separately. I created a Bandcamp profile and set it up for these reasons:
- As a new artist who is unknown, I subscribe to the belief that I should put my music out to as many platforms as possible in order to maximize reach. In other words, as this stage, it can’t hurt.
- Bandcamp offers the ability to sell physical CD’s online through it’s merchandise section. That’s the only place I have right now where I can sell physical CD’s online.
- For audiophile people, Bandcamp is the only platform (that I am on) that allows the consumer to download lossless FLAC files. More on this here and here.
- I just like Bandcamp. I have discovered artists there over the years and purchased music there from lesser known artists. I think it is a good platform and a lot of people are familiar with it.
The challenge here is that everyone seems to have a different way of consuming music these days. You have to try to reach everyone as best you can. For example, I have had several people ask me, “Can’t I just buy a CD?”. Others want nothing to do with a CD and only use Spotify.
These distribution decisions are influenced by many factors. My choices were mainly determined by the fact that:
- I am a new artist who is virtually unknown
- My genre is somewhere in the realm of bluegrass/americana/pop folk. In other words, things would be different if I was making electronic music.