How Do I Distribute My Music?

A Quick Note on Relevancy and the Status Quo

Music distribution channels and each one’s effectiveness changes rapidly. While there are established paths to financial success in the music industry, it’s become increasingly clear that anyone with a great, creative marketing idea has a great chance of coming out on top. You can get a record deal; you can film a flash mob, post it to YouTube with a link to your store; you can literally give stuff away. Each of these options could be a miserable flop or an immense success.

The good new is that the music industry in the US grew by 5.9% in 2016—the fastest it’s grown since at least 1997! Streaming went up 60.4% in that time period, which makes it 59% of total revenue from digital revenue (see the IFPI link in the resources for more information).

Build a Fan Base!

Filling a niche is the name of the game for most successful artists. It’s good to consider early on not just the quality of your music (enough people have been successful with a low-quality product), but what demographic/genre are you marketing to. Once you know that, and grow an audience, then you have a greater chance of financial success. 

Streaming

Streaming audio is rapidly taking over the music market. Almost every other distribution method is losing market share. It’s still heavily debated whether or not this is a good thing, but it’s the reality regardless. As of Match 2017, Pandora had a double-digit advantage over Spotify, with iHeartRadio, SoundCloud, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Google Play All Access as other contenders (in order of market share).

Even though the most popular acts gain the most from streaming, smaller acts can still use it as a key source of revenue. As anyone who is planning for retirement knows to diversify their portfolio, so do successful musicians (or their managers) know to use as many income streams as possible.

Online Music Stores and Promotion Sites

iTunes, Amazon Music, Google Music, eMusic, Wix Music, Bandsintown, Songkick, SoundCloud, YouTube (of course), Last.fm, Reddit Music, and Dozima are all places to check out to sell and/or promote music. Plus, you really can’t forget about social media outlets, with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat being the most prominent; they can act as distribution platforms as well as marketing.

Additional Ways to Make Money

Limited edition merch and vinyl, online gigs, crowdfunding, performance royalties, mechanical royalties, sync fees, Sponsorships, giving lessons/teaching, and more.

Crowdfunding and patronage have become popular for funding a music project. Sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe all have different ways of doing business, so make sure to check them all out to see what one is best for your campaign. Patreon has people commit a periodic donation to keep your work going.

Resources for this Section

This book goes over the nitty gritty of how labels are run and how to get one’s attention. It also covers quite a bit of what can be done at the indie level.