Or you can bet on a fairly new, up-and-coming music distribution company like Amuse that is 100% free: no upfront fee, no commission.
How is a music distributor different from a record label?
A music distributor doesn’t own your sound recordings.
A music distributor is simply a third-party you hire to make your sound recordings available to the public so that you don’t have to get in touch with each and every store on the planet and ask them to carry your product.
An online music distributor will also track, collect and pay you the royalties related to the streams and downloads of your sound recordings.
On the other hand, record labels usually OWN your sound recordings, also called “masters”.
When a record label signs an artist, their role is to provide the artist with everything they need to create a great sound recording that will be commercially successful.
So the label, in theory, pours in money to make the recording process high-quality and then to promote and distribute the sound recording.
In exchange for that upfront investment, the label retains ownership of the masters and takes a share of revenues generated by that sound recording.
These revenues may include album sales, mechanical royalties, merchandising, touring, etc.
How is a music distributor different from a music publisher?
A music distributor doesn’t own any of the copyrights related to your composition.
It simply makes your sound recordings – and the underlying compositions – available to the public for personal consumption.
On the other hand, music publishers OWN the publishing rights to their songwriters’ compositions.
They make your compositions available for licensing by recording artists and through synchronization to audiovisual projects.
In fact, a good publisher will actively promote your compositions to licensing opportunities.
Publishers pay themselves by taking the publisher’s share of performance royalties related to the composition and a share of any commission or synchronization fee they negotiate for you.
What about CD Baby Pro Publishing? Can’t a music distributor do the job of a publisher as well?
So there are some music distributors like CD Baby or Tunecore that offer an OPTIONAL music publishing administration service IN ADDITION to their music distribution services.
But outsourcing your music publishing administration is NOT the same thing as working with a music publisher.
A music publisher will ACTIVELY promote your songs, seek placement and synchronization opportunities for your work and handle all the legal side of things.
An admin publishing company will register your songs with a PRO and collect publishing royalties for you, taking a 15-20% commission along the way.
In CD Baby’s own words: “CD Baby is not like a traditional publisher; we’re closer to what folks in the biz call an ‘administrator.’ In our role of a publishing administrator, we register songs with Performing Rights Organizations and collect publishing royalties on your behalf. This is different from a traditional publisher that would provide a full suite of creative and legal services (e.g. sync licensing, copyright).”
What about CD Baby’s sync licensing program and Symphonic’s sync representation?
That definitely sounds like the work of a traditional music publisher….
Music distributors have certainly blurred the line between what they do and what a traditional music publisher does.
Again, this is an OPTION that you can add to your music distribution deal but you don’t have to.
If you want to give it a try, why not?!
Just make sure you read the contract and understand what you’re getting into.
For example, will you still be 100% free to work with whoever you want or will you be giving away part of your publishing?
As an indie artist, you might want to keep things simple and do everything through a single company.
Or you might want to stay super independent and research each service separately to make sure you find the right partners for every aspect of your career.
Depending on your situation, your needs and focus will be different…
Maybe Symphonic’s in-house playlist pluggers are a must for you.
Or maybe you want to do that yourself.
Maybe AWAL’s in-house sync services are attractive to you.
Or maybe you want to keep that under your control.
Maybe CD Baby’s physical distribution option is appealing to you.
Or maybe you’d rather keep things separate and work with a company like CopyCats Media that’s dedicated to physical music distribution.
If I’m focused on licensing, do I really need to release my sound recordings? Can it hurt my prospects with music supervisors?
If you’re focused on licensing your compositions to recording artists….
….then you don’t need to record your own version of the song if you don’t want to.
Because your work is songwriting, not performing.
Recording artists, labels and publishers may want to listen to a demo to get an idea of the song but that’s it really. You don’t have to present a polished sound recording for a composition that someone else is going to record.
If you’re 100% focused on sync licensing….
…don’t tour at all and are not planning on building a fan base of any kind, then you need to make the sound recordings available online in some shape or form BUT you don’t have to distribute them on platforms like Spotify, Google Play, etc.
Because if you’re a complete unknown trying to get into sync licensing, you’ve got a couple of options:
(1) Putting your sound recordings in music libraries.
(2) Pitching your songs to and making custom audio for indie filmmakers, ad agencies, music production companies, etc.
In both cases, having your music available on streaming platforms like Spotify is not necessary.
You can upload your audio files directly to music libraries and send streaming links to your prospects using a platform like Soundcloud or a tool like Box.
If sync licensing is in your plans but you’ve got other things going on….
….then releasing your sound recording can be a good thing (most of the time) or a bad thing (sometimes).
HOWEVER… since I’m focused on sync licensing and don’t promote my songs at all, I don’t get a lot of streams and could do without the yearly fee… especially since I’m paying the label fee for all my pseudonyms!!
On the other hand, if I were a touring musician doing a bunch of work to get plays and making a decent amount of money from streaming and sales, my focus would be different.
I’d probably be looking for a music distributor who offers playlist plugging opportunities and stay away from companies like CD Baby and AWAL that take a commission on royalties.
Here are some questions that will help you figure out which one is the right fit for you.
— Music Distributor Fitting Test —
Do you already have a decent fan base and expect a lot of people will stream your music?
If you do, favor a music distributor that doesn’t take a cut of your music royalties.
At the time of writing, that means staying clear of CD Baby, AWAL, Record Union, Soundrop, Stem, Symphonic and ONErpm.
Are you looking for a music distributor that will almost act as a record label?
If you are, check out music distributors like Symphonic and AWAL that are selective and don’t just take on anyone.
Are you going to be releasing a lot of music on a regular basis?
Then you should avoid music distributors like CD Baby or Reverbnation where you have to pay a fee every time you release a single or an album.
Instead, favor a free music distributor like Amuse or FreshTunes. Or a music distributor that operates on a subscription basis and allows unlimited releases, like Distrokid and Horus Music.
Would you like your music distributor to offer a bunch of additional services?
If yes, then choosing a digital music distributor like CD Baby or Tunecore might make sense.
If not, make sure you work with a distributor that gives you all the freedom you need to do your own promotion to Spotify playlists and sync opportunities.
Do you need your digital music distributor to handle physical distribution as well?
4- Use the Music Distributor Fitting Test to figure out which one’s right for you.
5- Signup and upload your songs.
* Those three companies are my personal favorites of the three business models out there (100% free, commission based, and subscription based) but feel free to look at others. Theroundup review of music distributors by Ari’s Takeis a great resource for that.
Found This Helpful?
Signup your email to receive blog updates and access exclusive content.