tan male hands with a wristwatch searching through vinyl that has been distributed in a shop

December 23, 20224 mins read

Distribution for musicians explained

By Leesa

Ever wondered what on earth distribution is? I know I have. And furthermore, how does it even work?  Don’t worry Vampr crew, we got you!

What is distribution?

I know, I know, what the heck is distribution anyways? Well, have you ever wondered how musicians have been getting their music on Spotify, Apple, Amazon, or any of the online streaming platforms for that matter? Unfortunately, it isn’t a case of calling up a friend at Spotify and airdropping your track over to them to get it available for streaming…. if only!

In the music industry, distribution is the lingo that refers to the process of getting music recorded by artists into the hands of listeners through various channels. These channels include streaming platforms, online stores and physical retailers.

How do I distribute?

You might be thinking, I have absolutely no clue! I bet it’s hard…. well, it’s not! There are several ways that musicians can distribute their music, including the following:

Digital distribution

This is the most common way for musicians to distribute their music today. There are several platforms like Ditto, CD Baby, Vampr, Tunecore and many more. These platforms allow musicians to upload their music and make it available to listeners on streaming services and online stores, like Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music.

Yes we know, you may be thinking, ‘amazing I’m in!’ But, hold your horses, these platforms can take a percentage of the sales as a fee for their services. Make sure you read carefully what each platform is asking for and what you will give away. The benefit of using these platforms over a label is that they tend to charge you a one-off fee and you retain full rights to your masters. (That means you have full ownership of your master recording copyright. This means you can exploit it as you please!) Labels often take a percentage of the master copyright, so even though you won’t be paying anything upfront immediately, you may be paying later on.

You may be thinking ‘how do I actually distribute though?’ 🤔 Digital distribution is very easy to do. You need to have your final recording that is mixed and mastered as well as your cover art and metadata for your track, EP or album. If you wrote the song with other composers you need to also have the finalized songwriting split so you can enter everyone’s details for payment. Some platforms pay you once you reach a certain amount, others after certain time periods. Either way, check before you submit!

Mechanical Royalties

Mechanical royalties are owed when a copy of the original composition is made. You can see how this relates to distribution but isn’t quite the same.

Mechanical royalties are paid in relation to the composition of a song (rather than the sound recording). So, when someone reproduces and releases your material as a cover version, you’re also owed mechanical royalties.

We have included this as a subheading because mechanical royalties aren’t strictly a distribution method, but it is a form of revenue that can result from other distributions.

You: ‘I am so confused.’ Us: Did we just confuse you? Want to know more about mechanical royalties? Read our Revenue checklist for emerging musicians blog to clear things up.

Physical distribution

You: ‘I know this one! It’s the one where I make all the CDs and vinyl that people buy at my shows!’

Us: Yes! But also, this refers to the distribution of music in physical formats, such as CDs, vinyl records, and even tape if you want to get super vintage! Musicians can sell physical copies of their music through retail stores, or through their own website or merchandise store.

Often if you are signed to a label, there will be an agreement on who handles the merchandise sales. If you are an independent musician, you can handle these things yourself by using platforms like Bandcamp where you can set your own prices! Another option is using a warehouse storage platform like Sound Merch or Merch Bar. These places store your merch and ship them as ordered. Of course, there are costs involved for this so tread carefully!

Sync licensing

Sync licensing refers to the process of licensing music for use in film, television, video games, and other media. Musicians can make money by licensing their music for use in these types of projects.

This is quite a tricky one to obtain but if you manage to get a solid offer, it can be a game changer financially and reputationally. The best way to open yourself up to a sync opportunity is to submit songs to platforms like Vampr Publishing or get signed to a publishing house that will actively look for sync opportunities to pitch you for.

However, it is important that you keep creating music so that there are lots of options to pitch. You cannot release and distribute one album and then go into hiatus for 10 years and expect a sync to come your way. Honing your songwriting skills is just as important as releasing high-quality music regularly.

Want to know more about publishing and copyright? You can learn directly through our Vampr Academy courses… and guess what! We have a 7-day free trial currently available! You are so welcome. 😋

Performance rights

Musicians can also make money through performance rights organizations, such as ASCAP or BMI. These organizations collect royalties on behalf of musicians when their music is performed publicly, such as at concerts or on the radio.

In certain countries, you can collect performance royalties for every public performance that you complete. Make sure that you identify the overarching body in your country, for example in Australia and New Zealand it is called APRA AAMCOS and you can submit your set lists to collect a sum quarterly. In the UK, this body is called PRS and similarly, you must claim these royalties.

Ready to distribute right now with no lock-in contracts? Head to Vampr Distribution to submit your tracks >>

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