It’s 2020 and the game has changed. Gone are the days of artists making millions from selling physical CDs and big record label advances. In are Spotify, Apple Music and all the DSPs (Digital Services Providers). Music has become digital and it’s generally never been a better time to be an independent artist. There are many challenges, but digital music distribution has levelled the playing field globally for new artists, composers and creatives.

1. Music distributors

Getting your music on these streaming platforms and stores isn’t just a case of uploading it. First, you need to go through a distributor which is a special company that will take your final mastered file. Then you need to convert it to the necessary encoded file and deliver it to stores in line with your chosen release date. There are a fair few companies which can do this for you, and they will either work from a percentage commission of your gross earnings/sales, or they will charge a fee per track/EP upload through their system. Here at LCCM, we can recommend a few leaders who we trust and know to deliver the best results. They are Ditto Music, Spinnup (Universal Music’s in-house distributor for independent artists) and Tunecore. Amuse are a great, newer entrant to the market, heavily involved in Lil Nas X’s success in 2019. AWAL is also a market-leader, although you need to apply, and they have strict criteria for artists they accept.

2. Additional services: What to go and what not go for

Some distributors will offer add-on services such as ‘promotion’, ‘advertising’ and ‘PR.’ In our opinion, if you want to go for these, that’s fine but don’t expect mega results from a service you may pay very little money for. It’s much better to plan your campaign, factoring in external promotional or PR services from a specialised, reputable agency. Believe us, we’ve heard some real horror stories from new artists being fleeced out of their hard-earned cash, paying for a poor add-on service from major companies that really should know better. If you’re a little confused by the myriad of options, there are some great blogs and resources online you can flick through; Spinnup’s blog and online vids in particular are great.

3. Label services

The next ‘level up’ from distribution is label services. We touched on this above, but in our view, label services are those additional services offered by a distributor that has record-label level influence. They will usually have their own Trade Marketing department who will pitch your release/campaign to DSPs and stores. Examples of labels or companies that offer this include Believe Digital, AWAL/Kobalt and The Orchard. If you’re with one of these and do really well, you could be offered an ‘upstream’ or ‘plus’ deal to the parent label, for instance AWAL to Kobalt.

However, you’ve got to earn that place. Label service packages are only really available to those artists who are building up some steam and progressing well. This means a strong presence on social media and some releases that have picked up press attention or with a wider team onboard, for example management and/or a booking agent.

Given the success of all your independent friends, the barrier for full label services support is rising ever higher. Don’t let that put you off; you can still do so much without the full package. A few of our artists here at LCCM, like recent graduates The Good Manners, have achieved Spotify playlist placements through just a standard distribution arrangement with Ditto.

When it comes to online and digital music distribution, the world is your oyster as an independent artist. You have control – don’t let it scare you! Read up, ask questions and make your mark.