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Music distribution is the process of getting your music in all of the places your fans are likely to look for it, and places that can help you gain new fans.

If you're a new musician and are releasing your first album, EP, or single, your music distribution strategy may be more DIY than an artist whose farther along in their career and maybe signed to a record label. Either way, we've put together this guide to teach you everything you need to know about getting your music into the right stores and services.

Here's everything you need to know about music distribution.

Digital music distribution

With CD sales still in decline, streaming and downloads are the primary way people consume music in today's environment.

Because of this, it's important that you make your music available on as many digital services as possible - the mainstream ones so fans can easily access your music, and the newer ones so you have a better chance at being found by new listeners due to less competition.

Digital music distribution companies

Digital music distribution companies exist for independent artists to send their music to many (but not all) of the popular streaming and download services, along with the appropriate rights that allow the service or store to stream or sell the music to their users. These companies usually charge a small annual fee to manage the digital distribution efforts for an artist.

Ari's Take provides a nice comparison of digital music distribution services.

compare-digital-music-distribution-services

Places to upload your music to directly

For services that aren't working with distributors, artists can upload their music directly without the need to go through a middle-man - often times, for free.

Here are some places to consider uploading your music to.

Dozmia

Dozmia delivers hand-picked music recommendations to users based on their current music taste. This means you can get your music in front of a hyper-targeted audience of passionate music fans.

Oh yeah, and we pay out 50% of revenue back to artists directly - not through a distributor.

Cool, right?

Soundcloud

Soundcloud is a social sound platform that lets audio makers upload and share their sounds (such as music) across the internet.

Of course, every music service let's their users share the music, but Soundcloud is good because it treats audio the same way YouTube treats video - anyone can upload, and the sharing is simple and embeddable.

Bandcamp

If you're looking for a way to sell your music directly to your fans, Bandcamp is the solution. You can upload your albums for digital and physical purchase, along with merchandise like T-shirts and stickers.

Physical music distribution

While digital music represents the majority of music consumption today, there are people who still buy physical copies of music. Often times, physical music is more profitable than digital, since fans buy a 10 song album instead of just 1 single.

Here's everything you need to know about physical music distribution.

Sell CDs online

In addition to selling your music directly to your fans via your own website and services like Bandcamp or Big Cartel, there are many online outlets you can sell your physical CDs through such as Amazon and CDBaby.

Selling on these websites is usually as easy as setting up an account with them, uploading your information, and fulfilling orders.

Sell your CDs in physical retail stores

Physical music distribution and radio promotion work hand in hand. While you can be played on the radio and not have any physical distribution in place, it's nearly impossible to get placed on the shelves of popular retail outlets without being played on the radio.

If you're getting played on the radio, have a large, densely populated audience interested in buying music in local retail stores, and you have the means to support a physical distribution supply chain (either on your own or with a partner), selling your music in physical retail stores may make sense.

If you decide to sell your music to physical retail stores, you have two options - finding a distributor who handles physical, or going the DIY route.

Finding a physical distribution partner

If you're signed to a major or larger indie label, your label likely handles physical distribution through a large distributor such as The Orchard, Red, or Ingrooves.

These companies have existing relationships with physical retail outlets, and often times handle a large portion of the marketing strategies for the music as well. If you're in a later stage of your career where you've acquired a nice sized fanbase, you may be able to work directly with these companies - even without a label.

Often times, these music distribution companies work together with wholesalers that provide the music to a number of different retail outlets, such as Alliance Entertainment, to get music into thousands of retail stores extremely quickly. This method works well when paired with national radio airplay.

Unless you're being played on radio stations nationally or internationally, getting a good physical distribution deal is going to be difficult. However, if you want to have a shot at tapping into a large network of retailers, CDBaby has partnered with Alliance Entertainment to offer this type of distribution to independent artists.

When considering the CDBaby deal, keep in mind that this doesn't necessarily mean your music will actually be stocked at the retail stores - just easy to buy it from them, possibly online.

Getting your music on the shelves is a matter of building a densely populated fanbase in a retailer's primary markets.

DIY physical distribution - start with consignment stores

If you're still early in your music career, and you're motivated to sell music in physical retail outlets, consider consignment stores.

Consignment stores are retailers that stock products (usually secondhand, but also from newer businesses) where the supplier gets a percentage after the product is actually sold.

This can work well for you as a musician in markets where you have a dense fanbase or are getting your song played on the radio.

If one of your songs was recently added to a radio stations playlist, try contacting local consignment retailers in that area who may be interested in selling your music, and see if they'd be willing to test your album with a small amount of inventory.

Once you've proven that your music is selling, you can more easily move away from consignment stores and start contacting retailers who will buy your music from you in bulk, then sell it on their own at a higher price.

Working your physical distribution supply chain independently as a musician can be extremely time consuming, and take away from time spent writing new music and touring. However, if you can pull it off, along with great marketing and touring efforts, it can be a great source of revenue.

Since most music is consumed digitally, and it's easy to sell your music physically online, your time may be better spent working to grow your fanbase to the point where you can outsource physical distribution, or land a deal with a record label or a distributor with an existing network of retailers rather than trying to manage things yourself.


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