True love for great sound unites us.
True love for great sound unites us.
You have spent countless hours in the studio finishing your song and are finally ready for the world to hear it. But how can you get your music on Spotify or Apple Music and make some money for your efforts?
In the past, you may have needed a label, a manager, or a contact in the industry to get your single or album onto the shelves.
You can get your music out there for free using a digital distributor.
In this blog, we will break down some concepts to keep in mind when looking at distributors, how to weigh their benefits, and ultimately decide which one is right for you.
In the past, when people purchased music physically, distribution companies would contract with record labels to manufacture and sell albums to retailers.
This changed with the transition to digital music consumption, culminating in the rise of streaming platforms like Spotify, Soundcloud, and dozens of others.
This shift created a new business model for distributors, who could act as intermediaries between the artists and digital platforms.
Since streaming platforms are the way most people consume music nowadays, using a digital distributor is essential to get your music heard. The good news is that it is easy, and even better, free.
There are many digital music distribution options at different price points, even free. Some distributors offer very bare-bones distribution services with limited streaming platforms. Others distribute to hundreds of services and offer additional licensing options and resources for promoting your music. When choosing a free distributor, be aware that there are always caveats to consider.
Streaming royalties are how you collect income for people streaming your music. With free distribution services, you will need to share a certain amount of your royalties. Some services operate with a royalty threshold, meaning you do not get any royalties until you earn up to a set amount.
If you care about the money you make with your music, then be realistic about the sum you will earn in royalties. You may not be able to access your royalty money if the amount lies below the distributor's threshold. If you expect to get a lot of streams on your release, consider paying a flat fee and keeping 100% of your royalties.
Please note that the terms and conditions of each service can vary from region to region or change over time – always read what you are signing up for before releasing your music through a distributor.
We are going out on a limb here, but we assume you are interested in your music appearing on platforms like Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, Deezer, and Pandora. You will find that most of the aggregators out there will distribute to these streaming platforms, and every option on our list below offers these platforms at their respective "free" service tiers.
However, be aware many aggregators will gate certain additional platforms behind their paywall, most commonly social media channels such as TikTok, YouTube, and Meta. Others might advertise access to more platforms if you only fork over your hard-earned dollar. Is it worth it to be on every streaming platform in existence?
When considering what streaming platforms to focus on, you should make sure that your music will be available on the platforms that are relevant to your market.
Some distributors will limit the number of releases you can make per year. They also might offer you a faster turnaround time between submitting your music and when it is available on streaming platforms.
Your release strategy will be the most significant factor in your decision here.
The turnaround times and release limits vary wildly between services, so consider this when choosing one. No matter what you choose, be sure to plan your releases ahead of time.
Streaming platforms aren't the only way to get new listeners. Some distributors will offer additional options for sync licensing and playlist submission.
These are complex topics that may require their own blogs, but for now, be aware you will likely need to pay for all these services separately.
Some distributors offer additional tools to help you promote your music, such as:
Several distributors position themselves specifically for a specific type or genre of the artist and may offer a specialized service just for them. For example, UnitedMasters has a platform called BeatExchange that lets producers market and sell their instrumentals to other artists.
Most services on this list have a pricing page, so be sure to review this carefully before signing up. Be sure the services that are most valuable to you are available at a comfortable price point.
Not every distributor gives you 100% of the information you need on the pricing pages; for example, they may not list every streaming platform they distribute to. Check the website and FAQs, and do a google search to ensure the venue of your choice is available.
Some distributors will advertise "better support" in their higher tiers, and this should not be overlooked! Releasing music is easier than ever, but it can still be an opaque and confusing process. Hands-on support can make everything go more smoothly or at least feel that way. Research your aggregator of choice on Reddit or other online forums to get a better sense of the quality of support they offer.
+ Appear at a large number of streaming platforms
+ Fast turnaround time and unlimited releases
+ Additional free services
- 15% royalties charge with a $50 threshold
Routenote’s free tier will only let you keep 85% of your royalties. You get more marketing support from this service, primarily through the digital marketing platform PUSH.fm. On the PUSH.fm platform, you can create pre-save campaigns, create smart links, view analytics, and more, so it is a great bonus for small artists without their dedicated marketing teams.
You also get sync services and, interestingly, a resource for using royalty-free samples. There is no difference in the platforms available between tiers, and they distribute to 25 different streaming platforms along with TikTok and Instagram music libraries. You can upgrade to the paid tier and collect 100% of your royalties, but note that there is a $50 royalty threshold in all tiers.
Another good point in Routenote’s favor is their turnaround time, which is just 3 days.
Is free worth it?
Routenote’s free tier is a bit more attractive for smaller artists, given the only meaningful difference is the amount of money you will make from royalties. If you are not planning to make lots of money from royalties, the free tier will give you the same benefits as the $10/yr. tier.
Should I pay?
You can pay $10 and keep all your royalties, which is the baseline difference between the free and paid tiers. Higher tiers exist at the “custom” pricing level and include additional pitching services for playlists, etc. It is hard to recommend this tier without knowing the price, so please use discretion.
With the vast number of platforms, quick release time, and additional free goodies, we find RouteNote the best overall value if you are in the market for free distribution to streaming platforms.
+ You can keep 100% of your royalties for free
- Limited number of releases
- Longer turnaround time for releases
- You must pay to get on Instagram, Tiktok, and others
Amuse delivers to 13 major streaming platforms at the basic free price tier, including Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and other heavyweights. You will also get to keep 100% of your royalties, potentially making it a terrific value. There is a 15% fee for royalty splits, which is essential if you work with a collaborator (watch out, rock bands and gospel choirs!). You only have 12 releases per year, with a four-week release time at the free level.
Upgraded tiers will also distribute your music to platforms like TikTok and Instagram Music Library, which may have bigger audiences depending on your genre.There are additional goodies on offer such as Spotify pre-save links and free analytics.
Is free worth it?
You should go for the free tier if you are a solo artist not planning on many releases this year, are only looking to release on mainstream platforms like Spotify and Apple, and are OK with waiting longer for your music to hit these platforms. Four weeks may be too long for your release schedule, but on the other hand, it gives you time for promotion.
Should I pay?
Higher tiers of Amuse include free royalty splits, distribution to a wider variety of platforms, and faster release windows. The paid tier of Amuse is most suitable for the pro or semi-pro artists who want to maximize their royalties and do not need additional marketing support from the distributor. Note that other platforms on this list offer a similar number of platforms at no extra cost.
100% royalties for free sounds like a good deal, but Amuse places more limitations on their free tiers than other distributors on this list. We recommend choosing this distributor only if royalties are your primary source of revenue.
+ Only 10% royalties charge
+ Additional platform for beatmakers
- Fewer streaming platforms at the free level
- Limited releases + longer turnaround for free
UnitedMasters take an interesting approach, offering specialized distribution services for artists, producers/beatmakers. For this article, we will focus on the artist distribution segment of their business. As an artist, you have a choice—either keep 100% of your earnings by paying a flat fee, or you pay them 10% of your royalties, and they will release your music for free without an upfront payment on your side. The payment threshold is $50. UnitedMasters only offer free distribution to Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, YouTube, and SoundCloud.
They also offer YouTube Content ID, as well as Instagram and TikTok music libraries, but all these services require a paid subscription.
Is Free Worth It?
You will be distributed on fewer platforms than the other free services. You will also get one monthly release and take a royalty cut. This may be a desirable choice if you only care about iTunes, Spotify, and Apple Music. This is not mentioned on their pricing page but does appear in the support section.
Should I pay?
The main benefit is that you will get distributed to more platforms, the important ones being TikTok and Instagram. Artists with busy release schedules will appreciate the shorter turnaround time but note that many of the streaming platforms are available for free in other services.
You won’t get as much for free as with other services, but if you are a hip-hop artist, then the additional tools on offer might make UnitedMasters a higher value for you.
+ Distribute to lots of platforms
+ No payment threshold
+ Unlimited releases and only 7-day turnaround
+ TikTok distribution + other free services
- 15% royalties charge at free level
- No additional tools for marketing
Novecore will take a flat 15% cut of your royalties at its free tier with no payment threshold. They deliver music to more than 30 streaming services and offer YouTube content ID and Instagram & TikTok Music libraries access. (This is a huge plus over other services that charge additionally for TikTok distribution) They will get your music online within 7 days. For $5 a month, you get faster distribution and better customer support.
In short, this is a “get what you pay for and nothing more” type of service but is also a very straightforward and uncomplicated way to get your music out there.
Is free worth it?
15% royalties are a standard cut, as you may have noticed from the previous examples. You will get distributed to a wide array of platforms, YouTube ContentID, Instagram & TikTok for free, but there are no additional “goodies” on this service, such as pre-saves, landing pages, email tools, etc.
Should I pay?
The main benefit of upgrading is same-day distribution and better customer support. This might not sound like much, but good support should not be underestimated! It will make your experience much smoother during this often-confusing process of releasing music.
With over 30 streaming platforms and support for Youtube, social media, Soundcloud, and even VEVO, this is the best service for artists interested in casting a wide net and appearing on as many streaming platforms as possible.
If your end goal is to get your song up on Spotify, then any of the above distributors will do the job. But in terms of which offers the most value for the greatest number of artists, we’d give Routenote our recommendation for the following reasons:
Release timing matters
Some artists release many singles and mixtapes over a short period, others wait longer and drop one or two major releases a year. For the more prolific artists, having a yearly limitation on releases can be arduous, and longer turnaround times make advance planning a necessity.
With a 3-day release window and unlimited releases per year, Routenote has the advantage over all the other free open distributors.
Royalties are deceptive
At first it may seem like a better idea to go with a service that lets you keep 100% of your royalties. But realistically it takes thousands of streams before a percentage cut becomes truly significant. It may be better to go with a distributor like Routenote that gives you more freedom in your release schedule along with additional tools to help market your music, which could mean more in the long term than the extra few dollars from royalties in the short term. If your release blows up, they also have the cheapest upgrade plan at $10 per year.
Just because your music is on 200 different streaming platforms doesn’t mean listeners will find it. Many distributors give you useful tools that help you promote and drive traffic to your releases. Creative templates, link builders, and analytics are all essential time savers to help you create engaging content, which translates into more listeners and streams over time. Once again, Routenote offers these services for free.