General

THE MUSIC BUSINESS Series. (Part IV): Monetizing your music. How to choose a digital music distributor to upload your music to streaming sites

Making money as a musician is tough. That’s why you’ve gotta keep a big cut of your hard-earned revenues. To do this, does mean you are most probably an independent artist.

With the shutdown of the live music sector due to COVID-19, independent artists have been seeking alternative ways to generate income. Naturally, musicians gravitated towards livestreaming because it’s easier to

Given that things work quite differently in our country when it comes to the music industry and that the structure here is not well mapped out or organized, many of our artists’ main source of cash is music concerts and performances at events. With the halt on concerts and social gatherings that attract big numbers of people due to the global pandemic, it has been quite a challenge for some of our artists, more so without music in digital streaming platforms so as to earn loyalty revenue, being that not as many of them make a worthwhile income from sales of their music due to the lack of any distribution structure and failure to enforce the copyright law. Because of these inadequacies, there is a severe strain placed upon musicians to find profitability and sustainability in making music.

Big Tril performing 

For an artist signed on a record label such as TNS, as earlier discussed in the previous chapter; there is a team to take care of all this, and everything to do with an artist/ project (singles, Eps, albums they release), marketing, artwork etc, at most of these entities. However, as an indie/ independent artist, you have to do all the hard work on your own. Therefore, today I’ll be focusing on sharing with you knowledge on how to upload your music to stores/ streaming services such as Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music and the rest.

The year is 2020 and now more than ever, it’s easier to sell your music on major platforms such as Tidal, Amazon Music, — Pandora, Shazam, Apple Music and not forgetting the beast that is Spotify. It has also become easier for savvy independent artists to get their music out on streaming services, since such services have taken over the way we consume music these days and therefore It’s no longer just an option for the indie artist to have their music available to stream, it’s a necessity.

Artists Eddy Kenzo, John Blaq, and A Pass use Tune Core as their distributor, and stay on their personally founded record/indie labels whereas Beenie Gunter distributes through Amuse. CD Baby is also relatively popular. Wanna know how they do this? Well, I gat you.

Before we go deep into it, I like to remind you that getting your music on these sites isn’t as simple as uploading a video to YouTube. Artists require what’s known as a digital music distribution company to act as a middle-man and submit music to streaming services on an artist’s behalf. Thankfully, there are plenty of options out there when it comes to digital music distribution that are in place.

Although, they all achieve more or less the same end result, their features and pricing schemes can vary greatly. To help make the selection process easier live compiled this guide and in it we’ll break down exactly what makes each company unique as a music distributor. We shall mainly focus on music distributors: DistroKid, CD Baby, TuneCore, Horus Music, and Amuse.

As an artist, you are required to have about three (3) requirements in order to have a successful online music upload.

1. A good song

2. An active email address

3. A Visa card. (available in majority of the banks such as Stanbic, Centenary, Equity etc.

Let’s get straight into it:

1. TUNECORE

For a pricing of $9.99 per year per single and $29.99 per year per album for the first year. Recurring at $49.99 for the year after, TuneCore is one of the oldest digital music distribution companies and they have a proven track record because of that. TuneCore lets artists keep 100% of their revenue. Their pricing scheme is that they charge a yearly fee on a per single or per album basis. So, the more music you have, the more you’ll be paying each year and it adds up quick. However, there are some perks to TuneCore that may make their services beneficial to certain artists.

Pros:

No commission. You keep 100% of your streaming royalties

Easy to navigate user interface is & there isn’t a lot of information required when processing releases.

Has an Admin publishing service which helps track down and collect your songwriter royalties. (TuneCore Publishing)

Daily trending reports and clear revenue details (for Apple Music / iTunes and Spotify)

Offers payment advances on your royalties if you’ve had consistent streaming revenue in the past year, which can help you to fund future releases.

Cons:

High yearly fees per release

They don’t split payments between co-songwriters — you have to do that manually

If you work with their admin publishing service, they don’t allow you to work with any other sync licensing company

Costly yearly fees for each release

No payment splitting

Charges a fee for adding new outlets. Either $2 per outlet or an additional $10 per release to automatically add all new outlets.

No mechanisms in place to help artists who start to catch (marketing support, playlist plugging, etc)

So, although TuneCore’s services are more expensive than others, they may prove useful to artists who are making a significant income off of streaming, in order to counterbalance the costs.

2. CD BABY

Being the longest-running distributor on the market, CD Baby is one of the most talked-about distributors in the indie community. CD Baby offers several services on top of distribution, like publishing royalties, Global music publishing revenue, Content ID on YouTube, Social video monetization on Facebook, Instagram, and Oculus, plus Sync Licensing. What makes them stand out is that they’re proactive at helping artists tap into all revenue streams. They do this through services such as publishing administration. Thanks to a recent partnership between Music Gateway & CD Baby, they now offer sync for film & TV placement. What also makes them more lucrative than other platforms is their one-time fees per release with no recurring annual costs. This makes it easier for indie artists to get their songs registered with royalty-collecting societies via the platform.

Their pricing models are set up so that you can either choose to release a single on their standard tier of $9.95, or opt-in for full monetization at $29.95.

Also, offering additional services such as publishing admin, sync & even advance payments for more established artists is hugely popular.

Pros:

No yearly fees — just one payment per distributed album, EP, or song. With a charge of just $9.95 USD per song or $29 USD per album. After that, your music will be sent to all major streaming platforms indefinitely (unless you choose to have it removed). This makes CD Baby a much better choice if you’re only planning to release music a few times a year.

Admin publishing service that collects your songwriter royalties

No yearly fees. You pay once, your music is up forever no matter what.

Fulfillment and an ecommerce store for CD and vinyl

They have an admin publishing service to collect your songwriter royalties via CD Baby Pro Publishing.

With CD Baby, your single will be available as an audio track uploaded automatically on YouTube with the art work track and the song playing in the backgound.

Cons:

9% commission on all streaming royalties (from any money you make through them).

They don’t split payments between co-songwriters — you have to do that manually

Additional fee for a UPC (which you need to distribute your music). They charge $5 for a single UPC or $20 for an album UPC. These aren’t optional addons. You can’t distribute your album without a UPC — so add on an additional $5/20 for each release.

No Instagram Story “Music” inclusion (without CD Baby Pro Publishing opt-in or Facebook Monetization opt-in and publishing support)

High YouTube commission (30%)

No mechanisms in place to help artists who start to catch (marketing support, playlist plugging, etc)

3. Amuse

The Sweden based music distribution service; — Amuse is certainly unique when compared to its competitors. They offer some very cool features that a lot of other digital distribution companies don’t, so there’s many reasons they might be the right fit for your music. Having popped up in 2017 by one of Universal Music Group (Sweden)’s former data analytics and another from Warner Music Group (Sweden), and their head of design used to work at Spotify, Amuse continues to take this music distribution thing to a whole new level. Soon after they launched, tech guru and music industry icon Will.i.am joined the company as co-founder, and was to help with growing platform and as well as the artist they choose to strike licensing deals with. In mid-2018 they received at $15.5M investment. So, they ain’t going anywhere for a little while.

The thing that sets Amuse apart from everyone else is that:

First, they’re the only major company that allows you to distribute your music for free while keeping 100% of the profits. It’s pretty hard to compete with a price like that!

They’re able to offer this as music distribution is only part of their business model. When they see an artist that they think is going to be a success, they offer to sign them to their label. This is where they make the bulk of their income, in order to fund their distribution service.

Another interesting feature of Amuse is that they are not only an app, but rather desktop and app, and desktop music distribution/ company that allows you to submit music from an app on your phone or PC even.

Everything is submitted via Dropbox and Google Drive Links/ direct upload even.

There is no upfront cost and they take no commission. Their play is that they are hoping to swoop up the artists that start to catch and sign them to a 50/50 label deal by simply analyzing data. No real A&R, just data analysts.

Pros:

No distribution fees (its FREE)

No commission. You keep 100% of the revenue/your streaming royalties

Extremely data driven/focused.

Give advances (for signed artists)

Pay for marketing (for signed artists)

Can upstream to a 50/50 (not 360) label agreement.

You have a chance to be discovered and signed to one of their 50/50 record label deals

Cons:

New and unproven. If they lose their investor, their entire company folds.

No admin publishing partner to help collect songwriter royalties.

Will not obtain mechanical license for cover songs

No admin publishing service

Album title and artist name must be on the cover and they can be picky about the blurriness of your cover, even if it’s an artistic choice.

Stats and data available only on the app, not their desktop site

Best for: musicians with little no budget to fund their music distribution.

The newest addition to Amuse is its “Fast Forward” feature. This predicts how well songs are likely to perform based on their current steaming activity. It also offers artists 6 months’ worth of predicted royalties in exchange for a 20% fee. This is great for artists who want to spend money on further marketing or a new music video for example.

3. DISTROKID

Built and being run by Philip Kaplan, DistroKid is one of the most popular and well-regarded music distribution companies. It was the first ever distributor to offer unlimited distribution for one annual fee and DK has been continuing to push innovation and challenge the industry ever since. Distrokid is one of the first non-major distributors to strike a deal with the hugely popular video-sharing platform TikTok. This gives all Distrokid artists the opportunity to go viral and have their music used in fan-generated videos worldwide. This makes them a great distributor for those wanting to keep up with trends and stay on the pulse of pop culture.

In just four years, DistroKid has become one of the top 20 distributors worldwide for total units sold/streamed.

The company is a subscription-based service, meaning you just have to pay a yearly fee of $19.99 USD.

Pros:

No commission. You keep 100% of the revenue/ royalties you receive from streaming services.

Unlimited songs for one yearly price (an annual fee, although the fee covers unlimited releases)

Automatic royalty splitting/ Payment for collaborators (DistroKid was also one of the first to offer automatic payment splitting). This is great in cases where a group of people worked on a song and they each own a portion of the recording. You just have to tell DistroKid who gets how much of the income and they take care of the rest.

Single page signup.

DistroKid is very data focused with no bells and whistles. It’s sleek and simple. Just one page to distribute your song or album. Very, very simple.

Email every step of the way — upload success, when it appears in Spotify, iTunes, etc.

Instagram Story “Music” inclusion

Next day trending reports

Distrokid creates a Hyperfollow page for your listeners to pre-save your music on Spotify, which is a great bonus!

Lyrics! You can send lyrics to Apple Music and iTunes.

“Leave a Legacy.” If you select this option for $30/release, the release will never come down “even if you die.” If you miss your annual payment on any of the other services (or DistroKid without this option), your releases will be removed.

Ability to download the songs. DK stores everything in the cloud. And if you need to download the wav file of your song because your hard drive crashed or something, you can log into your account and download it. so, you’re sort of getting a storage backup service for your music on top of distribution services.

Cons:

The downside to the subscription-based method is that all your music will be removed if you stop paying your yearly fee.

$.99/year/release for Shazam — this is free with all other services and it isn’t disclosed up front that this is not included for the yearly price. If you distribute an album of 10 songs, it will cost you an additional $10/yr for that album just for Shazam.

Lots of extra fees not disclosed up front or in the FAQ (like YouTube collection ($5/yr per release), Store Maximizer ($8/yr per release), Leave a Legacy ($29 one time, per release, Shazam ($1/yr/release), which are free with other services).

No admin publishing partner to help collect songwriter royalties.

Payment splitting with collaborators [producers, featured artists or investors] requires each collaborator to have a DistroKid account. They therefore have to sign up for a paid subscription to the platform at $10 a year in order to get paid, since there is no ability for main account holder to cover costs for other collaborators.

No mechanisms in place to help artists who start to catch (marketing support, playlist plugging, etc)

5. HORUS MUSIC

Pricing | £25 — £65 OTF or £20 annually

One of the most underrated distributors around is artist and label services company Horus Music services. They have previously won the prestigious Queens Award for Enterprise of International Trade.

Based in Leicester, UK, the company consists of a team of industry professionals who work alongside their artists and labels to meet their needs and keep things running smoothly.

Their artist and relations team are always on hand to assist. Plus, turnaround times for emails or any distribution-related issues are fast.

They’re so efficient and easy to work with. Artists benefit from their direct to bank payout via their partnership with Western Union. Royalties can also easily be split with collaborators.

They have a wide range of packages on their website, ranging from marketing campaigns to chart registration & Midem representation. For artists looking to release a lot of content on a regular basis, they now offer a new unlimited distribution package at £20 P.A.

For further established labels, a CMT (Custom Music Tools) account is available upon request. This provides labels with unlimited releases for 20% revenue and advanced software to track royalties, create artist profiles and sub-profiles for band members or featured artists.

Royalty splits can be set among the label and artist as well as between band members and collaborators. Plus, all revenue is paid directly each month with no minimum payment threshold or need to manually cash out.

If you’re looking for a bit more than just distribution, Horus offer label services.

There are a lot more digital music distributors out there. You just have to find out one that works best for you. As a recap, the 4 digital music distribution companies discussed above are: DistroKid, CD Baby, TuneCore, Amuse, and Horus Music.

As an artist, more so one that is independent (self-signed)/ just a budding one, uploading your music to stores like iTunes, Apple Music, Tidal, Spotify, Amazon, Deezer and the likes; not only helps you earn through streaming revenue but also makes sure your music is available worldwide. Therefore, once your music is officially up, it is upon you to push it online (promote it). it also enables your music easily become picked up/ pitched for music playlists which means that there are high chances of your song being listened to, and of course this puts shilling in your pockets through streaming/ downloading loyalties. 😊

Here’s a breakdown of how much individual streaming services pay per stream:

Tidal: 0.011 USD/ stream, = 11 USDs for 1000 streams

Apple Music: 0.0073/ stream = 7.30 USDs for 1000 streams

Spotify: 0.0018/stream = 1.08 for 1000 streams

Amazon/ Amazon Music: 0.0082/stream = 8.2USD for 1000 streams

Deezer: 0.0011/ stream + 1.10USDs for 1000 streams

YouTube: USD 0.0029/ stream + 2.91 USDs for 1000 streams

Much as many of our artists here have a strength and trust with being comfortable that they have uploaded their song on YouTube, there are high chances of someone re- uploading your content, hence missing out on driving all streams towards your original channel/ your channel (which is the source of the content anyway). Plus, its pay out is really disappointing, which is why it is important to upload to digital platforms as well, so as to earn from the downloads and streams revenue.