Many hours of hard work went into your songs. Composing, arranging, recording, producing, mixing and mastering – all of this is a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. Sooner or later, however, the question comes up: How do I get my music out there?
Until a few years ago, the music industry was heavily controlled by gatekeepers such as major labels, radio and TV stations and large publishing houses. You couldn’t get music out to the public without expensive product management and comprehensive distribution channels. Now, the music market has changed a lot and provides artists with more direct ways to connect with their audience. On the one hand, this is great news for the cultural scene because niche products now also have a chance, artists are enabled to market themselves more independently, and a more intimate relationships between fans and musicians can be developed. On the other hand, artists who want to distribute music in the 21st century face much greater competition, and industry revenues have declined considerably in the streaming era compared to the CD era. Moreover, artists of today are expected to handle the marketing of their products on their own – work that used to be done by employees in record and distribution companies and that is not necessarily easy for many creatives. In addition to legal and business management expertise, this also requires knowledge about digital distribution options.
Let’s take a look at the usual ways for getting your music out to your fans in the age of streaming.
The classical way
Even though the work of labels is subject to constant change, the core business of record companies has not really changed. They discover, develop, and look after promising artists, help with financing through advances and production budgets, coordinate release plans, take care of promotion and distribution and can help with many issues in the music business with their experience and network. They act as an important partner and advisor, but also as an investor. Even if a label deal is not necessary to produce and distribute music, working with a label can still be exciting for you as an artist.
Does that mean I do not have to deal with marketing, etc. and simply leave that to the label? Almost! In theory that is true, but in practice you won’t get very far with this approach. The problem is that in the unstable music business, record companies (just like artist managers, publishers, etc.) don’t just give away exclusive artist contracts and advances “at random”, but expect professional preparatory work and a fan base. This means that if you want an (attractive) label deal, you first have to be active yourself and build up your brand before any contractual partners develop interest.
Publishing music without a record label
If you want to distribute your music via the well-known streaming platforms and do not work with a label, you cannot avoid a digital distributor. The contracts can usually be cancelled at any time. Streaming income is distributed at regular intervals (with deductions, if applicable).
Most digital distributors use one of the following payment models:
- Fixed price per release: A one-time price per release. The release remains online.
- Annual fee per release: An annual payment is due for each release. If this is not paid, the release will be taken offline.
- Flat rate: A fixed annual fee allows you to upload as many releases as you like. If this is not paid, all releases are going offline.
There are many ways to reach your potential listeners – and they do not necessarily involve market giants like Spotify and co. Often, more direct distribution channels are forgotten, which are often characterised less by high sales figures than by self-determination and higher margins. A popular provider in this sector would be Bandcamp, for example. This platform offers musicians a highly self-determined distribution channel. Many musicians also use crowdfunding or social payment platforms such as Patreon or Kickstarter to finance their projects. A self-managed web shop on one’s own homepage can also be considered and provide attractive profit margins through self-distribution without a “middleman.” YouTube as a video platform is not only of enormous importance for the distribution of music content, but also offers opportunities to earn money through advertising. Furthermore, it can be very rewarding for authors to place their music with content creators of all kinds – for example, via platforms such as Audiojungle. It doesn’t have to be a sync deal with Hollywood or Netflix, because anyone who has their music listed in Content ID and is a PRO (Performance Rights Organization) member can also accumulate significant payouts through the sum of many small users.