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Digital Music Distribution: How to Release Your Music Online

February 9, 2024 | by Anton Berner — Want to share your music with the world? This guide will show you how to release music online and get it distributed across major platforms.

Man on couch making music on his laptop

It's estimated that there are nearly 102,000 professional musicians and singers in the U.S workforce, and these are just the musicians who use music as their full-time job.

When you consider the amount of unsigned, DIY artists, this figure can quickly approach the millions. For your Soundtrap tracks to have a chance of standing out from the competition you need to know how to release music online.

Unfortunately, digital music distribution isn't a simple topic. There are many factors you need to consider, from the distributor you go with to the promotion of the single or album.

This guide will go over some valuable tips so you can set yourself up for success when you release music on streaming services.

Make Sure You Prepare Your Music for Release

Before you even think about releasing new music, you first want to make sure that it meets your standards of quality. Sometimes, this standard might not be particularly high.

For example, if you're recording a lo-fi EP on an old tape recorder, you might not be that worried about having a crisp, well-defined sound, and that's perfectly fine! However, if you want your music to be of professional quality you need to make sure that it's properly mixed and mastered first.

Mixing can require a combination of technical talent and a careful ear. However, if you use the right types of resources, you can mix music online entirely on your own.

Before you release your music, we recommend trying out Soundtrap. We provide a host of different mixing and master tools including EQs, compressors, and auto-mixing. Whether you're a professional or a novice, you'll still be able to release music that sounds like it belongs on the radio.

Read more: Music Promotion: How to Distribute and Promote Your First Release

Why Do You Need Digital Music Distribution Services?

Sure, you can release CDs or even vinyls of your music to your listeners. While some music fans prefer these physical formats, it's important to remember that they're still a niche market.

The reality is that the average listener is now using music streaming services. Spotify currently has 600 million monthly listeners. Other music platforms, like Apple Music or Tidal, also command massive segments of the population.

If you're serious about spreading your songs, you need to take the reach of these platforms seriously. Unfortunately, many of them don't allow you to upload your songs directly. Why?

Because most of these platforms aren't equipped to deal with the millions of musicians who want to upload onto their application. As such, they outsource the work to digital music distribution services.

We'll get into some of the big names in this industry in the next section. For now, all you need to know is that these companies act as a buffer between you, the artist, and streaming platforms.

As we'll see they're not necessary to upload your music on all platforms. However, if you want to distribute music to as large an audience base as possible, it's important to consider.

How to Release Music Online: Find a Distributor

If you want to know how to get music on Spotify, it's quite simple: Pick a music distributor. Send them your mastered tracks and album art. In some cases, you'll also need to provide them with some information (song credits, lyrics, etc.).

Then, they'll upload all of your music to the different outlets they cater to. Depending on the specific platform this can be nearly instantaneous or it can take days. The hard part is choosing a music distributor to go with. There are plenty of options available. Some of the popular ones include:

  • Distrokid

  • CD Baby

  • Ditto

  • Tunecore

  • United Masters

  • Record Union

  • Level

We recommend doing your research to decide which music distribution service best fits your needs and budget. In the next section, we'll go over some of the things you need to watch out for when choosing one of these distribution services.

Girl on chair making music on Soundtrap

Do your research to decide which music distribution service best fits your needs and budget.

What Should You Watch Out For?

Pricing structures are one of the most important things you should look out for when choosing a digital music distributor. Different distributors have different price structures.

Some of the more popular ones will charge you a recurring monthly or yearly charge to keep your music on streaming services. Others will charge you a one-time fee and a percentage of your royalties.

This is what you need to watch out for. For example, CD Baby allows you to upload a single for $9.95 or an album for $49. However, they also take 15% of your royalties.

That means that if one of your songs or albums blows up, CD Baby will take a huge percentage of the revenue. If you anticipate your music being popular, you might want to go with Distrokid's pricing structure. They charge you $19.99/year to upload unlimited music and you get to keep all of the royalties.

You also want to make sure that your music distributor covers all your desired digital outlets. Most platforms like Spotify and Apple Music are included with all of them.

However, if you want your music on more niche outlets like Beatport or Deezer you should make sure that the distributor can accommodate you. Before you upload your songs to distributors you need to make sure you've cleared all the samples.

If you haven't done this, you stand the risk of getting sued by the artist or their estate. That's why you should use royalty-free music samples in your music unless you can afford an expensive licensing fee.

Can You Release Music for Free?

If you're a broke musician you might be asking yourself, "Where should I release my music if I can't pay a distributor?" The good news is that there are options available to you.

Some platforms like Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and YouTube allow you to upload your music without any fees or royalty percentages. We recommend taking advantage of these sites even if you use a digital music distribution service.

However, remember that if you want to take your music seriously, you should make sure it's on all major platforms. Some services aren't expensive and it can make a huge difference in your reach.

Can You Make Money Off Your Released Music?

It's not impossible to make money off your music when you upload it to Spotify or Apple Music. However, there's no denying it can be a challenge. Streaming services do provide payouts to music distributors and rightsholders, which in turn means royalty payouts to the artist.

Sadly, it's more than often small amounts. The specific amount depends on the streaming platform. Sites like Spotify have been known to pay as little as $0.0033 per stream.

To put that in context, you would need to get over a million streams to be paid as little as $3,300. Now, if everything you release is massively popular, it's feasible to make a decent living on stream alone.

Starting in 2024, Spotify has announced it will only pay for music that reaches 1000 streams per year.

So if your release doesn't reach that magic threshold of 1000 streams on Spotify, you may end up with no money at all from the streaming giant.

However, in this day and age to make proper money off your music you'll also need to be doing things like:

  • Live shows

  • Merch sales

  • Production work (selling beats or samples to other artists)

  • Record deals

  • Licensing contracts

  • Sponsorships

Until you land multiple sources of revenue from these sources it can be a challenge to make all of your money off music alone. However, if you do it correctly, you can gradually make money as a side hustle until it becomes big enough to become a full-time job.

Don't Forget About Promotion

When you upload music to streaming services, you can't expect it to become a big hit the next day. Even if you've just made the best song in the world that doesn't mean people are going to listen to it.

That's because, in addition to distributing your music, you also need to promote it. When it comes to music promotion, social media is going to be your best friend here.

Build your platform on sites like Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, X, and any other relevant sites. Engage with your followers and tease new music. You can also get more interactive with behind-the-scenes videos, artwork, and general stories from your life.

At the very least, you should make some posts saying you have a new song or album out. After all, you can't expect your family, friends, and followers to simply know about it on their own.

There are plenty of independent music publications that you can send your album to for review. This can give you a bump in coverage. You also can't go wrong with sending your music to college radio stations. Many of these stations tend to champion independent, underplayed artists.

Make Sure Your Music Is Release-Ready With Soundtrap

We hope this guide helped you learn how to release music online. Remember that when you're deciding where to release music, it's important not to put the cart ahead of the horse.

If your music doesn't sound great, it doesn't matter where you distribute it or how much promotion you give it. People aren't going to be interested. Here at Soundtrap, we're devoted to helping musicians like you produce the best-sounding music possible.

With exclusive sound packs, intuitive mixing tools, royalty-free, and collaborative environments we help ensure that your music stands out from the competition. If you're ready to take your recordings to the next level, get started today.

About the author

Anton Berner is a music producer, audio engineer, and songwriter from Stockholm, Sweden. He's produced hip-hop & rap music since the early 2000s and his expertise is in vocal mixing and sample-based beat production. Anton is also the SEO & Content Manager @ Soundtrap and manages the blog and newsroom.

Get started with Soundtrap today!