So your music is finally recorded and you are finally ready to release your first single or album?
But there’s just one missing piece in the puzzle – Distribution
Distribution is essential for moving products be it physical or digital. But for the purpose of this guide, I will be focusing on digital distribution.
But before you start distributing your music online, I want us to go through a checklist just to ensure that you have the fundamentals in place.
So without further ado, let’s get started.
- Mix and Master your music professionally – Ensure that your product is engineered before making it available for commercial release. Mixing is where you edit; adjust volumes, adding effects to your recordings. Mastering is the last step (also known as post-production) where you take the final mixdown (your mix) to enhance the overall stereo before release.
- Save your audio files as WAV or AIFF – When your master is ready, request the mastering engineer to save your files in WAV or AIFF and MP3 formats. As a general rule of thumb, always have both formats available because depending on the distributor they might request any of the two. So always keep that in mind.
- Design A High-Quality Sleeve – Presentation is important and there’s a lot of truth in the statement “First impressions last”. Yes, the music is important, but your packaging (in this case, your sleeve) can make or break you. You don’t have to break the bank to design to a sleeve though.
- Open a SoundCloud Account – You should upload snippets of your music on Soundcloud beforehand. This can be a sample of your latest song which you intend to release or your previous work, it’s up to you. Soundcloud gives you options to share, enable free downloads, embed, et cetera. So you can promote your latest offering before the official release date.
- Open a YouTube Account – YouTube is for promoting videos, but that’s just stating the obvious. If you’re really aggressive about promoting your tracks and you intend to shoot a music video to support your release, YouTube is where you need to be.
- Compile your e-mail List – This is easier said than done because you have to incorporate this with a fully functionally website in order to capture emails. Well, I’m assuming you don’t have fan base yet. But there is another way. Say you have emails of people who are working in the industry such as managers, producers, compilers, etc. Add them to your email list and send each a promo of your latest release.
- Submit your music to radio stations – This is no easy task but it should not be ignored. If you spend a little bit of money on a printing a few copies of a radio sampler (A physical CD with the artwork and a radio version of your song), music compilers might take you more seriously than the average artist. It’s not a guarantee that your music will be play-listed though but it can make a difference.
- Sign-up with a reputable digital distributor – When you’re about to release your music for the first time, chances are you don’t know what to look for in a distributor. But I would recommend you sign an exclusive distribution agreement. However, only do so with a reputable distributor. By reputable, I mean established, reliable, large store network and track record.
- Register your music with collection societies – Ensure to register your music with collection societies in your country. In Southern Africa, you can register with SAMRO. They will collect your royalties from radio stations should your music get playlisted.
- Apply for an ISRC Code – ISRC stands for International Standard Record Code. This is the code you assign to your audio and video releases. In South Africa, you can apply for one at RISA (Recording Industry of South Africa).
- Read and sign your distribution contract – When your distribution application gets approved, the distributor will email you a copy of the agreement. But some terms will probably sound foreign to you. If that is the case, don’t be shy to seek advice. And I’m not necessarily referring to legal advice per se (it can be costly). But find someone in the industry that is more experienced and knowledgeable to assist you before signing on the dotted line.
- Create A Catalogue Number Sequence – Every release will require what is known as a catalogue number. Say your first release is a single and your record label name is SKY Records. The catalogue number can be something like SKY001. The second release will be SKY002, and so on.
- Release music under your own record label – I’m assuming that you will self-distribute your own music hence I decided to include this point. If not then some of the above information may not be applicable to you. I say that because whoever releases your music (the record label) will take care of those things (most of them) on your behalf.
- Open a PayPal Account – When your music finally gets some traction, you will get paid for digital downloads and streams. Digital distributors usually send royalty statements on a quarterly basis and some every six months (that’s twice a year). Some of you might ask “If my distributor is in a different country then how will I get my royalties?” PayPal is by far the easiest payment method online. The funds take between 1-3 working days (If you have an FNB Account in South Africa) to reflect in your bank account when you withdraw from your PayPal account. In most cases, distributors prefer to pay royalties via PayPal because it’s cheaper, easier and faster compared to other payment methods.
- Decide on a release date – Now that everything is finally in place, you have to select a release date. It is advisable to select a date 6 weeks in advance because the distributors need time to process your release and send the music their digital store network.
- Write- up – The write up is basically a description of your project. You can include the following information: How the song was recorded, the featured artists, credits, et cetera.
Now that you know what is required to distribute your music online, I take it you will complete that single or album and share it with the rest of the world.
Don’t let the “long” list overwhelm you though.
Take things one step at a time. Even if it means you have to refer back to this checklist every now and then until you are ready to release your first project.