Frequently Asked Questions: Music Distribution

frequently asked questions about music distribution
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Music Distribution is a broad topic on its own and sometimes artists and labels have so many questions regarding this subject.

So I thought I should put together a FAQ: Music Distribution blog post to answer most of your queries. And without wasting any time, let’s go through some of the typical questions.

What is music distribution?

Music distribution is basically the process getting the completed product (music) into the hands of end-users (public) via retail stores.

Although music can be made available to consumers by self-distributing physical products (CD, Vinyl), but traditional distribution usually goes through a supply chain.    

What is digital music distribution?

The delivery of digital content or media to online music stores or platforms.

Which is the best digital distribution company to use?

It’s a difficult question to answer because there a plenty of reliable and reputable companies in the market today.

However there are companies such as Landr, Tunecore, CD Baby, and Label Worx just to name a few.

And most of these companies mentioned also offer additional services besides distribution.  

What’s the difference between a record label and a distributor?

A record label is responsible for creating and marketing the completed product (Single, EP or Album).

A distributor’s primary role is to ensure that the completed (packaged) product is available in music stores for purchase.

How can I get music distribution deal?

A very good question but there’s no one size fits all answer. You can get a deal via a major label, but you have to make sure that your music is well marketed first.

Another is option is a manufacturing and distribution deal which you can get on your own.

However, unless you have a good bank balance such a deal might not be ideal for you. Digital distribution is easier to access and costs far less than a traditional deal. The following post explains how to get a free music distribution deal.

How does a music distribution deal work?

There different deals as I already mentioned and it all depends on what you are looking for in a deal.

I previously wrote a blog post on music deals.   

Do I need to have a label to distribute my music?

It is highly recommend that you have some sort of a label structure. Because distributors operate in the B2B (Business to Business) space.  

How can I get distribution deal in South Africa?

Again there is no direct answer. But you can get in touch with SA music companies such as Electromode,Nazwo and Music Africa.  

Can I release my music without a distributor?

Yes you can. But you will be doing yourself a huge disservice because it won’t be easy (if not impossible) to get your music on iTunes or any popular digital stores on your own.

How much do distributors charge?

It depends on the company you are signed with. But the average fee you pay is 20 % but not more than 25% for a physical service.

Digital aggregators can charge anything between 10-20%. Some only charge you a “distribution fee” per project but you (the artist or label) keep 100% of the royalties.  

Do music distributors own my music?

No. You will own 100 percent of all music produced.

Can I get a free music distribution service?

Yes. They won’t charge you a distribution fee; instead you have to pay the service provider a small percentage of the royalties.

Can I bypass a music distributor?

It’s possible but hard to do so.

How can I self-distribute my own music?

You can do this by manufacturing your CD’s and selling them directly to independent music shops, shows, tours, etc. If you the time, resources and a team, you can also approach online music stores and supply them directly.

What do music distribution companies do?

They are in the business of supplying retail shops to sell to end-users.

Is Physical music distribution dead?

In some markets it’s still alive and kicking. Over the last couple of years or so, we saw the revival of the vinyl.

How can I get an online music distribution deal?

You have to approach different digital aggregators, compare deals and the terms of the agreement.

Do I need an ISRC Code to distribute my music?

It is recommended that you apply for an ISRC Code. You can apply for the code free of charge at your local IRSC agency.

Is it expensive to distribute music?

The physical process is more expense because it involves more overheads such as warehousing, logistics, etc.

The digital side is much cheaper for all parties involved because there are few overheads.

What is the future of digital distribution?

Nobody can predict the future. But it looks like digital music distribution (and streaming) is here to stay.

How do I distribute my music online?

You need a digital aggregator to get your music in reputable stores or you can do it yourself (it’s tedious though).  

How do music distributors pay artists and labels?

Depending on the service provider, sales statements are usually sent out every month or quarter.

The label typically sells each physical copy to the distributor at a wholesale price. The distributor pays the label based on the number of units sold and the label pays the artist on the agreed royalty rate (each record sold).

Digital works in a similar fashion. The distributor will pay the label for all downloads and streams and the artist gets a cut from the label’s profit.

What is a typical music distribution deal?

A distribution only service which entitles the label to anything between 75 -85 % of the profits or royalties.

But the label is financially responsible for the production, marketing, promotions and public relations activities.

Can I make a fortune distributing my music online?

It’s highly unlikely unless you’re a prominent musician with a huge fan base. But most artists don’t reach that stage without the backing of a huge record company with resources.

So even if you make a fortune from a sales standpoint but a huge chuck of the royalties will go to the investors (labels). 

Digital sales margins make it extremely difficult for the average artist to rely solely on that revenue stream.


I hope I have answered most of your questions on distribution. There’s so much you have to know and the learning never stops.

If I missed anything, please comment below with your questions and thoughts.

Thank you for reading.

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