So you’ve got your music recorded and you’re ready to distribute it? That’s great! There’s a lot to learn about distribution, but this starter guide will help you get off to a good start to getting your music out there!
Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. While every effort has been made to ensure accuracy of information, please confirm this with an arts and entertainment attorney before proceeding.
Once you’ve completed your album, it’s recommended that you file for copyright protection before you publish any of the recordings. Technically, a “work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” (US Copyright Office) That said, there are benefits to copyright registration. It can help establish when the work was completed and may make you “eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation.” (US Copyright Office) Even if you don’t need to sue for infringement, being able to threaten to sue for the higher amounts for which you might be eligible may help you get others to stop infringing on your copyright.
Another reason to file for copyright is that it is remarkably inexpensive, as intellectual property goes. As of this writing, you can copyright an entire recording of unpublished pieces/songs with the same authorship for just $65 in most cases. And the process is incredibly simple! Just set up an account with the Electronic Copyright Office, fill out the forms and make your payment online, and then upload your audio files!
Conveniently, under the current system, if you file for copyright for a recording (Form SR, for “Sound Recording”), you can use that same copyright to protect the underlying work. That is, the one filing will protect this particular recording of these songs/pieces and the songs/pieces themselves if someone should, say, create a new recording of them.
Once you’ve copyrighted your work, you can release the album all at once or one track at a time. If you try to copyright after releasing tracks one at a time, the tracks would all have different publication dates and you might need one copyright application per track, a significantly higher cost than copyrighting an unpublished album all at once for one fee.
Next, you’ll want to submit your works for digital distribution on such services as Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify, etc. While you can create accounts and upload these all yourself, it’s usually easiest to go through an online distributer, such as DistroKid. They’ll streamline the process and upload your recording to any of a large number of standard streaming platforms for a small annual fee per album. With them, you’ll keep 100% of your earnings
If you decide to do this on your own rather than working with an online distributor, click on the buttons below for information on distributing through each platform:
Physical CDs & Vinyl
It’s becoming increasingly common for artists not to print to CD or vinyl records. If you do want to print to CD or Vinyl, most artists work with Disc Makers. There are some competitors out there too, such as National Media Services for CDs (but not vinyl).
You’ll need to download their templates for graphic design to create your cases, CDs labels, record labels, etc. You’ll find Disc Makers’ templates here.
PRO & AllMusic Registration
If you’re a member of a Performing Rights Organization, or PRO, like ASCAP or BMI, register all of your music through your PRO. (You can learn more about PROs here.) Use these buttons to access work registration:
Marketing your music is a huge topic, but here are some key things to remember:
- Post the recording on your website with links to all the places it can be streamed.
- Some people use link aggregators, like LinkTree, to create a single link for all the places the music can be found.
- Post to social media on both your personal and band/ensemble pages.
- Consider sending a press release to local papers.
- Be sure to bring merchandise to performances and have someone available to sell it.
- Consider holding an in-person or virtual album release party.
- Consider placing targeted ads on social media. Focus your efforts especially on the platforms that match your demographics. Look for where you have the most subscribers or consider demographic statistics, like how Facebook is widely favored among millennials and older generations, while TikTok and Instagram tend to be favored by the younger generation at present.
- Develop your fan base by creating a distribution list. You can use tools, like Mailchimp, to create and manage your fan database. PCMag periodically rates these tools here.