What is distribution? – Music industry Jargon busting

What is Distribution?

Essentially, distribution is the process of getting the product – in this case, a music product – from whoever is releasing it (e.g. you or your label) to the people (i.e your fans) by using digital streaming platforms (DSPs) and/or record shops. 

Back in the day, the only options available to music fans to discover new artists were record stores and the radio. Then, this little thing called the internet flipped the game on its head, transforming digital music distribution into the most important game in town.

The Basics

From 2015 onwards, digital distribution has become the most important way to distribute your music. 

This has also shifted the power balance, as it enabled both independent as well as signed artists to have access to the same platforms. Furthermore, what we call the “middle persons” had to transform into more artist-friendly platforms, and artists have been empowered to reach global audiences without having to drive around like a hustler from record store to record store and spending thousands on postage.

Companies such as CD Baby, TuneCore and Distrokid serve as the modern link between the artist and the DSPs. For a fee, they ensure that your music is on the most popular global streaming platforms. The best thing about these service providers is that you can keep 100% of the revenue generated. They all offer the same basic service, but it’s best to educate yourself on the nuances of their services and see what you’re getting into before you decide which service to pick. 

The downside of these service providers is that they cater to hundreds of thousands of artists worldwide – meaning that you won’t get any additional help such as advice on playlist pitching and all the perks associated with working with a distribution specialist.

Label service providers usually provide a more bespoke service for artists who are looking to go that extra mile when it comes to investing in their streaming strategy. These companies usually have an expert submissions team that directly deliver your release to key DSPs such as Spotify, Deezer, Tidal, Amazon Music etc. For a fee, they do all the hard work to turn around releases speedily and typically manage to have titles on platforms far quicker than if you’re using a run-of-the-mill distro service provider. 

Final notes

In the pre-internet era, artists’ income usually depended on the trifecta of record sales, live music and licencing. In the current information age, the streaming revenue that reaches artists’ pockets depends on a number of factors – its worth checking out the MusicFibre’s Streaming Royalties calculator to check how much money an artist is making from Spotify streams alone. If you really want to support your favourite artists, make sure that, in addition to streaming their tunes on your favourite DSP, you purchase their physical records and merchandise to truly support their artistic career. 


Janelle knows a thing or two about the music industry. Having been involved in the industry since the age of 13, she's now involved in a variety of music-related projects and is always keen to share industry tips 'n' tricks with fellow musicians.