5 Great Indie Music Distribution Tips

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Rising indie music stars have an interesting catch/2 these days when they confront the new entertainment market. On the one hand, any artist has a plethora of ways to reach fans and distribute and promote their own content between web pages, social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and content sharing platforms like Youtube, Vimeo, and Soundcloud. On the other hand, the ease of use and discovery with these platforms also allows thousands-upon-thousands of other acts to produce, distribute, and promote their content just the same.

In the absence of professional, paid artist management, an indie artist can still succeed and get their music ‘out there’. To do so intelligently an indie artist needs to consider

  • Free music distribution and
  • Radio play opportunities, as well as
  • The question of royalties.

Marketing Concept: Free Music Distribution 

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Today’s indie artist needs to understand the landscape of free music distribution and the large number of marketing concept avenues available to them. The first step, especially for an artist with a sufficient catalog, is for an indie music artist to establish a website to host their music, advertise tours, and to house other features like a blog. With a well-designed website, artists can connect with fans and allow their music to be distributed on an artist’s own terms. If a blog is too much work you may want to look at alternative ways like Soundcloud promotion.

Along with a website, platforms like Youtube, Vimeo, and Soundcloud are still viable and well-used avenues to distribute and promote music. Youtube and Vimeo can allow artists to post music videos, concerts, tour footage, or personal vlogs to reach fans. These videos can be shared and reshared on social media, and are easily accessible across the world to any audience with a strong web connection. They can also encourage subscribers, building consistent engagement with an artist’s content and providing the groundwork to build a community of fans.

Another key tool for modern indie music artists is Soundcloud and Soundcloud promotion. While Soundcloud may not entirely be the industry phenom it once was, it’s still a large platform with a substantial user base, as well as a well-known avenue for interested listeners to find new and up-and-coming acts.

While an act may find companies who offer Soundcloud promotion and, sometimes, guaranteed listeners, companies that offer services directly increasing account popularity for money are explicitly against Soundcloud policy and can get users banned. More legitimate promotion services work like other music promotion companies to promote your Soundcloud uploads, and you, and are not subject to the same stringent policy.

At the same time, these services aren’t doing anything you can’t do… like Youtube and Vimeo, you can promote and share your Soundcloud uploads as part of a comprehensive plan to distribute your music.

Commercial Radio and the Indie Music Act

While an act can gain a considerable following using online distribution and social media, the modern landscape also allows indie music acts to make inroads with traditional FM radio in ways that weren’t available in earlier periods. Understanding this can dramatically amplify an act’s potential reach.

While commercial FM radio is often seen as having great barriers to entry for indie music acts, such views neglect one key player in the radio landscape that can be make-or-break for indie acts’ chances: the radio programmer. 

If a band is in a major city, or has contacts there, major media markets like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc., still have local hosts who can program music by local and independent artists. Considering the importance of these major markets, success here dramatically increases and independent artists’ reach and national/international potential. 

First, an indie act can find local radio programmers in these major markets, and particularly one that reaches your own target audience/genre (and this is particularly viable if the act is from or lives in these areas). Follow these acts on social media and interact with them–comment, like, share posts, and engage, engage, engage to the point where they take notice (but not to the point of being bothered).  

Once an act is ‘a name’ to a radio programmer, sharing music, events, and concerts becomes much easier, and if a programmer likes an artist’s work enough to feature it an indie act may well be able to find their way on a major market’s radio station. This same approach can also be used to bring attention from college stations to an indie act, allowing them to build a following from exactly those demographics that also engage heavily in the digital space.

Get Smart About Royalties

While an indie artist can distribute their work well these days, the last essential step for an indie act to succeed without paid artist management is intelligence about how royalties work. An artist has music that is their original creation. As this music is marketed and promoted, music can earn royalties for two different copyrights: the copyright for the composition (the song itself) and the copyright for the sound recording (the master). 

These copyrights can earn indie artists a variety of revenue streams:

1. Performance royalties for compositions
These are the royalties accrued when a composition is played on digital radio services (e.g. Pandora), streaming services (e.g. Spotify), and in venues like restaurants or bars.

2. Mechanical royalties for compositions
These are the royalties accrued from the reproduction and distribution of a composition in a physical medium (e.g. CDs, vinyl), digital mediums (e.g. MP3s), or streams (e.g. Spotify).

3. Permanent download royalties for masters
Permanent downloads are mostly sold through digital retail stores, and the income is passed to the distributor who, in turn, pays the label–or, in the case of an unsigned indie artist, the artist.

4. Interactive/on-demand streaming royalties for masters
Similarly, on-demand streams (e.g. Spotify) generate master use royalties that pass distributor to label or artist.

5. Non-interactive streaming royalties for masters
Non-interactive streams (e.g. internet radio) aren’t paid to a distributor. Recording broadcasts over the web, cable, or satellite that don’t allow users to control the music selection pay royalties for digital performances to SoundExchange. 45% of those royalties are paid to featured performers on the recording, with 50% going to the copyright owner of the master. (5% goes to background vocalists and session musicians). 

The key to a thriving indie music career is to develop deep, intelligent understandings of an artist’s distribution opportunity, alongside a command of the royalties earned by media plays. 

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