In an age where technological advances are being made every day, the consumer base for music is constantly changing and asking for new and different forms of music. However, just putting your music up on social media is not always a surefire way to connect audiences with your artist profile. In an ever-changing digital landscape, how can we as creatives share our art with the wider audiences in the single largest platform ever created—the internet. With apps like Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter, social media has taken over as the de facto way to put content in front of the eyes of new viewers. With the right marketing mindset, one can feature their music on their own page or collaborate with other artists and content creators to make their potential hit song go viral. Still, it’s not necessarily as simple as putting up a beat on Instagram or having your friends like your new acoustic set on TikTok. Do you need to post on every social media site you can find? How do you actually get paid? What happens if someone creates a viral dance to your beat without your permission? Keep reading as we dive into the different aspects of music distribution and sound quality.
For hundreds, if not thousands of years, live performance was the only way for music to be shared. It wasn’t until Thomas Edison created the phonograph in 1877 as the first audio recording device that one could hear music that had been previously performed. While the recording was barely audible at best, it set forth a massive industry that continues today. Listen below to the type of audio quality that was revolutionary at the time.
Electrotyped copper negative disc of a sound recording, deposited at SI in October 1881 in sealed tin box. Content: Tone; male voice saying: “One, two, three, four, five, six”; two more tones.
It’s safe to say we have come a long way since recording on a cylindrical drum wrapped in tinfoil. Still, there are a plethora of options for distributing music and not all of them promise the same sound quality. Let’s discuss some of the advantages that different distribution companies offer and why we might choose them.
The Business Side
The best approach is to create like an artist but think like a business. Thankfully, there are companies now that handle most of the business side of things and can ensure you are being treated properly and getting your fair cut of the money, but watch out for third party websites that try to take advantage of any naiveté. In the USA, www.copyright.org is the best tool for protecting your intellectual property. While there a few ways to go about this, one option is to put all your songs into a compilation album and copyright that creative work as opposed to individual songs. Once the money starts coming in you can begin copyrighting individual songs. Next, get in contact with a Performing Rights Organization (PRO) company. PROs grant licensing rights to businesses to use your music, collect fees, and find those who are illegally using your music. In short, this is how you get royalties. There are different PROs for each country, but under US Copyright Law there are three that are recognized: SESAC,
ASCAP, and BMI. You can only be represented by one, so reach out to find which company will give you the best deal. Keep in mind that PROs are mainly used for businesses and other public broadcasting companies like radio. To collect streaming and download royalties from companies like Spotify, Apple Music, etc., you need to contact the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) to give these streaming services authority to stream your music. Registering with the MLC does not affect registration or royalties received from a PRO, and any private agreement made with a record company supersedes any registration made with the MLC. While it is important to register with both a PRO and the MLC, keep in mind that copyrighting your music is a necessary first step. Lastly, you’ll want to look for a good distribution service to actually get your music onto streaming platforms. Some offer better or worse services depending on your needs, so shop around to find what fits your niche. Landr, for example, is the preferred provider for Spotify. However, Landr also distributes to over 150 other streaming services, including apps and sites like TikTok and YouTube.
For promoting your music, Spotify is probably the best option as it has several great tools available for artists. First and foremost is claiming your artist profile. This will allow you to customize your profile, add merch and tour dates, and announce upcoming releases. It will also give you access to Spotify’s Canvas (not to be confused with Canva) which allows you to create a looped visual for users while listening. Spotify also allows you to create a promo link for a pre-save campaign. Pre-save campaigns are another way for artists to garner excitement for their upcoming release. Remember—the first 24 hours after releasing an album are the most important for getting your music in front of more people. In today’s data driven environment, how many streams, which songs, and for how long the audience listens are some of the metrics that services like Spotify will carefully look at to see how the release is doing. In other words, while asking friends on social media to check out your album is important, it is only one piece of the larger marketing pie.
While Apple Music doesn’t have the same breadth of tools available for promoting, it should still be considered as another viable option. Remember, this is a numbers game. If it’s available, you should use it. Like Spotify, Apple requires you to claim an artist profile which allows you to customize the profile, add a biography, and upload custom artwork. This also gives you a special Twitter link and a link for embedding on websites. The downside is that it doesn’t allow you to upload your music for playlist consideration without a heavy following or good relationship with the Apple Music playlist curators. Tidal follows a similar format to Apple Music.
Finally, consider creating an electronic press kit (EPK). The EPK is essentially a digital resume full of promotional materials that can be sent to record labels, producers, venue bookers, etc. to show them who you are. Be sure to include things like an artist biography, your best photos or videos, website link, and any articles or press releases written about you as an artist.
Without a doubt, Spotify has become a behemoth in audio streaming since it’s debut in 2008. While it took a while for the business to gain traction, it has since become what is probably the most popular streaming company to date, hosting over 11 million artists with an average of 515 million monthly users. Despite its popularity, it does not offer the best streaming quality compared to its top competitors at only 320kbps, while the standard CD from years past has 1411kbps. This is good enough for most audiences, but what are some of the advantages that Spotify offers over other streaming services? First, they offer a free subscription with the creation of an account. The lack of a paywall means that you can get your music out to more audiences, and the lower streaming quality allows areas with lesser internet services more consistent access to the platform with lower streaming interruptions. They also offer a student discount, and younger consumers are some of the most active audiences when it comes to engagement and sharing of music. Additionally, you can access Spotify on nearly every device, from all smart phones, tv’s, laptops, and even Spotify’s own “Spotify Connect” which allows you to stream to pretty much any audio device over wifi, freeing up your smartphone or other devices for calls and other audio requirements. Spotify really shines with its algorithm based discovery playlists, which carefully curates a list of new content based on your listening habits. The more you listen, the better the list. Many artists who may have otherwise struggled to gain numbers have popped off since having their music featured on one of these playlists. The best part about the playlists that Spotify creates for its users is that since it is based on the users listening habits, if your music lands on their discovery playlist they will likely be a repeat listener, and may share it with like-minded friends and colleagues. While Spotify has yet to incorporate Hi-Res, lossless audio, it cannot be beat in terms of getting your music out there and exposing it to the audiences that will likely enjoy it.
For those who are already heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, it may make more sense for them to subscribe to Apple Music. Although there is a paywall, and your music will be more readily available to those with an iPhone over Android, Apple’s premium features include spatial audio and lossless audio thanks to partnering with Dolby Atmos. It’s important to note, however, that these features are not available in all instances. For example, the lossless and spatial audio features work with all headphones except for Apple’s own headphones, despite their hefty price tag. Additionally, the HomePod and HomePod Mini do not support the Dolby Atmos features, however Apple has announced that they plan to add these features after a future software update. Lastly, despite the iPhone natively supporting lossless audio since iPhone 7, this only applies to Apple Music Lossless and not the Hi-Res Lossless featured by Dolby Atmos. If iPhone users wish to experience the Dolby Atmos features, they will need to use wired headphones to take advantage of what the premium plan offers. Still, Apple’s catalogue streams at CD quality (1411kbps) with much of the audio streaming at Hi-Res (48-192kHz). Classical musicians and composers can take great advantage of the lossless streaming and spatial audio features, allowing for the greater subtlety and nuance commonly required for music that can contain such drastic and sudden changes in dynamics, articulations, and moods. While Apple uses a tiered paywall system to access higher quality features, as well as the inherent exclusivity of the company, the streaming quality is leagues above Spotify and the standard listening experience is noticeably better to even the most average user.
Relatively new to the audio streaming scene compared to Spotify and Apple, Tidal is a Norwegian-American based company offering some of the highest quality streaming available. Despite being founded in 2014, Tidal already claims to allow users access to over 80 million tracks and 350,000 music videos. Similar to Apple’s tiered payment system, Tidal has higher quality audio options ranging from the standard plan streaming CD quality at 1411kbps, to the premium plan streaming Hi-Res tracks at 24-bit/96kHz with some reaching up to 192kHz. On top of this, the premium plan includes access to Dolby Atmos, Sony 360, and Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) tracks. For those who are unfamiliar, MQA tracks essentially allow for a better packing of the data for streaming services, giving listeners the highest quality playback available to date. It should be noted that Tidal does have a free version, however it only streams at 160kbps. As with many other streaming services, Tidal is available on smartphones, desktops, has a web player, and can be connected via wifi to a growing number of third-party products, giving listeners plenty of options on how to stream audio. The company also pays artists the most per stream at a little over $0.01 per stream compared to Spotify’s $0.003 and Apple Music’s $0.008, with options for premium members to support artists directly. While it is pricier than other options, Tidal’s streaming quality and options set it apart as the best streaming service for audiences and artists alike who are searching for the highest quality playback on the market today.
Navigating the exponentially growing digital landscape can be daunting at times, but it offers near infinite ways to promote, distribute, and engage with audiences all around the world. With a solid plan on how to promote your work and give the audience the best audio quality experience possible, success will come. Follow the link at the bottom of this page to hear Spotify founder Daniel Ek talk about his humble beginnings in the Swedish housing projects all the way to building a multi-billion dollar business, adapting to change, and why you should always take the risk of betting on yourself.
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