Making great music is the biggest challenge any musician will face, as it has to appeal to both an established fan base and a potential mass audience, and those tunes need to be tourable, sellable, and streamable.
Music is nothing if people don’t consume it, and these days, very little music is consumed via any physical medium. It’s all about streaming sites like Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Tidal, iHeartRadio, and to a lesser extent, download stores like Amazon, iTunes, and so on. People aren’t buying singles like they used to, but it’s still important to make everything you create available for sale.
If you’re a new artist and your budget is not as large as you wish it could be, you’re probably looking for any way to save even just a few dollars here and there. Distributing your music to every online platform possible is key to your success, but it can sometimes still come with a noticeable fee upfront, especially if you’re going to be sharing a lot of music.
Below are five services that allow any act to upload and place their newest wares into the download stores and onto the largest streaming platforms in the world for absolutely no cost . . . at least upfront. Only one or two actually keep things entirely free, while the others take a cut of the royalties created by people buying and streaming your music, but that comes later.
If you’re in need of a completely free service to get your music out to millions — or at least put you where millions could potentially find what you’ve created immediately — these free music distribution services might be exactly what you need to take your budding career to the next level.
Of all the companies featured in this piece, Amuse is perhaps the most interesting when it comes to business models. It’s free to use the site’s distribution system to get music into all the major online stores and onto streaming platforms all around the world, and for many acts, that’s as far as the relationship with the company will ever go.
Here’s where things get interesting: if a song or album distributed by Amuse starts to pick up steam and do well on streaming sites, the company can make a decision to reach out to the artist and offer them a deal of sorts.
Amuse calls itself a record label, and unlike other items on this list, it is interested in finding and developing talent. If the band or artist signs a deal, which will see the company step up its game and begin offering everything from playlist pitching to marketing to financing for further projects, the profits are split between the two entities, whereas for other non-signed acts, everything goes to the musician.
The 50/50 split might sound harsh, but it’s not too different from how most labels work, and it is typically only offered to artists who are already on their way up, though Amuse will use its data to catch potential hits early on. The Swedish startup launched just a relatively short time ago, but already major labels have signed on not just as partners, but as investors, and Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am is also involved.
Here’s where things get interesting: if a song or album distributed by Amuse starts to pick up steam and do well on streaming sites, the company can make a decision to reach out to the artist and offer them a deal of sorts. Amuse calls itself a record label, and unlike other items on this list, it is interested in finding and developing talent.
Many up-and-coming artists have made a name for themselves by covering songs that have already topped charts all around the world, and in today’s world, a clever rendition of a popular tune can catapult a no-name act to relative viral fame in no time.
Whether it’s on YouTube, Spotify, or the dozens of other streaming outlets, a perfectly-executed cover or interpolation of a well-known track can truly be a game-changer for many acts. It can also be complicated. Sometimes the original artists request the cover be taken down, while others demand a full share of the money made from a song, even if the music is entirely new.
Soundrop clears all this up, as the company has created a system for licensing cover songs which makes it easy for any artist to record and release their take on almost any track. Musicians no longer need to track down who owns the rights and beg for permission or simply hope their work isn’t deleted after a complaint is filed.
Soundrop does charge a one-time fee of $9.99 per cover song for this convenience, but taking into consideration how much time it can take to do things right (in addition to actually composing and recording a cover worth sharing with the world), it doesn’t seem like such a high price.
The distribution service allows any artist to upload and distribute their original music completely free of cost, though it does take 15% of everything made.
Just like Amuse, what makes Stem so interesting isn’t simply the fact artists can distribute their tunes for free. As is evidenced by this list, there are a number of options out there when it comes to distro for albums and singles, so if you’re on the hunt for one that won’t cost you anything upfront, why not focus on those companies doing something really neat and truly looking forward with their business plans?
Stem makes royalty payments incredibly easy, as the startup handles them for the musicians involved. Simply sign everyone involved up for an account — the Producer, Songwriters, and the actual artist fronting the track — and decide on how the revenue will be split between the parties.
Once money starts coming in from download stores and streaming platforms, Stem will pay everyone on time according to the deals set, which means the teams that actually created the music can decide who gets what amongst themselves and then not worry about it ever again.
Once the money arrives, Stem does take 5%, which is still an incredibly low sum when looking at other industry options, and since it is taking care of a potentially painful and time-intensive task, it’s worth handing over a small percentage of royalties . . . if your music actually generates any, of course. Before earning income, everything’s free.
RouteNote might not be the most popular distribution company when it comes to music, but it does have a very simple free service that is a great choice for artists just getting started in the industry. The site allows any musician to quickly and easily upload their new tunes and distribute them to up to fifty online stores and platforms across the web.
While this figure doesn’t come close to including all the streaming outlets and download stations used all around the world, most new acts don’t need to be featured everywhere, at least not at first. Fifty sites should suffice just fine in the beginning, especially considering the major names like Spotify, Apple Music, and so forth are all included in this list.
RouteNote doesn’t charge for artists to upload and distribute their art, but it does take 15% of royalties once money starts pouring . . . or dripping, perhaps . . . in. It’s not too high a figure, but if 15% doesn’t make you happy, you can opt to pay an upfront fee and a subscription fee allowing you and your band to keep every cent you make after you’ve paid.
It might be smart to start with the first option and then try the other once your music catches on and those streams start adding up.
Stem makes royalty payments incredibly easy, as the startup handles them for the musicians involved. Simply sign everyone involved up for an account — the Producers, Songwriters, and the actual artist fronting the track — and decide on how the revenue will be split between the parties.
Okay, so LANDR isn’t actually free, but it’s so incredibly cheap, I thought it made sense to include here. The amount of cash you’ll have to hand over to work with this company is essentially negligible, no matter what plan you decide is right for you.
At its most basic, LANDR allows you to upload and distribute ten songs (either on their own or as an album) to the biggest and most important outlets online for just $1 per month. I was going to use the line about how it costs less than a cup of coffee a day, but it’s not even close. What can you buy for one dollar these days…other than music distribution, I mean?
LANDR isn’t known just for distribution though. The startup has made a name for itself as a digital mastering platform , and it can be one of the cheapest and best ways to get your new tunes mastered and ready for distribution.
If you opt to have the service master your art, you can get an unlimited number of low-quality MP3 files finished for just $4 per month. Those will likely sound perfectly fine for most artists and fans, but if you want something better to appease the audiophiles listening in (which might include you and your bandmates), you can opt for the $9 per month plan, which includes unlimited high-quality MP3s.
Many years ago, distributing your own music was possible for artists, and in fact, it’s how many of them managed to put their records into stores everywhere. Once physical took a backseat to digital storefronts like iTunes and Amazon, those outlets often had pages explaining how to upload music, so every act could do it on their own.
It’s still possible with some stores, but most have now deleted those helpful resources, as it’s much easier for the vast majority of acts to go through one of the many approved distribution services. Streaming platforms also prefer this method, as they are inundated with new music constantly, and some don’t even accept music coming from individual people, as opposed to proper distro companies.
The idea of saving some money by going it alone and uploading your new songs or album to digital storefronts and streaming platforms might sound like a good idea, but it will require so much time and effort to succeed and with only some options available, it’s not worth it.
As you can see from the startups and companies I’ve profiled above (and there are plenty of other free services I didn’t have room to include and paid services we’ve previously discussed), there are many firms vying for your attention, your money, and your music. So save yourself the hassle and go with a distributor that knows what it is doing!
Curious about getting your music on streaming services? Check out our articles on how to get your songs on iTunes and Spotify.