Making Money With Music Distribution Without A Label

Making money as a new artist can be hard. A label comes with so many rules and restrictions, but music distribution can help you make money with no hassle. 

It’s safe to assume that signing with a major record is the dream of nearly every aspiring musical artist. It’s the most glamorous and well-paved road to success but it’s not the only one path to take; there is a bumpier back road that leads to stardom and it’s achieved through music distribution. The are  countless benefits using this method: No pressure to make music within a time frame or genre, involvement in all aspects of merchandise and music production as well as touring whenever and whenever available.

The reason for this fork in the the road of success is mainly due to the way people are listening to music. Anyone remotely involved in the industry knows that music streaming is taking over the field. But incase there was any doubt, here are some cold hard facts via a recent IFPI report.

“The recording industry’s global revenues for 2016 came from a number of revenue streams: 34% Physical format sales, 50% digital revenues, 14% performances rights and 2% synchronization revenues.”

So it’s settled; modern artists need to be involved in digital streaming and music distribution is the best way to make that happen.

There are a number of artists that became successful as independent artists. They chose this path for a number of reasons, be it creative freedom to upholding an image and not “selling out.” Chance the Rapper is a prime example of someone that skipped the record label and relied on music distribution and social media to become successful. Chance consistently advocates his independence as stated in a series of his tweets.

With today’s tools and connections, now is the time be successful artist without the help of a major record labels. There are some seemingly obvious steps that need to be taken to make it work, but follow them properly and they could be the result of making a living out of a passion. First, there are a few items to address before getting into music distribution.

The Production Process

Finding  the ideal producer to make a master track is a step that need not be overlooked. Having an immaculate master track(s) is the most important stepping stone for a successful music career. Keep practicing while time is still bountiful and some amount of money can keep stacking up. Not skimping on proper production could be a deciding factor of a musician’s success. This topic alone is a lengthy one, but luckily we have an article regarding tips and tricks to finding the perfect producer.

Album Artwork

Now that the album is recorded,  proper work of art will be needed draw in new listeners. This isn’t something that is overlooked but it is definitely something that new artists should spend a considerable amount of time on. Billboard released the best and worst of 2016 album artworks and it’s easy to see that highly artistic and thought provoking pieces of work of work are making a big impact. Remember the basics of a good drawing as taught by art professor, Clara Lieu, Visual Artist and Adjunct Professor at RISD: Lead the viewer’s eye around continuously throughout the picture, don’t spare any attention to even the smallest detail and be visually dynamic.

Music Distribution

This is where musicians need to spend a great deal of time sorting through the plethora of options available to them. Due to the popularity of music streaming, a number of companies have refined their offerings to cater to very specific audiences. This means that new users are going to spend a considerable amount of time at their computer switching between tabs and windows, looking at what one company has to offer and what the other doesn’t. There are a copious amount of companies out there willing to market new music but two of the most popular are TuneCore and CDBaby so this article will cover these two. Click here to find a handy guide to other providers and what they have to offer.

CD Baby


There is one flat fee of $50 which means the album will never be pulled. They also offer a wide range of revenue streams including: Digital music distribution, CD and vinyl distribution, sync licensing, YouTube monetization and direct-to-fan-sales. They also offer something that is hard to come by in any major company and that is true customer service. If there are any questions to be asked, customers will never be on hold or forced to talk with a stubborn automated machine – this is all free of charge. They also offer trending reports and analytics from major companies like Apple and iTunes as well as some useful marketing tools.


They take 9% of every album and song that is released as well taking up to 40% of sync licensing commissions (film, TV, commercials, ect.) Their publishing administration services are also restricted to just the U.S. and Canada. Finally, their one time fee is a little misleading. Their actual rates are as follows: $89 fee per album for new customers, $49 fee per album for existing customers, $34.95 fee per single for existing customers and $29 fee per single for existing customers.



They boast big numbers and names on their site and are highly rated among their users. A blurb from their about page states that their artist community has made over $836 million in revenue and sold over 57.3 billion total download and streams by working with acts such as Drake, Jay-Z, Beck, Keith Richards and many others. Granted, these artists are now signed with labels, but have undoubtedly grown their fan base because of this. One of the biggest hooks on this site is their $75 one-time fee; it covers all current and future singles and albums. They also give artists 100% of their revenue made by sales as well as only taking up to 20% of sync licensing commissions. There are plenty of synonymous benefits between TuneCore and CDBaby, like the ability to track sales and pull analytics as well as offering the same major music major digital partners, but TuneCore claims they offer at least 50 more retailers.


The monthly fees can add up quickly and users will find themselves becoming familiar with the site through trial and error rather than finding help through a hotline.

The Release Strategy

Most music distributors will offer a preselected release date to give bands and musicians a chance to promote the album or single drop. Everyone should prepare for this date by ensuring that all of their social media sites are up to date and filed with information regarding where to get the albums or songs. In addition to this, artists should be gigging as often as possible to promote the release while being sure not to over saturate anyone area. Also be on the lookout for small music news sites that thrive on content about up-and-coming bands. Sites like NYS Music feed on this content and often will conduct interviews and review albums free of charge.

This is going to be a lengthy process, there is no denying that, but this is the way musicians are getting recognition today. Even if the reward is small, the risk is low enough to give music distribution a shot.

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