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What Is a Music Distribution Deal & How Does It Work?


Are you just starting your music career? Then, you’ve probably heard of music distribution deals.

I know of the endless and tormenting hours one can spend staring at a list of music distributors, wondering who will give you the best deal.

The best music distributor offers an excellent music distribution deal that will help increase your music’s visibility, boosting your career.

Music distribution deals have been impacted by the significant changes that the industry has undergone in recent years.

The estimated market value of music distribution services was $911.87 million in 2020 and is projected to increase to $1683.08 million by 2030.

Let’s look closely at a music deal and how it works.

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What Is a Music Distribution Deal?

A music distribution deal or “distro deal” is an agreement between a record label (or a distributor) and an artist. They agree to digitally or physically distribute your music to the public.

In return, they take a certain percentage from your profit, depending on the contract’s terms you have agreed to.

Earlier, a music distribution deal was also known as a press and distribution (P&D deal). This was because pressing and distributing high-quality CDs to the retailer was one of the deal’s primary elements.

However, a label can now include all means of distribution, including physical, radio, and digital.

How Does a Music Distribution Deal Work?

A music distributor acts as a wholesaler to make music available to the public through outlets. Back in the day, the distributor did this physically, but today, distribution is mainly done digitally.

During those days, when there was no online streaming, the labels signed (still do) contracts with music artists. Then, a record label would record, market, and promote the music.

The recorded music was on vinyl, cassettes, or compact discs (CD). After recording the music, distribution companies would enter deals with the retail stores where they mostly took the music on consignment.

Music distributors became an essential part of record labels because they helped get their music into the hands of fans. This was through retailers such as Sam Goody, Best Buy, Walmart, and others.

The music distribution services have since gone through some changes due to the availability of the internet. However, music distributors still play a crucial role even in the digital era.

Does the Music Distribution Deal Still Work in 2022?

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Yes, music distribution deals still work in 2022 but have drastically changed. Digital music distribution is nearly phasing out the physical distribution.

Instead, the power of your music distribution has been put into your hands, where it’s easier and cheaper to deal with online distributors rather than record labels.

The cost of physically distributing music from record labels to distributors, stores, and ultimately to consumers was and still is high.

Thankfully, digital distribution reduces expenses by cutting out intermediaries and physical copies and bringing the product to the retailers. Today, distributing music has been made easy and accessible to almost everyone.

You can choose a record label to distribute your music, but you can also do it yourself (DIY).

Distribution companies such as CD Baby, DistroKid, TuneCore, and others can physically or digitally distribute your music to major platforms.

For example, CD Baby can distribute your music to Spotify, Amazon, Pandora, Boomplay, Apple Music, and others.

Once the distributor encodes it into a format that can be streamed or downloaded, they then make it available on their platform.

Unfortunately, most platforms do not allow you to upload music directly. So instead, you have to use their distributing partners who benefit from the sales of your music.

Which Types of Music Distribution Deals Are Available?

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Music distribution comes in two ways:

  • Exclusive distribution deals: When you sign an exclusive music distribution deal, you agree to distribute your music solely with that particular label.
  • Non-exclusive distribution deal: A non-exclusive distribution deal allows you to distribute your music through other distributors.

It’s essential to ensure you choose the best deal for yourself, especially if you’re thinking of an exclusive agreement, as it can be very restrictive.

It’s hard to notice this initially, but once your career has taken shape and you want to do more with your music.

Why Sign A Music Distribution Agreement?

Signing a distribution deal can get an artist’s music (especially an upcoming one) into the hands of more people. This can help them gain exposure and grow their fanbase.

Also, music distribution can increase visibility for your music compared to uploading your music on standalone platforms such as YouTube.

Besides distributing your music, you’ll also enjoy other services such as advertising, video monetization marketing, soliciting, data & analysis, among other benefits.

Some digital distribution aggregators also offer an advance payment, although it’s not as good as one from the label. Furthermore, you get to earn royalties when using distribution companies.

music distribution deal percentages

Choosing a reputable and reliable distributor who will work hard to promote your music is essential.

In addition, it’s vital to note that if you choose a label, a certain percentage will go to the label as a fee for distributing your music.

Therefore, if you use a distributing company, then your profit will be much lower than when doing it yourself.

Which Aspects Should You Consider Before Selecting a Music Distributor?

There are a lot of music distributors out there, and it can be tough to choose the right one for your music. Here are the essential things to consider when making your decision:

  • Distribution channels: Ensure the distributor has access to the channels you want to reach, whether digital stores like iTunes and Spotify or physical retailers.
  • Royalties: Find out how the distributor handles royalties and how much they take from each sale. You want to ensure you’re getting a fair share of the profits.
  • Marketing and promotion: Some distributors offer marketing and promotion services, which can be helpful if you’re not sure of where to start or how to get your music out there.
  • Bells and whistles: Each music distributor offers different features and services. Some offer more than others. Choose a distributor that provides what you need.
  • Music distributor’s cost: Music distributors charge differently. Some charge a flat fee per song/album with an annual subscription fee. So ensure you compare prices before you decide on a distro.

How Much Does a Music Distribution Cost?


Distributing your music digitally can cost anywhere between $0 to $30 per song and $0 to $69 per album. Some distributors may cut 15% from your royalty, while others may charge an annual fee.

Of course, these are just estimates—the actual cost of a distribution deal will depend on several factors. These include the artist’s popularity, distribution company, type of distribution deal, and other factors.

If you’re unsure how much a music distribution will cost, it’s always best to consult with the music industry.

How Long Do Music Distribution Deals Last?

Most physical music distribution deals last between three and five years, while online music distribution deals are renewed every year until they are canceled.

However, this duration depends on the terms of the contractor and on the specific circumstances of each agreement.

Record labels often want to keep artists under contract for as long as possible, but sometimes artists will ask to be released from their contract early.

If an artist is highly successful, they may negotiate a shorter contract or even get out of their contract completely.

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