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What’s the future of music distribution? Here are the trends to look out for in 2024 and beyond

What’s the future of music distribution? Here are the trends to look out for in 2024 and beyond

The music industry is an ever-changing, ever-evolving landscape, and professionals in this field are always on their toes, trying to adapt to the needs of the market. This market consists of their listeners, their fan base, and their tastes are also constantly evolving. 

The way people consume music nowadays is also a lot different than it was a few decades ago. Technology and the emergence of streaming platforms and digital marketing have forever changed the music business. On the upside, independent artists have many more avenues to explore to gain exposure and get their music heard by millions. On the downside, competition is more intense than ever, and standing out from the crowd can be a real challenge, especially in the fast-moving world of YouTube or TikTok virality. 

Technology has dramatically changed the way music distribution works. In this digital age, many artists decide to forgo working with a publisher or distributor and do it on their own, with the help of digital marketing, streaming platforms, downloads, and so on. It’s safe to say that, while music distributors were indispensable in the past, that’s no longer always the case, and independent artists can choose to remain independent and still achieve success. However, even if an artist decides to do it all on their own, without working with a label, manager, publisher, or distributor, they might still need some help getting their music on streaming platforms and available for download or purchase. 

The rise and rise of streaming 

Streaming services like Apple Music or Spotify are now the top channel for music consumption. As the music business evolved over the years, alongside advancements in technology and the rise of the Internet of Things, the trend has shifted from physical record sales to digital downloads, and finally streaming subscriptions. Nowadays, fans don’t need to make space in their homes to fit their vinyl or CD collection, nor do they have to make space on their hard drives to fit all those mp3 files. With digital music subscriptions, all the music they can think of becomes instantly accessible, with just a few clicks or taps on a smartphone screen. There’s no sign of this changing anytime soon, as streaming has become the top revenue channel for independent artists today. 

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The importance of social media 

While some might argue that the golden days of social media are behind us, there’s no denying that a strong social media presence is still a critical part of becoming a successful artist in the music business today. Any artist looking to build their fan base, engage with fans, and get their music heard by millions of listeners on streaming platforms knows that having a strong online presence is a must. From community-building and marketing on Facebook and Instagram, to live streaming and music videos on YouTube, to viral videos on TikTok, social media is here to stay. That’s where young audiences spend their time, and that’s how the majority of music fans consume music nowadays, so that’s where artists need to be, as well. Which channel is more appealing to them will depend on certain factors, and nobody can know what the next big social media platform will look like, but one thing’s for sure: if you want to gain exposure for your name, music, and brand, you need to stay up-to-date with these things. 

The emergence of AI

Artificial intelligence is having a strong impact on the music industry in various ways. Artists can use AI technology to create album artwork, immersive music videos, experiment with sounds and instruments, and expand their skills to kickstart their careers. AI is also used to analyze user data and provide personalized recommendations on streaming platforms, which helps listeners discover new artists that match their specific taste in music. Through AI and machine learning, streaming platforms are able to provide their users with more tailored, relevant content that keeps them coming back for more. At the same time, this means new opportunities for artists to get their music heard by more people and help them reach their target audience. 

Independent artists in control 

Just a few short decades ago, launching an album and having success as a musician was synonymous to signing a deal with a record label. There were no such things as social media or streaming platforms in those days, and the only way for artists to sell their music was via physical sales and live performances. This meant that record labels always had the upper hand when it came to signing deals with promising artists. Now, things are very different. 

The number of independent artists is on the rise, and they no longer need the backing of a label to gain popularity and build a fan base. So many of the biggest names in the industry today first became successful after going viral on YouTube, including The Weeknd or Justin Bieber. While some independent artists do sign deals with a label after gaining success, there are also many artists who go the independent route and do a terrific job at it. Even if you’re an independent artist looking to sign a record deal with a label, there is a lot more wiggle room for negotiation and making sure you retain some control over your own music and career. 

Virtual concerts, immersive technologies 

The Covid19 pandemic triggered another era of change for the music industry. The way people consume music has shifted, and virtual concerts, live streams, and immersive AR/VR experiences have become commonplace. We first got a taste of virtual concerts and streams during lockdowns, when artists couldn’t tour and fans longed to see their favorite musicians live on stage. Once again, technology came to the rescue, and unlocked a whole new channel for artists to promote and distribute their music, and a new way for fans to digest it. Even as restrictions are lifted and live concerts are happening once again, virtual concerts and streams continue to be a great way of engaging with fans around the world. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

How does music distribution work nowadays?

Music distribution today primarily relies on digital platforms and streaming services. Artists, whether signed to a record label or independent, use digital distributors like DistroKid, TuneCore, or CD Baby to upload their music to major streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music. These distributors ensure that the music is made available globally and handle the licensing, royalty collection, and payment processes. Streaming platforms then make the music accessible to their vast user base. Artists can also leverage social media, online marketing, and collaborations to promote their work. The rise of streaming has shifted the industry away from physical sales, and now, artists earn revenue based on the number of streams their music receives on these platforms. Independent artists, in particular, have found opportunities to reach a global audience without the need for traditional record labels, making music distribution more accessible and democratic.

What are the main music distribution channels? 

The main music distribution channels include digital music streaming platforms, such as Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Deezer. Artists typically use digital distributors like DistroKid, TuneCore, CD Baby, or others to upload their music to these platforms. These distributors serve as intermediaries, facilitating the distribution process by handling licensing, metadata, and royalty collection. Additionally, artists may distribute their music on digital download stores like iTunes and Google Play. Social media platforms also play a crucial role in music distribution, with artists utilizing platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram to promote their work and engage with their audience. Overall, the landscape has shifted towards digital distribution, offering artists a global reach and audiences diverse ways to discover and consume music.

Can artists distribute their own music?

Yes, artists can distribute their own music independently without the need for a traditional record label. Through digital distribution services like DistroKid, TuneCore, CD Baby, and others, artists can upload their tracks and albums to major streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music. These platforms handle the licensing, distribution, and royalty collection processes, allowing artists to reach a global audience and earn revenue directly from their music. This democratization of music distribution has empowered many independent artists to have more control over their careers, retain a larger share of their earnings, and connect directly with their fan base through various online platforms and social media.

Join Xposure Music and gain access to some of the best music industry professionals in the U.S. Top experts from Sony, Columbia, Def Jam, or Universal have already joined our platform, and they’re ready to give invaluable, on-point feedback on your work, which can help you land that dream record deal or publishing deal you’ve been working towards. Sign up now and reap the rewards.

If you’re looking to kickstart your music career but have limited resources, we can help you get funding for your next project while staying in control of your own work and career trajectory. You keep 100% ownership of your masters and get an advance ranging from $1,000 to $3 million to get your career off the ground. Get an estimate now and start turning your dream into reality.

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Gregory Walfish
Co-founder of Xposure Music, Gregory Walfish stands at the intersection of music, tech, and culture. With a software engineering background, he's passionate about artist development and technology.

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