A Guide To Digital Music Distribution

The aim of this blog post is to describe the processes involved in the digital distribution of music, and to help you prepare everything you need to sell your music through a distributor, also sometimes referred to as an ‘aggregator’.

digital music distribution

The role of the distributor is effectively to be the middle-man between you and the digital music service, for example iTunes or Spotify. An effective distributor will provide a simple interface that allows you to manage your releases and view and claim your royalties.

There are four main stages in digital music distribution:

1. Licensing
2. Management of your assets
3. Encoding and delivery of your assets
4. Royalty reporting and payments

We will now look at each of these stages in turn.

1. Licensing

The first step is to create an account with your distributor. With EmuBands, this is done through our registration page.

Create Your EmuBands Account

Through supplying your information and agreeing to our artist-friendly terms & conditions, you grant EmuBands the non-exclusive license to distribute your recordings to the digital music services that you opt-in to when adding a release to your account.

In turn, we have licenses with each digital service, and we sub-license your recordings to them on your behalf.

Once you have created your account, your named account manager will be in touch shortly afterwards to introduce themselves, and they will be on hand to answer any questions you may have – or you can contact us by e-mail, phone or live chat.

2. Management of Your Assets

By ‘assets’, we mean the three things that are required in order to distribute your release – your ‘metadata’, your audio files, and your release’s artwork. We will discuss the requirements of these three assets later on in this guide.

EmuBands store your assets securely on our database and archives, ready to be encoded and delivered to the digital music services that you want your release(s) to be available on.

3. Encoding and Delivery of Your Assets

Once you have finished adding your release to your EmuBands account, we encode your assets in to the specific requirements of each music service you have opted in to, using our own specialist software. Each service has its own specifications for how they want to receive a release’s metadata, audio files and artwork files. It is our job to make sure your release meets these specifications and is then delivered to them the way they wish to receive them.

4. Royalty Reporting and Payments

We then collect financial reports and payments from each of these services, and make it available to you through your EmuBands account, where you can view and analyse your royalties information and request payment of the money due to you. It is worth noting, that EmuBands will pay to you 100% of royalties earned from your sales – whatever the services give us, we pass on to you.

Rather than have to wait until all reports are in for a given month, we report them as soon as we can once we have received each report and payment from each service. We find that this approach speeds up the process of getting your money to you. Each time a new royalty report has been added to our system, we will send you an e-mail to let you know which services and which time periods are covered by the latest update.

You then just need to click on the payment request link, complete the requested details, and we will then pay you the money due to you.

These four steps are, in essence, what a digital distributor does – and a good distributor will ensure accuracy and efficiency at each step along the way. At EmuBands, we thoroughly check each release to make sure it complies with any specific requirements set by digital music services. If any changes are required, we will always advise you first prior to making any changes to your release.

One way of telling a good distributor is by looking at their track record. EmuBands have been distributing music since 2005, and have worked with some big name artists in our time – for example, we’ve distributed releases by Glasvegas, Twin Atlantic, Paul Weller and Leona Lewis, and have distributed many UK top-40 releases. We also have several testimonials so you can check out what people think of us.

The Assets of Your Release

As mentioned previously, there are three ‘assets’ that together make up a release:
1) Metadata
2) Audio
3) Artwork

The Digital Music Distribution Process

We will now address each of these three in turn, so that you can prepare your release for distribution.

1. Metadata

Metadata is often made to sound more complicated than it actually is – it is just the information that describes your release and its availability, and comprises information that you’ll already know about your release.

It is split into two parts: album-level data, and track-level data.

Album-level data includes information like the album title (or the name of the ‘a-side’, if it’s a single), the release date, the genre, the album artist (for example, it could be a ‘Various Artists’ release, with different track-level artists), and the barcode. Barcodes are required for every release as a unique identifier in order to identify the release (for example, in royalty reporting). If you would like more information on barcodes, we have written a guide to barcodes, which you can view here.

Track-level data, as the name suggests, refers to data that describes each track – such as the title, the duration, who wrote the song, whether the track contains any explicit content, and the track’s ISRC (International Standard Recording Code). ISRCs are a unique identifier for a recording, the same way a barcode is a unique identifier for an album. We have written a brief guide to ISRCs, and you can view that here if you would like more information on what they are and how they work.

When you are registering your release for distribution with EmuBands, you will be asked to enter the album and track-level data on a form on-screen. But, don’t worry if there is anything you don’t understand, as next to each field is a help icon that will bring up an explanation of that field if you need help. We’re available for help via phone, e-mail and live chat as well if you need a specific query answered, and we will, of course, check over the data for every release before confirming that it is ready for distribution.

There are some more complicated aspects of metadata – such as how you should reference any ‘Featuring Artists’ on your track. This is done by adding ‘(feat. Featuring Artist)’ after the track’s title.

When entering album and track titles, there are also certain limitations on, for example, what iTunes class as a single and what they class as an E.P. (here’s a link to a blog explaining this) as well as the Title Casing of your track and album titles – special rules as to what words should and shouldn’t start with a capital letter – but, again, there’s no need to worry about any of this, as we will check over every release and keep you right – that’s part of our job as a distributor!

2. Audio Files

We require your audio files to be submitted in a specific format – the requirements are available on our FAQ page. As each service has its own requirements for how they prefer to receive the audio files, we store a high-quality .wav master file and then encode these to whatever each store requires, for example (for example, 128kbps MP3, 320kbps MP3, FLAC etc).

If you decide that you want your release to appear in the Mastered for iTunes (MfiT) section within the iTunes store, we will need two copies of each track – one in the ‘standard’ specifications, and one in the specific specification for ‘MfiT’. We have written a guide to mastering, and Mastered for iTunes – click here for more information. Should you require your tracks to be mastered, we have negotiated a special discounted rate for EmuBands artists and labels through Alchemy Mastering – click here for more information.

3. Artwork Files

Similarly to audio files, we require your artwork to be submitted in a specific format, which can also be viewed on our FAQ page. There are several restrictions on what you can and can’t put on your artwork, for example URLs or any reference to pricing – we have written a separate guide to this, as there are quite a lot of them! Click here to view this guide.

On iTunes, it is possible to have a ‘digital booklet’ to accompany your release. Again, we have written a separate guide to this if you would like more information – just click here.

Registering Your Release With EmuBands For Distribution

Now that you know what you need to provide us for your release, we will now go through the process of registering your release for distribution with EmuBands.

Once you have created your account and logged in, just click on ‘Add New Release’. You will then be taken through a few pages that will ask you to enter information on-screen.

The first one is the ‘Album-Level Data’, where you will enter the metadata described above. The other pages you will be guided through are:

Optional Extras

This page allows you to opt in to various additional services that we can provide for you – for example, registering your release for the official charts in various countries, and registering your release with the CD recognition service Gracenote. More information on these additional services is available here.

Track-Level Data

This page is where you enter the information for each track that appears on your release.

Add Contracts

This page is where you will select which retailers to whom you wish us to distribute your release. You can opt in to as few or as many as you like – you can always come back later and opt in to others if you wish to restrict where your release is available initially.

With EmuBands’ simple one-off pricing model, it won’t cost you any more to opt in to all contracts, or to opt-in to more contracts in the future. We are always adding new contracts to our list – when these become available we will e-mail you, and it won’t cost you a thing to add your existing release to any new contracts.

The full list of all the services we distribute to is available here, but these stores are grouped together into a smaller number of contracts. When you view the ‘Add Contracts’ page, you will see a link next to each contract saying ‘more info’ – just click on this to view a summary of the contract, including which particular digital music services this contract relates to.

Review & Confirm

This page allows you to review what you have entered, and correct anything you wish to. When you’re happy with what you have entered, just click on ‘Confirm and Continue’, and you are then taken to the payment page to pay for your order. Remember, EmuBands’ distribution prices are strictly one-off – there are no annual or renewal fees. Once your release has been paid for and distributed, it will remain on sale until you tell us to take it down, it’s that simple!

Submitting Files

Once your payment has been completed, you will be taken to the page where you can submit your audio and artwork files to us. Don’t worry, you can come back and do this later if you wish.

What We Then Do

Once a release is added on to your account, we will check over the release’s metadata, and we will get in touch with you if we think anything might need changed. We will check over the artwork file to make sure it meets the requirements (as detailed above), and we will check that your audio files are in the correct format. Unfortunately, we cannot listen through every audio file to check for any issues, so please make sure that you’re happy with the audio files you submit to us.

Once we have confirmed that your release is ready for distribution, we will send you an automatically generated e-mail to confirm that your release is being processed. If you have opted in to the iTunes contract, we will then send a follow-up e-mail with your iTunes link when it is ready. You will then receive e-mails every time a new royalty report is made available on our system.


We hope that this guide has provided you with the information you need to be able to prepare your release for distribution. Of course, if you ever need any help or have any questions, please feel free to get in touch with us – either through your named account manager (if you already have an account with us), or through our general contact information, available here.

Blog Author: | Managing Director, EmuBands
POSTED: Thursday 15th August 2013

Clef image courtesy of fotographic1980 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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