Digital Distribution

Zimbalam Guide to Digital Distribution

What does it mean for me?

The most important thing about digital distribution is that artists no longer need a traditional record deal or any major funding to distribute their music beyond their home town or from the boot of their car. Whereas you previously needed access to physical distribution networks to stock CDs in bricks and mortar stores in the real world you can now sell that track you just produced in your bedroom to anyone in the world at a fraction of the cost.

Thanks to the internet and the explosion of new services available there are more platforms for music discovery, promotion and sales than ever before, making it easier than ever to be an independent artist.

 The flip-side? It’s probably a little more confusing as well. Promotion strategies, sales tracking, fan connection, pricing, approaching stores. These seemingly daunting tasks are all linked to distribution, and a good release strategy, an important area that every independent artist should understand.

Do I need a distributor?

With some stores carrying upwards of 15,000,000 tracks, it’s impossible for them to deal directly with every artist that approaches them, this is why distributors exist.

Common Services and Tools

Below is a list and description of common services offered by digital distributors. Most of the services offered today can be divided into the categories of distribution, promotion and customer service. 


Multiple stores – A digital distributor will deliver the audio files, artwork and metadata that make up your release to your chosen download stores, where it will be available for sale. The more retailers carrying your music the better because you want to make it as easy as possible for people to find and buy your music, wherever they are. Everyone knows the big stores like iTunes, Amazon, 7Digital, PLAY & eMusic because they are the biggest and most popular but there are also many others that specialise in certain genres or that may be more popular in certain countries.

Streaming services such as Spotify are worth considering too as they are another way for your music to be heard. You may have heard that Spotify streaming royalties are very low but you should consider the promotional benefit of anyone being able to share & listen to your music on what is the most popular streaming service.

Royalty Reporting – Another key service is the ability to track your sales and ultimately access your royalties. Most distributors pay out royalties quarterly (every 3 months). Some distributors offer you the ability to analyse and filter your sales by store, country etc

Mobile platform – It may be important to you to check whether your distributor makes it possible for you to access their services from anywhere via an app.

Your music is in iTunes… now what?

Digital distribution is something of a two-sided coin. The main advantage is that anyone can sell their music online. The main drawback is that… anyone can sell their music online! In the virtual world you’re competing with every other artist to be noticed and heard. Consumers have so much choice now so you must compete for their attention. In order to prevent your release from gathering virtual dust you need to promote your music and connect with fans.

Some things to consider are your online presence – where can people find info, pictures, news, gig details. Social networking is another much-talked-about topic and there are countless blogs about this. It is a great way to engage with your fans but unless you’ve got something to promote, like a new release or if you’re Charlie Sheen this will not get you very far. Once you have a great product – your music – everything else should fit around that, never the other way round. So Musicians, take encouragement from the fact that it’s all about the music.


There are a whole load of great tools out there to help you with a variety of needs such as getting gigs, grabbing email contacts, mailing fans, which help you manage your mailing list, which is crucial for engaging with your fanbase.

eCRM Platform – An eCRM platform which collects email addresses from fans, delivers free MP3s as a reward for joining a mailing list, collates contacts and categorises them by location, age, sex and which artist they sign up to. The system also allows users to send HTML-rich emails to fans.

Band or Artist Page – A WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) promotional web page designed to provide streaming audio samples, news, videos and images as well as gigs, social networking links and more.

Private Content Sharing System – A platform to deliver protected and exclusive content to fans and media, bespoke campaigns to deliver full album downloads/streams and PDF downloads can be set up for individual logins.

Promotional Widgets – Fully customisable ‘Widgets’ containing streaming audio links, mailing list sign up, free downloads and direct buy-now links to all major stores, compatible with HTML and all social networks.

Customer service

Advice – Most distribution companies will have blogs that provide advice on how to maximise their tools and the market.

Tools Navigation – If you aren’t a technological genius, you might feel most comfortable working with a company with FAQs to cover all the tools that you will be provided with.


Once you have chosen a music distribution company, get uploading and promoting so that you can get selling.

Our final word on digital distribution is to be wary when pricing. Gone are the days when an individual would pay £10 for an album (digital releases have significantly lowered manufacturing costs and therefore retail prices), and we must warn you not to get greedy. Instead we urge to you to think of both yourself and your consumers when pricing.

Happy distribution!

Visit to find out more about digital distribution and sign up for a free account with Zimbalam for more music industry advice, tips and news and start selling your music online today

Shanni Elcock
Social Media Manager

Distributors can advise you how to price a new release, or to increase sales of back-catalogue. They can also provide you with market catalogues on each territory (to be covered in agreement) run time sensitive price-promotions to increase interest, and provide you with daily sales reports, tools to contact your fans, stream your music and manage your digital assets as a business.

To get you started we are offering a 10% discount on your first release when you use the code Z1MBALAM10

About surfacefestival

The Surface Festival is a European live music event. We are a festival of new music held throughout Europe in aid of discovering and promoting new talent. Surface Festival 11, is working in association with Zimbalam, Marshall,, Last.FM, Ashdown, Planet Waves, D'Addario, PMT, Tama, Zildjian, Shure, Univibe, Dominic Nicholls Photography, Guitar Nation, Ibanez, Band SEO, Quite Great P.R., Ritter, Sziget Fest, Jumbocruiser, Gig the Nation and Oxjam to develop alternative ways for band and artists to gain exposure and develop their fan base. 2011 In 2011 events will be held in cities throughout the U.K. and Europe. For band and artists that reach the final stages of the Festival, both Surface Festival and our sponsors will award with prizes and opportunities in excess of £100,000.
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