The Business of Music: Distribution, Sales, Promotion and Marketing

Man with physical music distribution, vinyl records.When it comes to the nuts and bolts of getting your music out there into the world, there are more options available than ever before. With that being the case, there is also that much more competition for listeners. Today we are going to take you through various options of getting your music creations distributed to the public.

Distribution: Physical and Digital

There are two main kinds of music distribution: physical and digital. Physical formats include vinyl records, cassettes and CDs. When you decide on a physical format to distribute your music, you will have to consider a few factors, such as price. Cassettes have made a comeback among some musicians because they are way cheaper to make than vinyl records. While many are familiar with Record Store Day, there is now a Cassette Store Day as well.

Physical Distribution

Take your audience into account when choosing a physical format for your music release. For example, CDs are no longer popular with many people except older listeners. So, CDs might not be an ideal choice unless you are going for that market. Cassettes are popular with genres like indie or noise and are fairly cheap to purchase. Vinyl is most popular with audiophiles and  are expensive to produce.

Now it is time to get your music into your listener’s hands. If you are on a record label, this is likely to be taken care of for you. If not, you can sell at your shows and through online services like Bandcamp, Amazon, and Big Cartel. Beyond that, you will want to go through a distribution company. A couple examples of the larger distribution companies are Revolver and Rough Trade, but there are many. If you want to start a bit smaller, you can always call your local record store and have your items carried there on a commission basis (yes, you can totally do this). Record stores are generally happy to help budding artists get their foot in the door. Once it does okay there, you can add more record stores regionally until it makes sense to go through a larger distributor.

Digital Distribution

Digital distribution of your songs is generally not as simple as merely putting it up on Soundcloud and/or Bandcamp. Just like there are physical distributors, there are also distributors that focus on digital. A digital distributor will get your music to major services like Spotify, iTunes, YouTube and several other services. With most listeners utilizing one or more of these streaming services to discover new artists, this is an important step in getting heard.

Selling Your Music

An important aspect of the music industry is its embrace of technology. Most music is paid for through subscription services. This makes users subject to advertising between songs, and other ways of pay for usage. It is crucial to not expect to make a living solely off of physical sales, but through various revenue streams. Most successful musicians now make their living through physical sales, streaming services, licensing, and concerts.

Promotion and Marketing

Promoting and marketing your music has gotten easier for artists in recent years, through the Internet leveling the playing field. With so much competition for listeners, it is important to remember the Rule of 7 in marketing. The average person has to see things seven times to remember it. Here are a few things you can do to make sure listeners remember your music:


Yes, radio is still a thing! If you want to get on the radio independently, you are not likely to get  airplay on a Top 40-type station. These station playlists tend to be under tight control. These music stations may, however, have a weekly locals show.

College or community radio is a great way to promote your music. To have your music play on college radio, find out the station’s Music Director for your genre through their website. Find out the stations rules for submissions and submit your music. Give it a couple weeks, and then check in with the station to see if you have been added to their rotation. College stations often sponsor local concerts too, so some of your shows might come out of your relationships that you build with these stations.


Many artist may gain fans when their songs are listened to playlists on streaming sites. This can come from tags, recommendations from listeners or other artists, and a myriad of other ways.

Social Media

An important component in marketing yourself is to use social media. Regardless of the social media platform, this tool can help increase your reach. You have likely heard the stories of artists getting famous from Instagram. While this is unlikely, more people will be aware of you if you keep up a regular presence and add content online. This could be video of you behind-the-scenes in the studio, performance clips or demo versions of your tracks. The important thing is to keep your audience engaged and to take steps that consistently keep it growing.


Licensing your songs for television, film, or commercials used to be seen as selling out. Now with changes in the industry, it is seen as a form of marketing and an important revenue stream. A licensing agency may pitch your song on your behalf for use in anything from the credits of a feature film to commercials. Licensing is a marketing opportunity worth looking into for every musician.

Did learning about distribution, sales, promotion and marketing of music interest you? The audio production and engineering program  at the Institute of Production and Recording is an occupational degree program designed to train producer engineers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative, and proficient in modern recording technology and technique. Throughout the program, students work on hands-on exercises and real-world studio projects that enable them to apply their knowledge and refine their skills.

At the end of the audio production and engineering program, each student presents a portfolio — a selection of his or her best work to date. This serves as a demo reel for potential employers and clients — an audio resume with professional content that highlights the graduate’s talent and skill.

Contact us today to learn more about the audio production and engineering program and starting a rewarding career in the music industry.