How to digitally release your single

In this guide, I’ll walk you through exactly what you need to know when digitally releasing your next single to the world.

Table of Contents

Why you need to be releasing singles

With the rise of streaming services such as Spotify, there’s been an important change in fans’ listening behaviour. Long gone are the days when fans were buying albums. Now, they’re streaming tracks that are served through curated playlists. 

This means that in order to increase your chances to be heard in a very competitive market you need to be getting your music out there as frequently as possible. 

The more frequently you release content, the more chances your track will get added to a playlist, and have its chance to shine. But what if you haven’t released any music yet? Should you wait until you have an EP or album?

If you’ve never put out music under your current artists name – don’t wait till you have an EP. You should absolutely release a single first.

Most streaming services don’t let you claim your artist’s profile or use their various promotional tools until you actually have music on their platforms. Since those tools can be pretty powerful, you don’t want to miss the chance to use them for your future releases like an EP or LP.

So put out a single first. Plant your flag. Claim your accounts. And be ready to go full-force on the follow-up release. In this guide , I’ll walk you through exactly what you need to know when releasing singles.

Put your best foot forward

The Internet gives listeners instant access 24/7 to millions of songs, each fighting for limited attention. At first, it may seem harder for a musician to stand out, but because Spotify’s playlist-based thinking is highly focused on listeners’ habits and preferences, it actually gives musicians more options to be heard and be discovered. 

Getting featured in a Spotify playlist gives you access to potentially millions of fans who are aching to find and stream new music. But here’s the catch – you must make sure your tracks sound as good as all the other releases in your music genre out there.

This is critical for two reasons: 

1.     Only one track per release can be submitted to Spotify editors for consideration. This means that whether you put out a single or a 9-track album, you only get one chance to impress per release.

2.     When your song gets randomly and unexpectedly played in someones Spotify’s playlist it must provide the same or better listening experience as  the previous track they’ve just listened to. Otherwise they will skip to the next track in a beat. Think about it, how many times have you yourself done this?

So, how do you ensure your tracks are good enough and ready for release?

Have your final mixes professionally mastered. This one thing is critical in the process of releasing your music and sometimes underestimated by artists who self produce their music. 

  • Why Master?

Because mastering makes your mixes sound better. It’s also the last quality control to your tracks done by a third party individual with a room and equipment specifically designed for this task.

Your music needs to sound great before it’s out to millions of potential listeners on every online music store. Mastering engineers specialize in standardizing and refining the dynamics, applying complimentary levels of EQ and compression, helping each element of your music sound clearer and smoother.

The mastering engineer will also provide you with all the corresponding files and formats that are accepted and that you will need to submit to the respective distribution platforms. 

  • No mastering budget?

If you haven’t budgeted to master professionally or if you aren’t convinced that it’s worth it, please at least do your audience the favor of trying your best to “master” the tracks yourself! In this case you will also need to make sure to check the minimum specs that are requested to submit your track digitally.

Get the specs right for distributors

Now your track should be ready to see the light and be shared with the world. Sure you can now go ahead and and use sites like Bandcamp and SoundCloud to upload your music for free, but how do you get your music on Spotify, Apple Music or Google Play? 

Digital music providers like Spotify, Apple Music or Google Play, rarely deal with individual artists directly. They only deal with approved distributors. So if you’re an independent songwriter, composer and musician looking to release your music, you’ll need to sign up with – and pay – a digital music Aggregator, aka a Digital Distributor.

Aggregators are a conduit to help you distribute your music globally through digital stores and streaming platforms. Basically, they upload your music to different outlets in exchange for a fee. They make their money by charging upfront fees and/or charging a percentage of revenue earned from the streaming and downloading of your music. Aggregators don’t own any rights to your music.  

Before jumping in and finding a distributor, it’s important you get your track up to spec, so that it’s accepted by the distributors. In this section, I’ll go through the things you need to know.

Pick Your Track Title and Commit

Make sure you have your track title figured out and formatted in advance of releasing. If there are errors in your titles it could delay your release from appearing in digital stores and changing titles after you release can be a hassle as well.

Here’s some do’s and don’ts to avoid track title headaches later on:

  • Don’t include the release date.
  • Don’t include the release format—like album or EP—in your track title.
  • Don’t Include search terms in your track titles like ‘pop punk’ or ‘lo-fi house’
  • Do spell everything correctly and spellcheck!
  • Do enter the track title exactly how you want it to appear in the stores.
  • Do stick to the same formatting across an entire release.
 Avoid calling your tracks ‘track 1, track 2, track 3, etc.’ Same thing goes for calling everything ‘untitled.‘ Your tracks may get lost in the mix on the bigger streaming platforms where you’re up against thousands of other tracks with unique titles.

Make the artwork work

The key word here is ‘art.’ Your music is your art, so the image you pick should have just as much care and creativity put into it as your music. Whether you make your own image for the cover, or find someone in your network to make it for you, it should represent the same inspirations that drove the creation of your Single.

But it’s not just about what image you pick. You need to consider the format as well.

For Digital Distribution, you’ll need to make your Album Cover a 2400 x 2400 pixel .JPG or .PNG file, at at least 72 dpi and in RGB color mode. From here you can downsize the file to whatever dimensions you need for promotional purposes. The cover art requirements are:

  • A square Minimum 2400 x 2400 pixels. 
  • Make sure there’s no blurriness or pixelation. 
  • Don’t include URLs.
  • Leave out all social media logos.
  • No references to brands.
  • Absolutely no pornographic images.

Choose the right distributor

Now that your track is up to spec – next step in releasing your single is to find the right distributor. Because each distributor exclusively distributes your music, you can only use 1 distributor for each release. 

When it comes to choosing a distributor, the first thing to note is that there is no standout aggregator that works for all. Each company has unique features that may be super important to some artists and not at all to others.

In this section, we’ll go through some of the things you need to look at when choosing a distributor. To help you compare between the options, I’ve prepared a comparison chart with 10 of the most popular, well established and long standing aggregators out there. 

How They Distribute Your Music

Most distributors will tell you that they distribute to over 100, 150 or even 200 outlets. But when it comes down to it, most of us only really care about a select few streaming services. 

Most distributors upload to all of the major streaming services, so take this figure with a grain of salt. What’s most important here is to see if the aggregator services the music stores you want your music to appear on. For example if you create electronic music, does your aggregator service Beatport? 

Speed of delivery

How long will it take before your music appears on a digital music service? Some distributors claim they can get your music uploaded in less than 24 hours. Others can take up to a week or more. Either way it’s always best to plan the timing of your release for marketing and promotion by taking into account this figures.  

Submission criteria

Some specialist stores do not accept all music. Beatport, Pandora and Juno are notorious for screening. Therefore there’s no guarantee your music will be distributed via these channels.

How they Charge

The biggest difference between distributors is how they charge for their services. Some companies charge an annual fee. Typically, this is broken into several tiers based on how many songs you release. For instance, $X to release up to 10 songs a year, $Y for up to 25 and $Z for unlimited songs. The unlimited option works best for artists who release a lot of music in one year. 

Other companies charge a one-time fee when you upload music. Rates are different for singles, EPs and full-length albums. This option works best for artists who release projects less often. 

Finally, some distributors don’t charge any fees to distribute your music — they take a cut of your profits. Again, no distributor should be asking for a percentage of the rights to your music. 

But, some companies choose to charge a commission instead of taking a fee. That means, they get paid when you get paid. The best option for you depends on your budget.

How They Handle The Paperwork

One of the major benefits of working with a distributor is that they offer to handle some of the administrative paperwork for you. 

Before releasing your song you need to have an International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) code embedded in your file. ISRCs identify your music as yours. Each code is 12 digits and hey’re used to identify every unique recording in existence. They’re used to organize credits and royalty payments, so they’re important! 

The other admin process you’ll also need to think about is registering your release with SoundScan. Registering your track on sounds scan, will allow sales figures to be counted on billboard music charts.   If you want to make an impact on the music industry, you need to register your titles with SoundScan.

If that sounds tedious to you, find yourself a distributor that will do it for you. Some do it for free, others charge a small fee, and some don’t offer the service at all.

Terms and conditions

This is a must – always read their terms and conditions before signing up. Make sure you understand how long the contract is for and what termination clauses are in place – especially regarding penalties if you terminate your contract early. Make sure you understand what is covered and what might you be liable for. 

For example if you make any cover versions of songs available for sale in the USA, you should be aware digital ‘mechanicals’ are often paid back to labels, or in the absence of a label, you the artist, by your aggregator. This means you could be responsible for paying those mechanicals to the rightful copyright owners.

Also be wary of an aggregator that may ask you to waive your performance or ‘communication to the public’ rights.

If legal jargon is not your thing, make sure you seek independent legal advice. See what applies for your country, for example in Australia, The Copyright Council and Arts Law Centre of Australia offer great legal resources.

Publishing & Licensing 

Some aggregators offer the option for consolidating your rights management with them. The benefit would be that you may score some licensing opportunities that you’d otherwise be missing out on. The drawback is that you have to give them contractual permission to place your music anywhere they can, and you may not be happy with where your song gets placed, regardless of the payout.

Always check what benefits are they offering to you in return and ensure you are fully aware of what rights you are assigning if you engage an aggregator to provide you with publishing services.

How they Pay

After you’ve found a distributor that works with your budget and your administrative needs, the next thing you should think about is their payment structure.

Some companies will pay you as soon as someone purchases your music. Others will hold on to your money until you hit a “payment threshold”. Payment thresholds can be as low as $10, or as high as $50.

Some companies pay out on a schedule. Weekly, monthly, quarterly and even yearly disbursement schedules are common. 

If you’re relying on your royalties to pay rent (which I highly recommend against), make sure you find a company with a low threshold and frequent payout options.

Digital Distributors: a comparison chart

If you’re not with a record label then you’ll need an aggregator to help you distribute your music through digital stores and streaming platforms. 

The problem is that there’s a huge number of aggregators out there and it can be overwhelming to compare their offerings. 

Most aggregators offer the same level of distribution to all major platforms but there are some differences that are important to take into account.

To help you compare between the options, I’ve prepared a comparison chart with 10 of the most popular, well established and long standing aggregators out there.

This list is not an extensive/exclusive list and I’m not affiliated/related to these companies in any way. 

My aim is to show you some of the basic features they all share that are important to look for when determining the right partner and deal for your music distribution.

Click on the image to be redirected to the Full Comparison Chart

Last but not least

Now you have understood how to choose the right aggregator, it’s important to have a promotional plan to make the most out of your release.

While you’re building your fan base, it’s best to release often so you show up on their radar and stay on it. As mentioned before, the more frequently you release content on Spotify, the more chances you have to shine.

For artists who aren’t ready to release an album or an EP, it’s recommended to release a single each month to stay top of mind. This gives you a chance to hone your craft and find out what works with your audience. It also gives you a chance each month to submit a track for playlist consideration.

For each single release, you should create a PR, pitching, and promotion strategy that builds the album’s story over time. Your next task will be to assemble your assets, get your Electronic Press Kit together and begin letting publicity outlets know you have a new single coming out!

Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll find this guide useful in helping you releasing your music to the world. If I can help you along your journey, I’d be more than happy to talk to you about mastering your next release. 

You can find me at www.cefeflynnmastering.com or contact me directly via email at cefe@cefeflynnmastering.com