Are you looking to release some songs…but you don’t know if you can without some kind of publisher to support you? Fear not. It’s entirely possible to release music on your own. In this guide, I’ll answer some common questions around the topic and teach you how to publish your own music.
- Can I Release Music without a Label, Distributor or Publisher?
- How Do I Release Music without a Label?
- The Music Self-Publishing Blueprint:
- Where Do I Distribute Music without a Distributor?
- Are There Any Free Distributors?
Can I Release Music without a Label, Distributor or Publisher?
Yes, yes, and yes. It’s completely possible to release your own music without having a record label, a publisher, or a digital distribution partner. But if you do the completely D.I.Y. route and avoid publishers and distributors, keep in mind that your public reach is going to be a lot smaller.
You don’t need a label to get your music on most streaming sites. But, most of the time, you will need a digital distributor to get your songs on sites like Spotify and Apple music.
Big streaming services don’t accept releases directly from artists. In fact, most of them don’t even offer a form or site for submitting music. It all has to go through a third party called a distributor (like DistroKid or Amuse, etc).
But you don’t have to release your music on streaming services at all. Some artists, even well known ones, dislike the entire streaming model and abstain from submitting their music. So if you opt out of the streaming service scheme, then you can release your songs without needing the distribution middle man.
How Do I Release Music without a Label?
Releasing music without a record label is dead simple: just upload it to a distributor, a web store, or social media. Or maybe even all three. That’s all there is to it.
Record labels may bring in the most money, but the days of them gate-keeping music are way over. Many major artists in recent years released their first songs independently and only got signed after they blew up. I’m talking big name artists, too, like: Post Malone, Lil Nas X, Doja Cat, Billie Eilish, etc.
I’m sure you’re looking for more specific advice than just “post online” though. So here is a blueprint you can follow for releasing songs without any label or publisher support. If you also want to avoid the digital distributors, follow this blueprint but skip the sections about distribution and Spotify publishing (Numbers 1 and 4)
The Music Self-Publishing Blueprint:
- Find a Digital Distributor (skip this if you don’t want to stream your songs)
- Sign Up for Bandcamp
- Create Social Media Profiles
- Publish and Pitch for Spotify (skip if you aren’t using a digital distributor)
- Promote a Single Every 3-4 Weeks
- Rinse and Repeat
1. Find a Digital Distributor
There are dozens of online distributors, and they all provide roughly the same service. Some good (and more affordable) ones include: Amuse, Repost by Soundcloud, and OneRPM.
You need to create an account with the distributor and pick an artist name before you ever upload a single track.
2. Sign Up for Bandcamp
Bandcamp is a website where you can set up your own web store and sell digital music, physical CDs and vinyl, merch, and more. It’s like having a Shopify without the monthly fees. Set up a Bandcamp page and link your payment information before you release any music.
In order to use Bandcamp, you’ll need a business Paypal account. This means you’ll need to either:
- use a separate e-mail and create a new business account, or
- upgrade your personal Paypal for business use.
In most circumstances, Paypal will require documentation about your business…usually that just means a DBA/trade name certificate from your county clerk’s office. But there’s a way around that: make your “business” name the same as your real, legal name. If you conduct business using your regular name, then most counties don’t require a DBA form to be filed.
3. Create Social Media Profiles
Don’t go overboard and make a page on every single social media site on the internet. You probably won’t be updating 10 different sites on a regular basis. Also, leaving a bunch of dead social media pages won’t help you attract fans.
Stick to just 2 or 3 social media platforms that you know or like. Keep your content schedule consistent on each platform.
I also highly recommend you use the same username for all of your social media accounts and your Bandcamp page.
4. Publish and Pitch for Spotify
Spotify only lets you pitch one song ever 2-3 weeks to playlists.
And you probably want to pitch every one of your singles because a good playlists can bring in thousands of new listeners. You also need to submit your single two weeks in advance of it’s release date to qualify for playlist pitching. So submit to your distributor (and watch for the approval email) before you even touch your social media.
5. Promote a Single Every 3-4 Weeks
Don’t release EPs or albums if you’re starting out…it’s a waste of your time and most of the songs won’t get heard if you’re not promoting them individually.
Instead, spend a few weeks promoting each single that you’ve pitched to Spotify. Let me clarify that “promotion” for music does not mean making posts that ask people to listen to the track. Don’t do that; people will ignore you. Your promotions have to provide some entertainment value to users.
The type of media you post will heavily depend on your personality, the style of music you make, and the types of people who expect will enjoy it. Potential content for promotion could include:
- art you’ve made that you can pair with your song,
- cover songs of similar artists,
- remixes or acoustic versions of your singles,
- interesting photographs you took,
6. Rinse and Repeat
The hardest part to this whole process is doing it consistently…over and over again every few weeks. It’s a side job unto itself. That’s why a lot of artists don’t gain many fans. They simply don’t have the time to promote on a regular basis. And if you aren’t constantly feeding the social media algorithms, then your content won’t be served to as many users.
I recommend that, before you release a single track, you first sit down and make a schedule that you believe you can stick to for the long haul. Don’t overload yourself. Be realistic with your expectations, especially if you’re going it alone.
Can you post once a week on YouTube and twice a week on Instagram? Then write that down and make a personal commitment to that schedule. Or maybe you’re comfortable posting 3 times a week on just TikTok. Than commit to that schedule.
The hardest part of any habit it keeping it. If you make a regular and attainable habit out of your promotion schedule, you are far more likely to “get lucky” and gain traction with the algorithm.
Where Do I Distribute Music without a Distributor?
So where on the internet can you publish music without signing up for a distribution company? The best places to release songs without a distributor are:
Bandcamp can act as your web store and main website without needing to set all that up yourself. It’s also a more familiar website to music fans, so you’re more likely to get sales on Bandcamp than you would from a self-hosted web shop.
But the site does have it’s caveats. You will be responsible for all your own promotion and playlist pitching. Bandcamp does none of that for you. It’s also not a social media site in the usual sense. Your music won’t “go viral” on Bandcamp because it doesn’t have reposts, retweets, or feeds that users can share with each other.
YouTube is the second most used search engine on the planet. It’s also the second-most music streaming platform after Spotify. A lot of people listen to music on YouTube…and search for new tunes on the site, as well.
But it’s also stiff competition. There are millions of videos on YouTube and any artist can create a channel. If you want to gain traction in the algorithm and get recommended to potential fans, then you’ll need to create videos with audio and visuals that keep peoples’ attention.
A few video styles you may test out to promote your music include:
- lyric videos
- simple animation loops
- homemade music videos
- acoustic versions
TikTok is now a total cultural zeitgeist for zoomers. But millennials and even some older folks are jumping on the bandwagon. If a song or dance move goes viral on the internet these days, there’s a good chance it started on TikTok. You’ll want to post various snippets of your song and pair it with some kind of visual, like:
- A lip sync
- A dance
- Something silly going on
- An animation
Another popular video tactic on TikTok is to talk about your song…if you have an interesting story to go with the songwriting process. This usually works best if you can target a niche market. For example, if the song is about being a Fortnite gamer and you talk about Fortnite with the song in the background. Or the song is about coming out as gay, and you discuss your coming out.
Are There Any Free Distributors?
Maybe you don’t want a digital distributor because they cost money. I know some are far more expensive than others.
Are there any distributors that are free? Yes, several distribution companies are free to start…that is, they don’t charge a monthly or upfront fee. Instead, they take a percentage of your royalties if you earn any.
The best-known free distributors are:
By now, I hope you have a rough draft for your music publishing. You should specify where, when, and how you will consistently release and promote the songs you’ve made.
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