How Long Does Music Distribution Take?

Production & Music Industry
Updated on
June 19, 2023
Written by
Matt W
<10 Mins
Learn about music distribution timelines, the importance of planning, and the benefits of allowing sufficient time between distribution and release for a successful music launch.

How Long Does Music Distribution Take?

Learn about music distribution timelines, the importance of planning, and the benefits of allowing sufficient time between distribution and release for a successful music launch.

You've made the decision to have your music available on platforms such as Spotify, Apple, YouTube Music, TikTok, Tidal, and more. It's time to embark on the journey of digital music distribution.

However, before you reveal your upcoming release, it's crucial to understand how long the music distribution process takes and the steps your track will undergo to reach your fans.

Quick and Easy: User-Uploaded Music Streaming Platforms

If you opt for a user-uploaded platform like SoundCloud or Bandcamp, you're in luck! With your album art, audio files, and metadata (title, artist name, genre, etc.) ready, your release can be live and shareable within minutes. Grab the link and start promoting.

Going the Extra Mile: Music Distribution Services for All Streaming Platforms

For broader reach, user-uploaded platforms might not be enough. Although convenient for artists, these platforms can be challenging for listeners to find and navigate. To make your music easily accessible, consider using a digital music distribution service like Unchained Music. These services guide you through the entire process of uploading your release and distributing it to popular music platforms.

Digital music distributors are essential for getting your music on platforms like iTunes and Spotify unless you have a record deal. However, as they work with major companies like Amazon Music or Deezer, distribution can take longer.

Typical Distributor Timelines

Uploading your music to a distributor like Unchained Music only takes minutes, but your release must then be inspected, which may take a few days or longer, depending on the distributor's workload and inspection standards. Once approved, the delivery to the platforms may take another 1-2 days. In total, the inspection and delivery process for traditional distributors can range from a few days to a couple of weeks.

Once delivered, the platforms need an additional 3-4 days to prepare and publish your music. If you're releasing a cover song, don't forget to obtain a mechanical license! Unchained Music offers licensing for cover songs at no extra cost, adding just a few days to the timeline.

Here is a breakdown of typical timelines for publishing your music.

The process a typical music track undergoes for distribution to a Digital Service Provider (DSP) involves several steps. Here is an outline of the process:

Choose a music distributor

The artist selects a suitable music distribution service, such as Unchained Music, DistroKid, or TuneCore, to distribute the track to various streaming platforms. The chosen distributor should meet the artist's needs in terms of cost, reach, and additional services.

Upload and submit

The artist uploads the music track, album artwork, and metadata to the chosen distribution platform. It's crucial to provide accurate and complete information to prevent any issues during the review process and ensure the track's proper listing on the DSPs.

Quality control and inspection (3-7 days)

The distributor reviews the submission to ensure that the track meets the technical and content guidelines of the DSPs. This step may include checking the audio quality, verifying that the artwork and metadata comply with the requirements, and ensuring that the content adheres to copyright regulations. If sample clearance or mechanical licensing clearance is needed, the process may take longer.

Mechanical licensing (if applicable)

If the artist releases a cover song, they must obtain a mechanical license. Some distributors offer mechanical licensing services, while others may require the artist to secure the license independently.

Delivery to DSPs (2+ days)

Once the track passes the quality control and inspection stage, the distributor delivers the music to the selected DSPs. This process may take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the distributor and DSPs involved.

Processing by DSPs (3 days- 2 weeks)

Upon receiving the track, each DSP processes and prepares the music for listing on their platform. This stage may involve additional quality control checks and indexing the track within their catalog. The processing time varies among DSPs but typically takes 3-4 days.

Release and availability

After processing, the DSPs make the track available for streaming and downloading on their platforms. The track is now accessible to listeners, and the artist can start promoting the release.

Royalties and payment

As the track generates streams and downloads, the artist earns royalties. The DSPs collect these royalties and pay the distributor, who then distributes the earnings to the artist according to the agreed-upon terms.

The Rationale Behind Additional Steps

Imagine music distribution as preparing a dish for a prestigious culinary event. The organizers must ensure your dish aligns with the high standards of the event—your offering can't be a simple, hastily prepared meal among gourmet masterpieces. Similarly, your music distributor serves as an experienced mentor, guiding you through the process and ensuring your music adheres to the platforms' guidelines.

Although these extra steps in distribution might appear time-consuming, they present valuable opportunities to promote your release and generate excitement for its debut. Explore options like Spotify pre-saves or music videos to enhance your marketing strategy. Distributors like Unchained Music supply various marketing tools, granting you control over your release from inception to fruition.

What is the Ideal Timeframe for Music Distribution and Release?

A general recommendation is to allow at least 3-4 weeks between distributing the music and the track going live on streaming platforms.

This 3-4 week buffer period provides several advantages:

Quality control and platform processing

This allows enough time for the distributor to perform quality checks and for the Digital Service Providers (DSPs) to process and prepare the track for release, ensuring a smooth launch.

Pre-release marketing and promotion

A 3-4 week lead time enables artists to create and execute a marketing plan, including pre-save campaigns, social media promotion, and press outreach. This helps to generate buzz and anticipation for the track's release.

Playlist consideration and pitching

With sufficient lead time, artists can pitch their music to editorial and user-generated playlists on platforms such as Spotify for Artists, which may increase visibility and streams upon release.

Flexibility for unexpected delays

Providing ample time between distribution and the release date allows for adjustments in case of unforeseen issues, such as technical problems or content guideline violations, without affecting the planned release date.

Leave Enough Time for Your Release!

Understanding the music distribution process and timelines is crucial for a successful release. By allowing at least 3-4 weeks between distribution and the release date, artists can benefit from a smooth launch, effective pre-release marketing, playlist pitching opportunities, and flexibility to handle unexpected delays. By selecting the right distributor and planning ahead, artists can ensure their music reaches fans in the most efficient and effective way possible.

For more information, read Unchained Music's FAQ on distribution timings here.




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