Skip to main content
A woman in a record store looking at records. A woman in a record store looking at records.

Music distribution basics

2 min read

How does music distribution work?

There are different ways of distributing sound recordings depending on who is involved.

Distribution is how sound recordings are made available to the public through various physical and digital formats, channels, and platforms.

Traditionally, music distribution involved physical formats such as vinyl records, cassette tapes, and CDs, which were manufactured by and and sold by retailers like record stores and department stores.

Although these physical formats are still available, technology and the growth of has driven a shift in distribution channels, primarily to for streaming and downloads.

The distribution process is undertaken by:

  • - physical and digital formats

  • - physical and digital formats

  • - digital only formats

Visit our topic, The Music Industry Ecosystem, to learn more about record labels and distributors.

The stores that are distributed to include but are not limited to:

  • Streaming services such as Amazon Music, Spotify and Apple Music

  • Online music stores such as iTunes, Bandcamp and Amazon

  • Social media and video platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and TikTok

  • Physical stores such as department stores and independent record stores

What types of distribution are there?

There are two types of distribution: physical and digital. Some distribution services will only cater to small , as opposed to .

Physical music distribution

This refers to the process of selling and distributing sound recordings in physical formats like vinyl records, CDs, or cassette tapes. Physical distribution involves manufacturing, shipping and selling these physical products to retailers. It’s also common for self-releasing and record labels to make physical products, such as vinyl records, and sell them directly to fans via their website or online store, also known as D2C.

Digital music distribution

This refers to the process of delivering sound recordings digitally to platforms, including streaming services, online music stores, and social media platforms. Digital music distribution involves uploading files to a distributor or aggregator, which distributes the sound recordings to . Distributors can also collect royalties from DSPs on behalf of and pay creators directly.

Image credit: Cottonbro Studio