If you have a record deal, it’s likely that your label takes care of getting your music on to digital music services (DSPs) like Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, Amazon and more.
But DSPs rarely deal with individual artists, so if you’re an independent songwriter, composer and musician looking to release your music, you’ll need a digital music aggregator.
What is an aggregator?
Aggregators are a conduit to help you distribute your music globally through digital stores and streaming platforms. They make their money by charging upfront fees and/or charging a percentage of revenue earned from the streaming and downloading of your music.
In some cases, aggregators will also charge an ongoing annual fee to keep your content online.
With other models, the annual fee is charged and set according to the number of songs or albums you want to distribute.
Most services also offer User Generated Content (UGC) digital fingerprinting to ensure use of your music on platforms like YouTube and Facebook is monetised.
Some aggregators also have ‘à la carte’ services like publicity, social media management, playlist pitching and sync and licensing. Make sure you are aware of costs and terms and conditions on offer.
So how do you pick an aggregator?
The first thing to note is that there is no one standout aggregator that works for all.
The best option for you may change over time, and what might work at the start of your career may not be the best option down the track. You should spend time researching each aggregator so you can make an informed decision that works best for your needs.
There are numerous aggregators worldwide including established local services in AU/NZ and international services with local onground reps – all delivering music globally. Read our ‘Get to know your local aggregator’ Q & A featuring:
Don’t miss these sources either: Apple has a dynamic list of its recommended aggregators listed here and Spotify also provides information about suggested aggregators here.
What services do you need?
There are several important factors to consider:
Term: 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.
Fees: What are they and how are any additional charges applied?
Payments: How regularly does the aggregator pay artists?
Reporting: How often do they supply reports on streaming and other insights?
Rights: What's covered and what might you be liable for? Understanding the difference between the sound recording and mechanical (underlying musical work) rights is imperative.
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.
Contact Writer Services with any questions about digital mechanical royalties and earning in the US.
Publishing and synchronisation: Is your aggregator asking you to assign synchronisation rights, and if so, what benefits are they offering to you in return?
Ensure you are fully aware of what rights you are assigning if you engage an aggregator to provide you with publishing services.
Promotion, playlisting pitching, publicity: Are you looking for a one-stop shop to help you coordinate the release of your music? Make sure you understand the associated fees and services.
Digital service providers: Does your aggregator deliver to the music stores you want your music to appear on? For example if you create electronic music, does your aggregator service Beatport?
UGC: Will the aggregator also deliver to UGC platforms so you can monetise the use of your music through digital fingerprinting? This is a service that can make life a lot easier, with revenue being paid through to you by your aggregator.
Submission criteria: Some specialist stores do not accept all music. Check with your aggregator if you want to make sure your music is on a specialist service or platform.
Delivery times: How long will it take before your music appears on a digital music service?
Local versus International – consider if the service has an in-market presence and/or local reps.
Most importantly, you should always read the terms and conditions. If legal jargon is not your thing, make sure you seek independent legal advice. The Copyright Council and Arts Law Centre of Australia offer great legal resources.