Why Free Music Distribution is Never Truly “Free”

Music Distribution
headphones with tidal logo, soundcloud logo, spotify logo, amazon music logo and a wad of 100 dollar bills tied with 2 rubber bands and hooked to a fishing hook.

If you want to get your music on Spotify and Apple Music you likely know that most of your options come at cost. So, it’s understandable to feel tempted by the handful of free music distribution options available right now.

But, the truth is these free music distribution companies don’t offer a completely free service—in fact, the costs can become quite high over time, especially if your project starts building traction.

In this article we’ll unpack what’s really going on behind all the free music distribution offers out there—and we’ll discuss some better music alternatives that won’t cost you anything.

What is free music distribution?

Free music distribution is any music distribution service that offers to distribute your music to major streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and others for the price of zero dollars.

Of course, there’s an important catch to keep in mind.

Most of these free distribution companies will either take a cut of your royalties every time you get paid for song streams or lock you into an extremely limited plan that’ll force you into purchasing an upsell if you release music more than once.

The cut each distribution service may take varies, but in some cases it can range up to a whopping 15-20%.

Depending on the details of each free music distributor’s fine print, some may lay claim to large portions of your media sync placements and publishing revenue.

Here's some important things to think about before you release your music.

Why are most distribution services paid?

It may feel as though you should just be able to upload your music to Spotify and Apple Music directly without needing to hire a third party.

Most of these free distribution companies will either take a cut of your royalties every time you get paid for song streams or lock you into an extremely limited plan.

But, the reality is that there’s a complicated backend within the streaming platform and royalty system that requires external companies to manage all the formatting, meta-data and payments that ultimately put money into your account.

It’s a complicated system that simply cannot be free of cost—and while many distribution companies have slowly lowered their prices over the years, for the time being there will always be a cost to distributing your music.

Should you use free music distribution services?

If you plan on becoming successful and maximizing your chances of generating money with your music then the answer is no.

These companies take way too much a of cut from the already limited streaming revenue artists struggle to earn for a free offering to be worth it.

Especially in cases where the platform is taking cuts of syncs and publishing—since these are often the biggest money makers for artists landing their music in film and television placements.

On top of that, since you’re the product, not the client customer service at these companies is generally very slow—that means if there’s a problem with your release or if you have a question about something, you likely won’t get quick service or a prompt answer.

It’s always better to simply pay a fixed price, receive better support, get unlimited distribution  and earn all of your royalties forever.

Four free music distribution alternatives

With that out of the way here’s four alternatives to free music distribution.

1. Put your music on YouTube

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While posting your music online is not the same as distributing it through a music distributor, it’s still an important way to add an important promotional channel to your marketing strategy.

Plus, if you do distribute your music through a music distributor that offers access to YouTube Content ID, you can begin earning revenue from YouTube plays of your music and from any creator that uses your music on YouTube.

Many music fans discover music through YouTube, so it’s never a bad idea to put your music on the platform.

2. Put your music on Bandcamp

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Bandcamp is a beloved music site that offers a chance for independent artists to easily build an online space where fans interact with their tunes and purchase them directly online to support the music they love.

It’s also a great place to set up a simple webstore where bands and artists can sell merch like t-shirts, CDs, vinyl, cassette tapes and more.

Plus Bandcamp offers a ton of customization features so you can get your band’s page looking like your band’s aesthetic.

Whether you distribute your music or not, it’s truly never a bad idea to set up a Bandcamp for your project.

3. Put your music on SoundCloud

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While it’s not the same as getting your tunes onto Spotify or Apple Music, it offers something equally valuable: a direct connection to your audience.

No middlemen, just you and the people who dig your music. You can interact with your listeners, reply to comments, and even collaborate with other artists.

How’s that for networking?

Now, you might be thinking, “But hey, don’t they offer paid plans too?” Yes, they do. SoundCloud Pro and Pro Unlimited give you extra upload hours, analytics, and the ability to make a track go public at a future date.

But even if you stick with the free plan, you’ve still got a powerful tool for getting your music out there and building a fanbase.

While SoundCloud might not replace a full-fledged music distribution service, it fills a different kind of gap.

It’s more casual, more immediate, and gives you real-time feedback. If you’re just starting out or if you want a secondary channel to showcase your music, SoundCloud is definitely worth a spin

4. Get unlimited distribution with LANDR Studio

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While LANDR Studio is not a free option for distributing your music, it certainly is a great choice because of just how much you get for its low price.

That’s because you get so much more than just an unlimited music distribution subscription—you get unlimited AI mastering, 30+ premium music production plugins, Ableton Live Lite, 1,200 royalty-free LANDR samples credits and more!

And of course, if you distribute with LANDR Distribution your music will never be taken down, we’ll never take any of your revenue or royalties and you’ll get access to our prompt and helpful support team.

Why pay when you can have it all?

So, you might wonder, “Why should I pay for distribution when there are free options?”

Look, we get it. Paying for something that you could seemingly get for “free” might feel like a buzzkill.

But let’s be real, nothing worth having comes easy—or free, in this case.

The upfront cost of a reputable distribution service can actually save you money in the long run, not to mention the peace of mind you get from knowing you’re in good hands.

The Verdict

In the world of music distribution, you often get what you pay for.

Free services might seem like a bargain at first, but they come with their own hidden costs and limitations.

On the flip side, paid services like LANDR Studio offer a more comprehensive, transparent, and reliable route to getting your music out there.

So, before you jump on the “free” bandwagon, consider the real costs and benefits. Sometimes, it’s worth paying a little to gain a lot.

Alex Lavoie

Alex Lavoie is a drummer, music producer, songwriter and marketing professional living in Montreal, Quebec. He works as a staff writer at LANDR by day and writes indie post-punk tunes in his band UTILS while moonlighting as drummer for folk-rock outfit The Painters. Connect with Alex Lavoie on LANDR Network!

@Alex Lavoie

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