Artist’s Guide: How to Get Your Release Ready for Distribution

Following up on last week’s guide on the various digital distributors available and the services they offer, this week we go over the things you need to have in place before you submit your new music to aggregators for digital distribution.

Once you’ve spent hours, or even days, locked away in the studio and you know its time to get your music out to the masses the last thing you want to do is deal with a rejection from stores because your release did not comply with their policies. Often times this can be an issue of artwork, audio quality, song licensing etc.

The main areas we will look at are:

  • Audio format
  • Artwork
  • Metadata
  • Release date

This guide will help you make sure your release is up to scratch and that it complies with all the necessary standards so it is not rejected by stores.

Audio Format

Your audio is arguably the most important aspect of all of this so we’ll begin here.

In order to comply with requirements from stores, your audio file(s) must be in a specific format and adhere to certain parameters or it runs the risk of being rejected which would result in an unwanted headache on your part.

You need to make sure your audio file(s) complies with the following:

  • 1411kbps (bit rate) stereo WAV audio files
  • 16 bit (sample size)
  • 44.1 kHz (sample rate)

Always ensure your audio is in this format after you finish up in the studio. Your sound engineer, or producer, will be able to export your master files in this format and with these requirements.

While some distribution services state that it is okay to submit audio files in .mp3 format, we recommend always submitting them in WAV format as the quality is infinitely better and your chances of successfully submitting audio files to stores will be higher.

Artwork

Your artwork is an extremely important part of your release, it’s the first thing that people will see and you can use it to tell a story. The artwork is meant to compliment the music and could possibly be used to express themes that come up in the music.

With that being said, stores have requirements for artwork that must be strictly adhered too otherwise the artwork will be rejected and your release will be delayed. This can be particularly stressful if you have a strict premiere date that your adoring fans have been looking forward to.

The minimum requirements are as follows:

  • Artwork must be in JPG, PNG or GIF format
  • The artwork must be a perfect square
  • Minimum dimensions must be 1000×1000 pixels
  • The (highly) RECOMMENDED dimensions to use are 3000×3000 pixels
  • Must be in RGB colour mode
  • Text must ONLY contain artist name and song name
  • You can choose to have artwork without any text on it
  • You must own rights to the artwork in question

Worth noting is that iTunes accepts digital booklets along with release. Tunecore offers this service for $20 and you can learn more about it here.

Now that we have covered the things you should do we’re going to take a look at what you shouldn’t do when submitting artwork as the following will result in it being rejected by stores:

  • Stores will reject artwork that contains extra text that is not the song title or artist name. This includes websites, emails, social media accounts etc
  • You cannot use the terms ‘Exclusive’ or ‘Limited Edition’
  • You cannot use images if you do not own the copyright or if you did not license them properly
  • You cannot reference any of the digital stores such as Spotify or iTunes in the artwork
  • Stores will reject your artwork if it contains nudity or other ‘offensive’ themes
  • You cannot make mention of physical products such as CDs, DVDs etc
  • You cannot include prices in the artwork
  • Duplicate album artwork may be rejected (i.e. using the same artwork for several releases)

Some digital distributors will generate artwork for you if need be but we suggest taking the time to create your own unique image as it would be more personal and closer to your artist/band identity.

Metadata

Your metadata is an important aspect of your release as it contains your artist name, credits and other important details that will allow stores to identify and publish your music correctly. 

You will have the option of adding in your metadata when uploading your music to your distributor of choice and it includes information like:

  • Song title: name of your song
  • Primary genre: the primary genre of your song
  • Subgenre: the secondary genre of your song
  • Primary artist: the main artist on the song
  • Featured artist: any additional artists featured on the song
  • Record label: the record label releasing the song
  • Songwriter(s): the person who wrote the song
  • Producer(s): the producer of the song
  • Explicit content: whether or not the song contains explicit content
  • Lyrics language: the language in which the song is recorded
  • Year of recording: the year the song was recorded

You should have all this information ready before you get ready to submit your music to your distributor. Even if you are not distributing the music it is nevertheless good practice to keep this information when it comes to your music.

If you want to be more detailed you can include the key of the songs as well as the tempo (BPM).

Bare in mind that when listing credits such as songwriters and producers you will be asked to use the real names of the individuals in question rather than their stage names. Some distributors also offer you the option of adding lyrics when submitting metadata.

Setting a Release Date

Once you have your audio, artwork and metadata in order, your next step will be setting a release date for your new release.

Although some distributors can deliver your music to stores in as quickly as 24hrs, it is recommended that you submit your music several weeks before your intended release date. This will give the distributor ample time to deliver your music to all the stores (it takes longer for your music to go live on some stores than on others).

Although there is no exact rule to it, you should set a release date that will give you enough time to contact blogs and magazine to review your music. Submitting it well ahead of the release date also allows you to submit your music to Spotify Editorial playlists.

Where possible aim to submit your tracks 6 – 8 weeks in advance – or even 10 weeks in advance if possible as this will give you a lot more time to market and promote your music ahead of its worldwide release.

Ultimately it is up to you to decide on your release date but the earlier you submit your music ahead of its release date the better.

Things To Note

Submitting Singles, EPs and Albums

Singles are considered to be songs that are under 10 mins long, or an album with 2-3 tracks that are under 10 mins. If your release falls under any of these then it will be automatically identified as a single.

In order to submit your release and EP it must meet the following requirements:

  • 1 – 3 tracks, one or more tracks that have a running time of longer than 10 minutes but no more than 30 minutes
  • 4 – 6 tracks with a running time of no longer than 30 minutes

Submitting Cover Songs

When submitting a cover song there are a set of extremely specific rules that you must strictly follow otherwise your release will be rejected and it will not go live.

  • You must have the proper license(s) from the original owner of the song
    • You can look into obtaining a mechanical license from The Harry Fox Agency. Some distributors such as Distrokid will secure a license on your behalf via third-party vendor at a cost of $1/month
  • You cannot include the original performing artist anywhere
  • Your release must be titled as ‘Song Title’ or ‘Song Title (Cover)’

Conclusion

The main takeaway from this guide is that preparation is key, as long as everything is in place then your release process should go smoothly. While this guide covers the minimum requirements used by most services, it is recommended that you take a look at your distributor’s requirements and instructions and make sure you follow them to the letter.

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