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Deep Dive

20 Top Music Distributors

A guide to distributors — from major-label-owned services to direct-upload indie platforms — that help artists and labels cut through the noise.

With autonomy a priority for many artists, the independent music market growing in global market share — 34.6% in 2021, up from 29% in 2015, according to MIDiA Research — and new investment powering fresh entrants into the space, distribution is an expanding, and crowded, sector of the music business. Here is a guide to 20 top distributors — from major-label-owned services to direct-upload indie platforms — to help artists and labels cut through the noise.

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Alternative Distribution Alliance

ADA is owned by Warner Music Group and has about 3.77% in U.S. market share, as well as estimated U.S. revenue of $290 million and global revenue of $400 million. Its top label is BMG, and other labels include Sub Pop, Real World Records, 12Tone and Hitco. ADA was created in the early 1990s to counter Sony’s acquisition of RED and since then it has been one of the top indie distributors in the United States, with a renewed ongoing global push.

AMPED

AMPED is primarily a physical distributor but offers digital services through the Sony-owned distributor AWAL (for which in return it does physical distribution). AMPED is also a part of Alliance Entertainment, the largest music wholesaler in the world with about $500 million in music revenue (including AMPED). The difference is that Alliance is a one-stop — meaning it carries records from all labels on a nonexclusive basis — while AMPED serves as an exclusive U.S. distributor for physical music from labels like Cleopatra Records, Culture Factory, Alligator Records, Cherry Red Records, Epitaph, Ruf, Shanachie and Tuff Gong, with estimated U.S. revenue of $75 million.

Believe 

Believe is the second-largest indie distributor in the world, with two divisions — Believe and TuneCore — in its portfolio. The Believe distribution platform had revenue of about $640 million in 2021, while TuneCore collected about $425 million for its artists, but the latter only recognizes its $36 million in fees as revenue. TuneCore provides a simple digital pipeline for DIY artists to get their music to digital service providers and also caters to labels like Tone Tree, Broadway Records, C3 Records and Average Joes Entertainment. Meanwhile, Believe is the company’s premium distribution platform, offering a full suite of marketing and promotion services to labels like French imprints Jo & Co and Naïve, German labels Nuclear Blast and Groove Attack and Mexican imprint AfinArte, among others. 

Create Music Group

Create started as a company that identified unclaimed YouTube royalties on behalf of artists and expanded from there with a model that emphasizes both financial flexibility — it says it can provide daily earnings data from all major DSPs and launched a credit card for its clients last year — and a deep investment in social streaming through its Flighthouse brand on TikTok (28 million followers) and the April acquisition of curated YouTube channel suite The Nations to help promote releases from 6ix9ine and Snoop Dogg’s Death Row Records, as well as marketing partnerships with several major labels. The company reported passing the $100 million revenue mark in 2019.

DistroKid 

DistroKid doesn’t reveal its revenue, but sources estimate the company cleared $300 million in collections last year for the established and DIY artists for which it distributes music. CEO Philip Kaplan told Billboard that DistroKid “now distributes 30% to 40% of all new music in the world,” which includes releases from Ludacris, Megan Davies, Dan the Automator and Dweezil Zappa. The company has had partnerships with Snapchat, TikTok and Spotify in the past and continues rolling out new features like Synched Lyrics, which allows listeners to sing along with songs on Instagram and other social media platforms. 

Downtown Music 

First established as a publisher, Downtown began a concerted shift away from copyright ownership and toward artist and label services in 2019, purchasing AVL Digital Group — which included CD Baby, the distributor launched in 1998 that has distributed over 10 million tracks and, as of December 2021, paid out more than $1 billion to artists — as well as label-services distribution company FUGA in 2020, giving it a multilayered portfolio of offerings to potential clients. In a deal valued at around $350 million, Downtown sold its owned copyrights to Concord in 2021 as it doubled down on its services divisions, which includes SongTrust, a company that collects publishing royalties for established songwriters, small publishers and DIY writers.

EMPIRE

Formed in 2010, EMPIRE started out as a Bay Area-based digital distributor for hip-hop artists both new and established, putting out early releases for Kendrick Lamar and XXXTentacion as well as veterans like Fat Joe, Snoop Dogg and Cam’ron. But over the past decade-plus EMPIRE has blossomed into a full-service global music company with a record label, publishing division, merchandise operation and offices in New York, London, Nashville and Los Angeles as well operations in Europe and the Middle East/North Africa. With deep roots in the hip-hop and R&B communities, founder/CEO Ghazi was also able to solve one of the music industry’s strangest riddles, striking a deal last summer with Blackground Records and Barry Hankerson to bring the Aaliyah catalog to streaming services for the first time.

Ingrooves

Ingrooves, one of three independent distribution music companies owned by Universal Music Group, continues to expand its global and technical capabilities. Early this year, the company, which has field offices in 25 cities around the globe including Berlin, Istanbul, London, Madrid, Mexico City, Milan, Mumbai, Seoul, Singapore and Sydney, recently entered Iceland with the acquisition of Alda Music, another boost to its $160 million in estimated U.S. revenue. Among the labels Ingrooves distributes are Strange Music (Tech N9ne) Rostrum (Mac Miller), CM7 Records (Chante Moore) and Del Records. Its trends and sales reporting systems allow its labels to analyze data to determine marketing opportunities for their artists.

MNRK

MNRK, formerly Entertainment One, also known as eOne, handles distribution for its own labels like Dualtone, Last Gang and eOne Music, which now trade under the names MNRK Urban, MNRK Heavy and MNRK Nashville, according to its website (estimated U.S. revenue: $42 million). While it is still handling digital distribution for other unaffiliated labels, it jettisoned its physical distribution capabilities a few years back. Among the artists it distributes are Amos Lee, The Lumineers, Sevyn Streeter, Eddie Rabbitt, Mastiff and Kathleen Edwards.

MVD 

MVD is one of the main physical distributors of music in the United States but also has digital distribution capabilities in its portfolio. Its labels include Bear Family Records, Time Life Records, Lil Joe Records and Jazz Cellar Records, with estimated U.S. revenue at some $40 million. Founded in 1986 as a video wholesaler, MVD expanded into the video distribution business in 1998, then added music distribution in 2006; the company expanded into Canada in 2017.

ONErpm 

The 12-year-old digital distributor offers a suite of different products across three tiers for its artists and a rapidly expanding global footprint, with new offices in Australia, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Africa and Ghana in 2022 alone, bringing its total to 29. Some of those services include playlist promotion and digital marketing, accounting services, analytics and direct-to-fan marketing. The Brazilian footprint of the Nashville-based company has given it a strong roster in South America in addition to European acts and American artists like Trace Adkins and Coscullela. The company says that its revenue grew 70% year over year.

The Orchard 

Sony Music-owned The Orchard was already the largest indie distributor in the world with $1 billion in global revenue when it acquired AWAL in 2021, which gave the company another $150 million in revenue (estimated U.S. revenue: $635 million). The Orchard offers a suite of systems and services to its labels, including radio promotion. Its biggest labels include Rimas (Bad Bunny) and subdistributors/labels like Thirty Tigers, Megaforce/MRI and Bob Frank Enterprises. It has evolved through the years from the grandaddy of major-owned indie distributors, RED, which was merged into The Orchard in 2017. Sony first gained a stake in RED, then named Relativity Entertainment Distribution, in 1990, kicking off the trend of the major music companies owning indie distributors.

Proper Music Group/Utopia Music 

Proper, the United Kingdom’s leading physical distributor, was acquired by Utopia in January to be the backbone of the latter’s new distribution division, which will also combine digital distribution with manufacturing, digital retail marketing, analytics reporting and synchronization, among other offerings. It will also join Utopia’s other recent acquisitions, including royalty-advance firm Lyric Financial, artificial intelligence-based metadata startup Musimap and data analytics company ForTunes, while Proper’s latest additions to its roster of 1,000-plus labels — to which it says it has delivered $450 million in royalties in its history — are Chrysalis and Tommy Boy Records, both part of Reservoir.

Redeye Worldwide

A physical and digital distribution stalwart for indie labels and artists for over a quarter century, Redeye has distinguished itself by keeping physical products rolling out despite continued supply chain issues caused by both the pandemic and other factors that predated it. The company has also been expanding globally, acquiring Border Music Sweden in 2019, while adding additional marketing support for its distributed indie titans Beggars Group, Domino, Saddle Creek, Matador, Brainfeeder, Mom+Pop and New West Records, among many others (although for some of its labels, Redeye only handles physical distribution).

Secretly Distribution

Secretly Distribution was formed to handle distribution for Secretly Group’s labels Jagjaguwar and Secretly Canadian, but now it also distributes another owned label, Dead Oceans, as well as 200 other imprints like Captured Tracks, All Flowers Group, Sacred Bone Records, Bar None Records, Touch and Go and Flying Nun Records, with estimated U.S. revenue at $45 million. Secretly Distribution is also a global digital distributor — its worldwide revenue is estimated at $70 million — relying on subdistributor partners for physical in some territories.

SoundCloud

The culturally vibrant, user-uploaded indie streaming service announced a major pivot in recent years with its purchase of Repost Network for $15 million in 2019, which allowed it to delve straight into distribution and artist services. And it is doing it with a tiered network of services that can appeal to creators at all levels of their careers, built on top of its new user-centric royalties model, which pays out royalties to creators based on the number of streams they accrue, rather than by market share. That is a key change that can provide the indie artists that use it with much deeper insights into who is listening to their music, and how. Rapper Lil Pump and Nigerian artist Tekno are among the platform’s marquee artists so far, while a new deal announced this year with Quality Control’s Solid Foundation Management will help bring new talent in through a joint venture.

Stem

Launched in 2015 by UTA veteran Milana Rabkin Lewis, Stem has found its differentiator in its approach to artist payments, providing advances in the form of revolving credit lines and giving artists more flexibility with their royalty payments rather than forcing them into recoupment. Stem has attracted both talent and investment: A round of funding in April drew another $20 million. The company’s most significant release to date has been Frank Ocean’s 2016 album Blond — distributed through Stem just a day after the singer exited his deal with Def Jam with the visual album Endless — with artists such as Jeezy, Desiigner, Foster the People, Zac Brown Band and Brent Faiyaz among those who have used the platform.

Symphonic Distribution

Tampa, Fla.-based digital distributor Symphonic has been around since 2006 with a tech-based focus, including proprietary tools for its clients for TikTok and streaming analytics. In the past 18 months it has expanded into Brazil, Mexico, Canada and South Africa; partnered with TIDAL on its user-centric payment model to try to help creators get paid directly for their streams, rather than by market share; and entered a deal with digital advertiser Found.ee to provide solutions for its clients. And in January, it raised $37 million in a series B funding round led by Newspring Growth. Clients include Imogen Heap, Doechii, Cuban Doll and Activision.

UnitedMasters

Founded by industry veteran Steve Stoute, UnitedMasters has focused its offerings on both partnerships and production, having cut a deal with the NBA to curate the NBA 2K20 soundtrack in 2020 and a prior distribution relationship with TikTok. A $50 million series B funding round in 2021 was led by Apple and included a strategic partnership with the company; a previous funding round was led by Google parent Alphabet. In May, UnitedMasters launched Beat Exchange, allowing aspiring artists to license or purchase beats from established producers like Hit-Boy. The service, aimed at both artists and producers, counts NLE Choppa, Alina Baraz and Grace Weber among its clients.

Virgin Music Label & Artist Services

Formerly Universal’s Caroline Distribution, Virgin got a rebrand and a new global purview last February, using the worldwide cachet of the name of Richard Branson’s former record company (and related businesses) to expand in local markets, including in Australia, Brazil and Ivory Coast of late. Virgin’s distributed labels and artists in the United States include Wolfpack Global Music (madmarcc, HYLAN Starr), 10K Projects (Trippie Redd, Internet Money, iann dior) and Photo Finish Records (SHAED, McKenna Grace). It also struck a new deal with Range Media Partners, among others, as well as artists LAUV, Maggie Lindemann and Acraze, the last of whom just signed a deal with Virgin parent Capitol Music Group. That has given the distributor a 1.66% market share in the United States at the midway point of 2022, with estimated U.S. revenue at $190 million.