Making Music Available to the World: how to publish your music as an Independent Musician

You have recorded, mixed, and mastered your music. You want to share it with the world. What do you do?

  • Save recording in stereo  44.1kHz – 16bit WAV file
  • Create album/single cover/title-needs song title and artist name on it.

Music Distribution for Streaming

  • Upload your song to a distributor service
    • CD Baby, Songtradr, Distrokid (and lots of others). I currently am using Songtradr because it is free to upload (they take 10% commission 40% for YouTube Sync), CD Baby is also easy for $10/song ($30 or $70/album) plus they take 15%. I do not recommend there Pro album as they take too much and give too little.
      • Most distributors will get an ISRC number for you (this is your song composition identifier from your PRO (BMI)
      • Songtradr also tries to sync your music to videos( a plus)
      • Distributors pay you only for the sound recording (the “master”). CD Baby also collects PROs money (for 9% fee) if you want
      • DIY distributors I’d like to try: AWAL, Stem, oneRPM, RouteNote, Soundrop
    • This is the minimum you need to do, but you will lose on a large portion (I guestimate you’d leave maybe 1/3rd ( ?)) of the money per song. After you do this, do the next steps:
  • Register your song/and also first time as the songwriter under BMI (or ASCAP)
    • ASCAP, BMI collect and distribute performance royalties for the songwriter, composer and publisher for the musical composition.  Since you are all three of those, all the money goes back to you.
  • Register your master recording in Soundexchange to collect songwriter and song publishing royalties for non-interactive radio recording
  • Register songs for Harry Fox: The Harry Fox Agency (HFA) meets the mechanical and digital licensing needs of music publishers. This includes licenses for the recording and reproduction of ringtones, CDs, downloads, lyrics, and other usages.
  • Register songs for Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) for digital streaming mechanical needs
  • Other recommendations: Sign up for artist for Spotify, Apple, and Amazon to get information on streams, listens, playlists, and where people are listening.

Independent Artist Song Money Split

  Composition royalties include

  • Public Performance royalties for composition: collected through PRO (BMI or ASCAP)
  • Mechanical royalties are for composition: For digital downloads (9.1 cents) and streaming mechanicals, a new organization called the Mechanical Licensing Collective was just started launched in 2021, and Harry Fox for all mechanical
  • Sync royalties: YouTube will be collected by distributor if you sign up for it.

Sound Reproduction Recording royalties include

  • Recording Distribution (AKA Reproduction royalties) is collected by the distributor acting as your “label”
  • Performance: In the U.S., recording artists only collect performance royalties from digital and satellite radio. This is Soundexchange that is collecting/paying to the recording artist the sound recording performance royalty
  • and sync.

Here’s a break-down from


Interactive streams & Downloads from services like Spotify/Apple Music/iTunes:
Publishing side: PRO, MLC
Master side: distributor

Non-interactive streams/satellite radio like Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, SiriusXM
Publishing side: PRO
Master side: SoundExchange

Physical sales
Publishing side: PRO, HFA
Master side: distributor

Background music at a public place/live performance
Publishing side: PRO
Master side: n/a

Synchronization license
Publishing side: Client pays your publisher/agent or you directly
Master side: Client pays your label/agent or you directly.

Radio play:
Publishing side: PRO
Master side: n/a in the U.S.

You need to sign up for and add your songs to:

SoundExchange, MLC, Harry Fox, PROs, do I need it all? In a nutshell: YES.

Who pays what royalties to songwriters and publishers?

Types of licenses generated by compositions that songwriters and publishers earn royalties from:

  • Public performance royalty license for musical composition
    • Paid by PRO such as ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, GMR
    • Sources:
      • Live performances
      • Background music in bars, malls, restaurants, etc.
      • Radio broadcast
      • TV broadcast
      • Streaming, online/satellite radio, download from Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, iHeartRadio, Pandora, Sirius XM, etc, as well as physical sales. Note that your distributor only pays you the master side directly. They pay the composition side to your PRO, who then pays it to you.
  • Mechanical royalty license for musical composition on digital service providers in the U.S.
    • Paid by MLC, used to be by the HFA
    • Sources:
      • streaming, download
  • Other sources of mechanical royalties
    • Paid by the HFA
      • Sources: CD, vinyl, sheet music,
  • Synchronization licenses for musical composition being synchronized to visual media
    • Paid for by the licensee/client
    • YouTube Content ID-pays through distributor if you opt in (as sync license)

These royalties are generated by the use/broadcast/replication of the composition. Not the recording itself.

Who pays what royalties to labels, featured artists, performers?

Types of licenses generated by sound recordings (masters) that labels, featured artists, other eligible performers can earn royalties from:

  • Digital performance royalty on for sound recording for NON-interactive streams
    • Paid by SoundExchange
    • Includes internet/satellite radio, webcasts, i.e. non-interactive streams/ not on demand.
    • Eg. Pandora, Sirius XM
  • Neighboring rights: Outside the U.S., radio play generates royalties for the sound recording owners.
  • Reproduction/Distribution license
    • Negotiated and paid by distributors.
    • As an indie artist, you get this directly from your distributor (DistroKid, CD Baby, TuneCore, etc).
    • This is analogous to mechanical licenses for the composition side, but is not a compulsory license at a set rate.
    • Streaming services pay ~3.5x more for reproduction licenses than they do for mechanical licenses.
  • Synchronization / Master Use license for the recording being synchronized to a visual media
    • Paid for by the licensee/client.
    • YouTube Content ID-paid through distributor if you opt in, or you can go directly through YouTube (I have not been able to do this)

What’s the difference between the Harry Fox Agency (HFA) and the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC)?

They essentially do the same thing. In fact, HFA is the vendor that will be doing most of the initial onboarding for the MLC. The difference is that MLC is only concerned with digital mechanical royalties, whereas the HFA also handles physical.

The MLC will only collect mechanical royalties for digital U.S. streams and downloads for the DSPs that have signed a blanket license with the MLC. HFA continues to handle the other types of mechanical royalties.

So, when you distribute your song through DistroKid, CD Baby, TuneCore, UnitedMasters, Stem, AWAL, Symphonic, Songtradr, or any of the other ones out there, the royalties they collect and pay you are only for the sound recording (some call this the “master”). So, you, the artist, distribute a recording and all the money your distributor pays you is the revenue earned for the recording. If you release a cover song, you’re going to get paid the same amount from your distributor as if you release an original song, but NOT the BMI portion (songwriting/publishing) portion.


PRO concerns HFA is not responsible for:

  • Representing writers and publishers when a piece is placed in a film or performed by other musicians  
  • Issuing print rights that are required to revise or publish lyrics
  • Administering performance rights that permit the use of music in a public setting such as a restaurant, concert hall, radio station, or nightclub
  • Issuing master use rights that permit the use of an original recording
  • Clearing the use of samples

Harry Fox is mechanical royalty collecting agency, a mechanical license grants to the user the rights to reproduce and distribute copyrighted musical compositions on CDs, records, tapes, ringtones, permanent digital downloads (DPDs), interactive streams, and other digital configurations.

The following are brief descriptions of various rights that are not covered by mechanical licenses.

  • Master-Use Licenses are required to utilize a copyrighted sound recording. A master-use license can be obtained from the owner of the master recording, usually a record label. It is not administered by the Harry Fox Agency (HFA) or the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC).
  • Synchronization Licenses are required for individuals seeking the rights to include the song in a video (including YouTube videos), film, or TV. To obtain a synchronization license, interested parties need to contact the music publisher or songwriter directly.
  • Public Performance Licenses are required in order to publicly perform a copyrighted song. These licenses are commonly granted by copyright holders through Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) such as ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC.
  • In addition, mechanical licenses do not permit the reprinting of lyrics, manufacturing of sheet music, or the use of copyrighted work as background music, on digital jukeboxes, as ringtones, karaoke, or in a theatrical production. Separate agreements must be made with the copyright owner for these permissions.