Music distribution: what happens after I upload my song?

Hannah Boothby and Davide d’Atri, Soundreef

Artists, record
labels and publishers often ask us what happens when they’ve uploaded their
music – when will it be used as music for business and what affects how much
airtime it will get? We’ve put this blog post together to answer some of your
questions about this.

Why can’t you use my music straight away?

Getting your song
broadcast by Soundreef involves six stages: registration; dealing with your
current collecting society; approving, tagging and cataloguing your song;
activating your song; delivering the song to clients; the clients broadcasting
the song – and then you getting paid! Some of these stages take longer than
others, and it can be a long process, but bear in mind that you don’t actually
have to do anything at all once you’ve registered. We handle all the
administration and make sure you get paid. It’s better than trusting to the old-style collecting society system, where your music gets
used anyway, and you don’t get paid!

1. Registration

How long this stage
takes is entirely up to you – it can be minutes or days. During the
registration process, we ask about:

  • Whether
    you’re an individual or a company.
  • Your
    contact and PayPal details, so that we can get in touch and pay you.
  • The
    names of your songs, so that they can be registered on our system.
  • The
    collecting societies you use, so that we can contact them.

never share your data with anyone else.

2. Dealing with your current collecting

As part of the registration
process, we’ll send a letter to your current collecting society telling them
that we’ll be collecting your royalties for background music in Europe from now
on. We send a batch of these letters to collecting societies every month. This
means that, if you register your tracks just after we’ve sent a batch of
letters, you’ll need to wait up to a month before this stage is completed.

Things can
sometimes take a little longer, depending on your local collecting society,
since some use different procedures or take longer to approve artist requests
(the fastest are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC). We’re hoping to publish a blog post
about these procedures soon.

3. Approving, tagging and cataloguing your

Once you’ve
completed the registration process, our Music Supervisors listen to your tracks
and decide whether we can use them. This process can take anything up to 60
days, since there are often a lot of tracks in the queue – though it can often
be faster than this.

Each song that they
choose to use then needs to be tagged with labels such as tempo, mood and music
genre, then added to our catalogue. The tagging process takes between two and
four weeks, and this is part of the 60-day approval process period.

The time it takes
to get from stages 1 to 3 can take anything from two to eight weeks.

4. Activating your song

Once your song has
been approved, tagged and catalogued, it is put in our database, and will show
up when the database is searched for certain types of music.

5. Delivering your song to Soundreef clients

Your song is
delivered to Soundreef clients in two ways: to in-store radio producers, and via our web radio service.

Most airplay comes
from in-store radio. Since we have over 150,000 songs registered, it isn’t
feasible for in-store radio producers to select individual songs from it.
Instead, they give us a description of the kind of music they would like to
play, and our music supervisors choose music from our database that fits this
description. For example, they might tell us that they have certain marketing
targets, and their in-store radio company might suggest that certain types of
music would suit this. The descriptions tend to be very general at this stage
(such as ‘radio friendly rock and pop’). We then work with the in-store radio
company to choose the music. We start by sending the in-store radio company a
batch of songs, and they then give us feedback that helps us refine the
selection. We then send them more music, and we repeat this process until they
have exactly the music they want.

The other way your
songs get used is via our web radio service. This is a
service designed for small shops and businesses who do not work with in-store
radio companies. Our music supervisors hand pick songs to appear on our
web radio service in order to fit a certain mood, or create a certain
atmosphere. The web radio service is divided into different genres – for
example, rock, pop, lounge, house, classical.

Whether your song
gets picked depends on its quality, suitability for background use and its
genre – so if you’ve supplied a high quality rock/pop song in exactly the style
our client is looking for, it could be played in as little as two weeks from
activation. If you’ve uploaded, say, a few stomping dance tracks that we
absolutely love, they might not get used for as much as six months, since no
dance music has been requested. You could describe this as, ‘the quality of the
song discounted for the genre of the song divided by what is needed by the market’.

You should also
remember that, no matter how good the track, we can never actually guarantee
that it will be used!

6. The client broadcasts the song

The songs get
played in the client’s store or other business.

In-store radio
producers keep a log of all the songs that they play in each store, which is
returned to us every 30 to 90 days – so if your song is broadcast at the
beginning of the 90-day period, it will be a while before it’s added to our
calculations. However, it’s pretty rare that it would take this long – it’s
usually a maximum of 45 days.

7. You get paid

We assemble the
logs from all the in-store radio companies and combine them with our own logs,
generated by our web radio channels. We then parse these to add up the total
number of times each song has been played.

We publish our
results every six months, on the 29th of January and the 29th of July, then we pay you via

8. We announce the results for the semester

We publish the
statistics for each semester (for an example, see the results for July 2013), and
we use these to try and forecast future earnings in our trends and estimates

How long will all of this take?

As you can see,
there is a lot to organise after registration, and it all takes time! The total
time depends on various factors, such as when you submit your song and how many
tracks our Music Supervisors currently have in their queue, but you should
expect to wait between two and eight weeks before your track becomes active or inactive.

It seems like a
long time to wait – but bear in mind that you don’t actually need to do
anything at all after you’ve registered your song. You can just sit back and
wait, and we’ll handle all the administration, keeping you informed along the

Can you give me any idea how much I can
expect to earn from my music?

If you’d like to
work out how your tracks are likely to do, you could try out our trends and
estimates section. It’s a new tool we are developing to forecast your sales and
music usage, to help you work out how much you could earn and be played by
broadcasters in the current semester. Although it’s still at an early stage, it
aims to give you information that is based on a variety of different factors
and is as up to date as possible. We usually publish trends and estimates in
the middle of the semester, so that we can base our estimates on previous data.
This means that your song needs to have been active for this amount of time
before estimates can be meaningful.

Remember that this
section is still being developed. As it involves new technology, and since forecasts
are never completely reliable, the information we provide here might not be
accurate, and it might not predict actual performance properly yet. Please
don’t rely on it!

We publish reports
on how much you’ve been paid on the My Money page every semester, on the 29th of July
and the 29th of January, and we pay money out to you the next working day.

Still not sure
what’s happening?

Post your questions
in the comment section!

We love to hear
from users, and our commitment to transparency means that we tell you as much
as we can about how we calculate and pay your royalties. We’re constantly
updating our FAQ and blog to try and give you as much information as possible –
your questions are really helpful to both us and other users!