Sound recording is younger than you might think - it was only invented around 130 years ago. Over this time, it has evolved from physical to magnetic, then digital, ultimately losing the need for a physical medium. Today, the majority of sound recordings, no matter if they are speeches, noises or online slots to fit music genres, exist as strings of ones and zeroes in cyberspace, so to say.
And the means through which they reach the listener have also evolved. Physical distribution of recordings is quickly getting obsolete, taken over by digital distribution over the internet.
Compared to any other form of music distribution used in the past, digital distribution has many advantages. For one, consumers - the audience - have a much larger library of content at hand than ever before. They can literally browse through the entire music library of a record label on their smartphone, select what they want to listen to, and stream it directly to their devices. At the same time, this form of distribution is advantageous for the record labels, too, as they have to spend much less on producing actual physical copies of the recording - they simply transfer information over the internet from their servers to the customers' devices.
This brand new digital distribution channel makes it easier for independent artists to get their work out to the audience. Digital music distributors have their services ready to accept their submissions. Artists can either submit their work to an aggregator that, after checking its compliance, will include it in its library, or submit it directly to popular distribution channels like iTunes, Spotify, and their likes. Artists will either be charged a flat fee for submitting their work or have part of their royalties retained as a fee.
The big names of the digital music distribution market today are Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, Rhapsody, and Pandora. Together, these cover up to 75% of the digital music sales. There are some services that do great in their own genre, like Beatport with electronic music, but submitting to the big ones is a necessity. Once submitted, a song usually reaches the audience within a few weeks, hopefully starting an endless stream of music to them and revenues toward the artist.
Music distribution has changed a lot in the 130 years that passed since Edison patented his first recording device. It has become more streamlined, more efficient, and much more cost-effective both for the artist and the distributor. Not to mention that it has also become far more efficient and easy to use for the customer - us.