Updated: Nov 10, 2022
As a musician, your heart's in your music. You love your work, you work hard at your craft, and you can't imagine a lasting career in any other industry.
But you know that the other side of that coin has to be about business. You want to give music lovers an opportunity to listen to something new and exciting. You want your work to be appreciated. And you want your music to provide you with a sustainable income.
All of this equals the need for your music to be distributed, either to physical or online music stores. What do you need to know about music distribution?
What Music Distribution Used to Mean
Back in the day, record labels handled almost all of the heavy lifting of music distribution, along with publishing, marketing, etc.
If an artist wanted to get his music to his fans, he first had to ensure that his records were available in brick-and-mortar retail stores. In order to make that happen, he had to sign a contract with the record label. This meant that a musician's independence was severely limited; in general, the record companies wielded considerable power over their contracted musicians. Labels could dictate to the individual musician (or band) the type of music they wanted, the lyrics they wanted, and even the cover art they wanted.
As a result of their unopposed power in the music industry, record labels became famous. Some labels and sub-labels became so famous that they even became synonymous with the music that they distributed. Motown, anyone?
However, with the coming of the Internet, digital channels opened up new possibilities for aspiring musicians. All of a sudden, physical stores were not the only outlets for purchasing new music. Record labels, while still extremely influential, began to lose their monopoly on music distribution.
What Music Distribution Means Now
Now that we are far past the point of novelty with the World Wide Web, what is the current state of music distribution? Digital music sales are continuing their explosive growth, while the relative proportion of physical sales progressively declines. According to IFPI, in 2017, 54% of the recording industry's global revenues came from digital and streaming sales, compared to 30% from physical sales.
What does this mean for the modern musician? It means that instead of losing royalty money to record labels, he can cut out the middleman and work directly with a digital music distribution company to keep 100% of his royalties. It means that since scrambling record labels are more focused on promoting only their top sellers in the physical space, digital distribution is often the best way to go for up-and-coming recording artists. It also means that musicians have more financial and creative control over their work than ever before.
Why Do Musicians Need Distribution Companies?
"Ok," you may say, "but why would I need to work with a distribution company at all if I can upload my music by myself?" The answer is all about exposure and marketing.
The whole point of digital distribution is getting your music playtime on online music stores like iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. You want your work to enjoy the widest possible exposure to consumers seeking out new and interesting beats and rhythms. It's not likely that you'll be able to cut a good deal with individual music stores if any deal. But with the assistance of a credible music distribution company, you'll be able to present your music to an expanding audience without giving up creative control or giving away the rights to your songs.
Distribution companies can also complement and enhance your marketing efforts. They can identify which playlists will provide the most coverage for your music, while at the same time targeting those fans that are most likely to love your grooves. They can promote your music to online stores and push for its inclusion in those playlists. And they can work along with your marketing initiatives on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media sites.
Of course, there is still a place for physical music distribution. Your specific distribution and marketing strategy should really depend on your target audience and your objectives.
Some of Music Distribution's Heavy Hitters
Signing with a distribution company is similar to signing with a record label. First, you'll have to get the go-ahead to send your "demo" or demo package to a prospective distributor. You'll need to make a persuasive pitch that includes past airplay or exposure of your music, indicates your current promotional plan, and clearly demonstrates the potential for increased popularity.
Here are some reputable music distribution companies that you may want to consider when looking for a deal:
What You Should Know About Distribution Deals
For the independent musician, distribution companies focused on physical sales largely fall into two categories: those that take any and all applicants, and those that pick and choose. There are pros and cons to each.
For instance, a distribution company that's not picky will get your music in stores, but will probably not do any marketing for you. On the other hand, a more selective company can help you promote your music, but may not do so in the time or manner that you prefer.
When it comes to digital distribution, you have a wide variety of options to choose from. Whichever company you are interested in, there are certain things that you'll definitely want to know before you sign a contract, such as:
Commission costs (if commissions are used)Any hidden fees, or costs of extra services outlets to which the company will distribute how they plan to promote your work
Like most things in life, a good distribution deal is all about doing your due diligence. If you put in the effort, you may very well come away amazed at the good results.
If you are in the process of looking for a good distribution deal for your music, remember this: record labels, A&Rs, and distribution companies love to hear professionally mixed and mastered work. It shows them that you're serious about your craft, and want to carve out a lasting career in the industry. If you want to take your work to the next level, give us a shout at Mikes Mix and Master. With our mixing and mastering services, we'll help you get your music noticed.