With the escalating progression of music technology in the last decade, mainland CD stores are continuing to decline in popularity, as the trendy demand for digital music downloads continues to crush them further into the archives of history. Claiming more than half of the globes music buying audience, Digital Music Distribution is the predominant method of music marketing the world offers us today.
More and more musicians are appearing on the scene with highly polished albums, mostly produced entirely under their own steam. They have become resourceful singular empires, holding sole rights and authenticity as unconstrained producers and marketing agents of their own products. These musicians are ready to take the world by storm by hooking themselves up with one of the many distribution companies currently available.
But as an independent musician, what are you really signing up to in a distribution deal?
Many digital distributors offer musicians the chance to have their music available on many of the popular and esteemed music selling outfits; Apple iTunes being one of the most popular playgrounds for current music consumers. But whilst they might promise to get your music on the right path, how is it going to be found amongst the billion other artists competing for sales? Consider that most main stream artists have many more dollars poured into their advertising and marketing persona’s than the unsigned musician could ever afford. Major acts are funded by major pockets ensuring the best chance of sales.
One answer to this is that many unsigned musicians feel that by simply having their music made available alongside mainstream artists is a boost to their credibility, affording them and their music a much higher distinction. It is certain that a good deal can grant your music a triumphant victory if you manage to populate vintage music selling sites. Your only subsequent aim is to actually make sales on them. Otherwise what is the purpose after all?
Deals, terms and conditions vary from business to business, so it is worth looking around and researching which type of distribution method is right for you. There are many worthy deals, and probably just as many scams, circulating the information highway.
If you are thinking of accepting a distribution deal, before signing the dotted line it is important to ask questions such as:
o Does the deal include any publicity or promotional advantages to the artist?
o Are there any payments I must make, statutory, collective or otherwise?
o What percentage of royalties will I receive, and how are payments handled?
o Can I be provided with an estimation of how profitable your distributive methods are?
o What are my rights in terminating the contract?
o Am I solely responsible for tax declarations on my net income?
Other things you must check before signing are the ‘exclusivity’ terms. These could greatly inhibit your freedom. Does a deal involve licensing your music digitally (via preferred online formats) or does the deal also include physical sales? Some are highly exclusive in nature whilst others give you rights to proceed with marketing your music via other channels.
Bear in mind that many reputable and authorised distributors, such as CDBaby for one, will not allow an artist to exploit other distribution channels, as the two parties run the risk of putting your music on the exact same sites. A hassle major retailers and distributors can do without, and an understandable clause too.
You must read the terms of an agreement in full. It is absolutely essential that you fully understand what is expected from you as well as what is being offered!
Here is a cautionary example:
A music distribution site currently offers a deal for both digital and physical music sales, (the terms of agreement are publicly available for download on the site).
The site appears to charge $99.99 as a one off payment. Upon checking their terms of agreement however, it states:
“After one year of promotion, we may archive, remove and/or suspend your Works from the Service without terminating this Agreement.”
What then if the agreement is still in place but your work is no longer made available on their site?
“You may pay an annual fee, which is to be determined, to insure that your Materials are not archived, but displayed and offered for sale after the first year of Service.”
So if you refuse to pay this annual fee, the site still holds all rights to license and sell your music as expressed in the agreement you already signed!
This is not necessarily wrong but is it what you want? Always check the small print and read any agreement thoroughly. As a general rule be wary of sites that ask you to pay for distributing your music. On the basis that a site’s marketing strategies were fruitful, and they believed that your music is good enough to reap a profit, why would they be asking you to pay them in advance? Suffice to say that not all sites that request payment from an artist deliver an unsatisfactory service. Speak to other artists whose music is being distributed and see how the deal is working for them. If something doesn’t sound quite right in any deal, double check with the distributor. If you still receive an insufficient response, you can always seek a legal opinion. But if you are really in doubt, perhaps you’re better off without!
If you are marketing your music through a label they should be sufficiently taking care of your interests. A reputable label with ensure that all terms in a distribution setting are clear and fair to all parties involved. Being part of an honest label is often a good way to relieve yourself from some of the finer pressures attached to direct schemes. They will of course also expect a cut of the profits but will often have a good degree of interest in maintaining their own artists’ affairs in an appropriate manner. If the artist is happy the label thrives upon its good reputation, and its integrity towards its artists.
Despite the odds, sales margins have increased for thousands of unsigned musicians, simply because of the greater variety of marketing mediums available. You can not only market your music yourself, but allow others to do it for you. The more places your music is available the higher your chances are of achieving sales. But as with any enterprise, money and profit is the primary goal, and therefore you should proceed with caution before handing your personal work over to anyone.
There are many reputable distributors, who promise to do the job and actually deliver what they stated. But, as with everything in life, there are those that you would rather not be involved with. So research as many as possible, and ask as many questions as you see fit. After all, a year is a long time to get stuck in a deal you later realised doesn’t quite work for you! Not only would a bad deal cause you much frustration in its limitations, but could also undermine your confidence in participating in future marketing opportunities.