With the escalating progression of music technology in the last decade, mainland CD stores continue 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 globe’s music buying audience, Digital Music Distribution is the predominant music marketing method the world offers us today. There are unlimited ways to promote music these days. For example music promotion services are available to increase your reach and put your music infront of music lovers.
More and more musicians appear on the scene with highly polished albums, primarily produced entirely under their own steam. They have become resourceful singular empires, holding sole rights and authenticity as unconstrained producers and their products’ marketing agents. 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 signing up to in a distribution deal?
Many digital distributors offer musicians the chance to have their music available on many popular and esteemed music selling outfits; Apple iTunes is one of the most popular playgrounds for current music consumers. But while 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 mainstream artists have many more dollars poured into their advertising and marketing persona’s than the unsigned musician could ever afford. Significant acts are funded by significant pockets ensuring the best chance of sales.
One answer to this is that many unsigned musicians feel that simply having their music made available alongside mainstream artists boosts their credibility, affording them and their music a much higher distinction. A good deal can certainly grant your music a triumphant victory if you manage to populate vintage music selling sites. Your only following aim is actually to 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 excellent 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 essential to ask questions such as:
o Does the agreement 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 significantly inhibit your freedom. Does a deal involve licensing your music digitally (via preferred online formats), or does the agreement also include physical sales? Some are highly exclusive, while others give you the right to market your music via other channels.
Bear in mind that many reputable and authorized 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 same sites. A hassle significant retailers and distributors can do without, and an understandable clause too.
You must read the terms of an agreement in full. It is essential that you fully understand what is expected from you and what is being offered!
Here is an exemplary example:
A music distribution site currently offers a deal for digital and physical music sales (the terms of an 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 the agreement, however, it states:
“After one year of promotion, we may archive, remove and suspend your Works from the Service without terminating this Agreement.”
If the agreement is still in place, is your work no longer made available on their site?
“You may pay an annual fee, which is to be determined, to ensure 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 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 agreement, 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 brand ensures that all terms in a distribution setting are clear and fair to all parties involved. Being part of an honest label is often an excellent 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 reasonable degree of interest in maintaining their own artists’ affairs appropriately. If the artist is happy, the label thrives upon its good reputation and its integrity.
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 known 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 work over to anyone.
There are many reputable distributors who promise to do the job and deliver what they stated. But, as with everything in life, there are those that you would instead 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 realized doesn’t quite work for you! Not only would a bad deal cause you much frustration in its limitations, but it could also undermine your confidence in participating in future marketing opportunities.