Please note that this information is general in nature. Your own circumstances may be different. Further, it is not intended to take the place of legal advice.
When you're looking for music distribution, you may come across some music distribution companies that want to charge you money for their services. They may offer to provide you a certain level of service - such as getting X number of albums in X number of stores - and/or they may offer you access to a particular record store. Should you ever take them up on their offer?
This kind of business structure for a music distribution company is perfectly legal, but it is akin to the proverbial model who pays tons of money to get on an agents "books." These companies can get your music into the shops, but there are a few reasons why you can do better:
Music distribution already "costs money." A music distributor take a cut of your album sales - that's how a traditional distributors makes money. Part of the beauty of this kind of set up is that the distributor not only has incentive to get the record stores to stock copies of the album, but they also have an incentive to actively work with the stores to get the albums promoted in-store - whether through special placement, sales, in-store plays, or some other means. If you're not paying the distributor for their services up front, then they need you to sell records if they're going to get paid.
On a related point, getting albums into the record shops is only part of the battle. You need to get your album off the shelf and into the hands of the customers. If you're an indie artist or label - and anyone considering these kinds of distribution options is bound to be - then you need to work hard to promote your release so people know it is out there. When money is tight, diverting precious money cash from promotion to pay for distribution is a false economy. Sure, your record might be in the stores, but no one will know about it, so it won't sell anyway.
It's understandable why people go for these kinds of deals - after all, distribution is important - but keep in mind that if you're simply looking for someone to put your album in the shops, there are distribution services that are happy to work with all labels without charging an upfront fee. These services make your product available - they do not actively sell your albums, so they can't guarantee that your albums will be on the shelves. That might sound less desirable than paying for your album to be placed in record stores, but unless you have the music promotion in place to get people to actually buy your album, it's really not. These distributors ARE less desirable than landing a distribution deal with a company who has listened to your music, loves it, decides to work with you, and has a label manager on the phone to the shops bigging up your album. But at least these distributors make your product available to order - with enough promotion, the shops will want to order it on their own - and you don't pay just to have your a few copies of your album buried deep in CD racks where no one knows about it. That is definitely not money well spent.
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