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Find Music Distribution


Music Sales Plummeting
Spencer Platt / Staff / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images
Note that this guide looks at physical distribution only - digital distribution is not discussed here.

Finding a music distributor is crucial if you want to see your album in the shops, whether you're a band planning to self release your album or a label trying to get several albums out there. The task of finding music distribution is not always easy, however. This guide will help you get started and give you some clues as to what you should look for in a distributor.

Get the Ball Rolling:

Trying to get a distributor on board is not much different than trying to get signed to a label. Instead of sending your demo to a record label, you are instead sending your "demo" to a distributor. Of course, when you are looking for a distributor, your demo is usually a finished album, or in most instances, your demo package will contain several releases. To decide which distributors are going to get packages from you, you need to do your research just as you would if you were trying to choose a record label. Check out your record collection - many albums list the distributor in the liner notes. Independent record stores can also be a great resource - get someone on the staff to tell you which distributors they buy from and what they think of them.

Once you have made your short list of ideal distributors, start making calls. You'll want to introduce yourself and get the thumbs up to send in a package. Larger distributors will have front line staff running interference for their label managers, but be persistant and try to get through to one of these managers so you have someone expecting your package. Distributors often have label managers who have varying music tastes so that the distributor can work with a wide variety of labels - make sure you get through to the person who is most likely to be into the music you are pitching.

Make Your Pitch:

Now, about that pitch. What you will send to a distributor is essentially a promo package, but you should tailor your package so that it specifically addresses the information that distributors need to know. What exactly is it that distributors need to know? They want to know that they will be able to convince record stores to stock your album, so they want to know the album will be adequately promoted. Here are some things you will want to include in your pitch to the distributor:

  • An extensive set of press clippings for all of your releases
  • Radio playlists if the album has received any radio attention
  • Press/radio campaign plans including details of any impending press coverage (these plans can either come from you or a professional PR company)
  • Tour dates or information about any tour plans underway
  • Details of future plans for the label or the band - upcoming releases, etc
  • And of course, the music

Increase Your Chances:

Sometimes, the reason finding distribution is so tough is that you are not really "ready" for it yet - you don't have a framework in place to be able to take full advantage of distribution and move quickly if one of your releases really takes off. The following things can increase the attractiveness of your release/label with distributors:

  • A self release can be a tough sell to a distributor, especially if you don't have any plans to work with other bands in the future. This kind of set up can make your label look like a vanity project instead of a legitimate business. You'll create a better impression if you can show that you are interested in more than self promotion.
  • Promotion is extremely important to distributors, so having a professional radio plugger or PR company can help you case quite a bit. If you don't have the money to shell out for a pro, then create your own detailed promotion plan and make that available to the distributor (be specific about which publications you will target, how you will approach the web and radio, etc)
  • Unless an M&D deal is on the label, distributors want to know that small labels will be able to deliver the product. A working relationship with a manufacturer can be extremely helpful when you're trying to get a distributor on board.

Seal the Deal:

When a distributor is interested in working with you, all that is left is to work out the specifics of the deal. You'll need to figure out the following things:

  • How many of each release the distributor wants to start with
  • How they will re-order stock
  • Who will pay for manufacturing
  • How many promos the distributor needs to work with
  • How long before the release date do they need promo materials
  • What price the distributor will sell the album to the stores for (this can change per release)
  • What cut the distributor will take from each sale
  • How you will be paid, when you will be paid, and how often you will be paid
  • How you will get sales sheets
  • Will the distributor have any authority to put the album "on sale" without your permission, and/or how much can they cut the album price before needing to seek your permission
Of course, this list is not exhaustive - your personal circumstances will determine exactly what needs to be covered in your deal as well as the specifics of the deal. The most important thing to remember is - get it in writing!
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