Ever since it became clear that major record labels were suffering a slow demise, folks in bands and industry people have been saying if you want a career in music you should start a distribution company. Unfortunately in the day and age dominated by CD Baby and Tunecore it seems like distribution isn’t going to matter anyway – unless it’s from a major – and even then only if you are one of their major artists. So if you want big league distribution I can tell you right now – it’s not going to happen – I’m sorry. And no – consignment doesn’t really work either.
Her’s the thing that countless independent musicians have to learn – yes it is relatively easy to get onto The Orchard or RED or something like that. I’m not discounting the work that comes from that, but what I can tell you is that these massive distribution companies are going to do very little to actually help your average musician or label. Why? Because their marketing teams are only so big and they can only take on so much work. Sure they can facilitate the ASCAP process and they can maybe get you into a few webstores that CD Baby and Tunecore don’t have access to – but in the long run, unless you can prove that your product is generating literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue you can kiss any sort of physical distribution (The only kin that really matters anymore) good bye.
What does this mean for you then? Well – to put it simply – it means that if you sign with a major distributor and aren’t expecting to break the Billboard charts then you are simply paying more for a product that CD Baby or Tunecore could deliver much more cheaply. On an independent guerilla marketing level the odds are that you are never going to be making that much money off of CD sales. At least not to the point that there is real incentive for those in power to get you major distribution in record stores. It also means that if you really do want distribution then the way to go is probably through a truly independent company – and even then – only one you really trust.
In time like this you need to remember that beloved quote of ours here at IMP, “Everyone is full of crap, until they are not” In other words – maybe you send off a bunch of product to an independent distribution company – but until you see pictures of your stuff on record store shelves, and until you see actual sales being generated from those store placements you shouldn’t really trust them. It’s the reason that CD Baby is so much better as an overall distributor – you can rely on it, because it is I known company with a valuable reputation to uphold and a clear and universal product. Unlike many of its peers it actually delivers. While I don’t have as much experience with Tunecore – many of the same ideas hold true.
Now I’m not trying to take a potshot at The Orchard or any other major (Or independent owned by a major) distribution company and I sincerely apologize if I come off as such. What I’m trying to say rather is that being on one of these companies is not helpful if you are not a massive seller and the odds are you are not, and never will be a massive seller. Should you be mad about this? Not really. These companies never really intended to cater to the little guy – if the little guy chooses to sign on then so be it – but it’s probably not going to help them in the long run. That’s not an indictment of any one company but rather the nature of the music industry as a whole.
What matters more than distribution is selling your own stuff directly to the fans. Sure CD Baby is great – but you know what doesn’t take a cut out of your bands profit? Selling stuff straight from your webstore baby! You might be struggling with mainstream coverage and getting the attention that you feel you deserve and you have to pay for these things – why pay to also get your CD’s sold? Yes your stuff should be on everything that CD Baby provides but moreover you should also be directing fans to your own webstore – and odds are, assuming you have enough badass merch, once they are there they won’t be able to keep themselves from buying some of the other cool stuff that you have on sale!
In conclusion – if you need a big league distributor then you will know because by that point you will have a manager who can hook that sort of thing up. At present though just do it yourself. As a matter of fact – you might not even NEED CD Baby. Sure it can help sometimes, but it also can detract from fans buying straight from your own webstore. You need to weigh these options and consider how powerful your social media presence is before joining one of these programs. Again – I’m not talking them down, but if you can generate just as much income working on your own without a million affiliate programs… then why even bother? Re-organizing your marketing strategy as a ‘you-centric’ approach with minimal distribution outside of your own webstore might very well be the future!