Distribution deals are a weird thing to deal with and something that I Think not enough of the young dudes in the industry properly get. I know that I for one didn’t seem to properly understand the significance behind distributors and why you need to have a good one if you want to get anywhere. They, like me a few months ago, don’t seem to understand why you can’t just set up a CD Baby account and go from there. That’s not to attack CD Baby, I have some very close friends who work there and I really admire there work However I think that it’s oftentimes easy to or get the true significance of this kind of deal and what it can mean for you. While CD Baby or Tunecore might be a good choice for lower level bands, I want to take a minute to sit back and figure out what it can represent as you go forward and try to create a band that can continue on throughout the years and hint at a world of endless possibilities.
See – the issue with CD Baby, Tunecore and countless companies that emulate them is not that they are bad organizations. They are doing a lot of cool stuff, time and time again. They are helping indie bands to get on Spotify as well as getting them onto iTunes, Amazon and countless other webstores. This is a service that you simply can’t pass up if you are trying to be a serous band. Tons of bands have gone from doing this to moving onto major labels. There is no shame in them and I would encourage you to revisit what they have to offer time and time again. It’s a service I take advantage of for bands and which will help important record labels to take you more seriously. Of course some bands sign to labels without getting one of these services but it definitely helps you to move the kind of units that you need in order to attract the sort of attention that makes these things worthwhile. View them as a starting point but not the be all and end all.
I also would like to point out that if you don’t have a solid relationship with your distributor you can view yourself as fucked before you even start. I’ve seen distribution deals that have left labels in absolute shambles. This is for a variety of reasons, ranging from shitty contracts to well… shitty contracts. The point being do your fucking research. The problem you can face on one end is if your distributor is… shall we say… ‘too passionate’ about your company. They will often put into contracts that they can print as much product as they want at YOUR expense and then they charge you for stocking and destroying the extra material on top of that. It’s simply crushing, an expense no small label can afford but that could make the distributor a whole boatload of money. Beyond that I’ve seen distribution companies who choose to tell labels or artists they can’t do basic things like use services like Bandcamp, something that spells the death knell for many an underground label.
Of course – I wouldn’t be writing this article if I didn’t think that there were a lot of really cool opportunities to be had with proper distributors. It’s certainly not something that you can get on the day to day, but if you play your card write you will find yourself in a position to sell thousands of extra records and represent a future that has the potential to be truly exciting. If you can schmooze with the right people and find yourself getting taken care of by a legitimate distributor who you have a solid relationship with then you can find yourself moving thousands of copies. It’s all about making sure you’re in good standing with the people you’re distributing and guiding your path forward. It’s the same with anything else you just need to be aware that they have the resources to make you a featured artist and who can fight for you to get the units moving you deserve. Sure these placements don’t often count for much, but every little bit helps and it’s all driven by being a solid supporter of the people who chose to invest their time in you.
You need to focus on what is realistic for a band on your level though. You need to realize that you can’t just up and expect someone like RED to buy in to your band just because “You really believe in the music bro” and “You’re not in it for the money right?” The thing is they sort of are in it for the money and that’s just a tortured reality that you are going to need to accept. These companies are bust and you need to realize that the people there have spent too much of their lives and invested to much money to work for penny’s on the dollar. With legitimate music distributors you can’t just mess around, it’s the same with big league labels and all the rest, there comes a point where you need to grow up, put on your big boy pants and remind people that as difficult as it might be you need to deal with the business side of rock and roll rather than just reveling in the silly self limiting DIY logic that has made our scene look so foolish for so long.
Long story short – distribution can make your band but at the same time they can utterly destroy you and run you out of house and home. Distribution companies have, for a long time gotten away with surprisingly little flak despite how evil they can be and that might simply be because a lot of people don’t take them seriously. At the same time, the commodization of the industry, as scene with CD Baby and Tunecore has made for an industry where people need to be convinced an slowly massaged into understanding. This isn’t an easy reality to deal with but rather one that we must all sit down and figure out one step at a goddamn time.