With the increasing progression of music technology in the last decade, CD stores on the continent continue to lose popularity as the trendy demand for digital music downloads continues to crush them even further in the archives of history. Claiming more than half of the global music buying audience, digital music distribution is the predominant method of music marketing the world offers us today.
More and more musicians are appearing on the scene with highly polished albums, mostly produced entirely on their own. They have grown into ingenious singular empires, possessing the exclusive rights and authenticity as unfettered producers and marketers of their own products. These musicians are ready to take over the world by connecting with one of the many distribution companies available today.
But as a freelance musician, what are you really signing up for in a distribution deal?
Many digital distributors offer musicians the opportunity to have their music available on many of the most popular and esteemed music vending machines; Apple iTunes is one of the most popular playgrounds for today’s music consumers. But while they may promise to get your music on the right track, how will it rank among the billion artists vying for sales? Keep in mind that most mainstream artists have far more dollars invested in advertising and marketing than the non-contract musician could afford. Major events are funded by major pockets, ensuring the best possible sales.
One answer to this is that many non-contract musicians feel that the fact that their music is available alongside mainstream artists increases their credibility, giving them and their music a much greater distinction. It is true that a lot can give your music a triumphant victory if it manages to populate the sites that sell vintage music. Your only subsequent goal is to actually make sales on them. Otherwise, what is the purpose after all?
Agreements, terms, and conditions vary from company to company, so it’s worth researching and researching what type of distribution method is right for you. There are many great deals, and probably the same number of scams, on the information highway.
If you are considering accepting a distribution agreement, before signing the dotted line it is important to ask questions such as:
o Does the deal include advertising or promotional benefits for the artist?
o Should I make any payment, legal, collective or otherwise?
o What percentage of royalties will I receive and how are payments handled?
o Can you provide me with an estimate of how profitable your distributive methods are?
o What are my rights to terminate the contract?
o Am I solely responsible for my net income tax returns?
Other things to check before signing are the ‘exclusivity’ terms. These could greatly inhibit your freedom. Does a deal involve licensing your music digitally (via preferred online formats) or does the deal also include physical sales? Some are very exclusive in nature, while others give you rights to continue marketing your music through other channels.
Be aware that many reputable and authorized distributors, such as CDBaby for example, will not allow an artist to exploit other distribution channels, as both parties run the risk of putting their music on the exact same sites. A hassle that major retailers and distributors can do without, and also an understandable clause.
You should read the terms of an agreement in its entirety. It is absolutely essential that you fully understand what is expected of you and what is offered!
Here is an example warning:
A music distribution site is currently offering a deal for the sale of both digital and physical music (the terms of the agreement are publicly available for download on the site).
The site appears to charge $ 99.99 as a one-time payment. However, when checking their terms of agreement, it says:
“After one year of promotion, we may archive, delete, and / or suspend your Works from the Service without terminating this Agreement.”
What if the agreement is still in effect but your work is no longer available on your site?
“You may pay an annual fee, 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 has all rights to license and sell your music as expressed in the agreement you have already signed.
This is not necessarily wrong, but is it what you want? Always check the fine print and read any agreement carefully. As a general rule, be wary of sites that ask you to pay to distribute their music. On the grounds that a site’s marketing strategies were fruitful and they believed their music was good enough to make a profit, why would they ask you to pay them upfront? Suffice it to say that not all sites that ask for artist payment offer unsatisfactory service. Talk to other artists whose music is being distributed and see how the deal works for them. If something doesn’t sound right in a deal, check with the dealer. If you still receive an insufficient response, you can always seek a legal opinion. But if you really have doubts, you might be better off without it!
If you are marketing your music through a record label, they should take sufficient care of your interests. A reputable label that ensures that all terms in a distribution environment are clear and fair to all parties involved. Being part of an honest label is often a good way to free yourself from some of the more subtle pressures associated with straightforward schemes. Of course, they will also expect a share of the profits, but they will often have a good degree of interest in keeping their own artists’ affairs properly. If the artist is happy, the label thrives on its good reputation and integrity towards its artists.
Despite the odds, sales margins have increased for thousands of non-contract musicians, simply due to the greater variety of marketing media available. Not only can you market your music yourself, but you can also let others do it for you. The more venues your music is available, the better your chances of making sales. But as with any business, money and profit are the main goal and therefore you should proceed with caution before handing over your personal work to someone.
There are many reputable dealers who promise to get the job done and deliver what they say. But, as with everything in life, there are those with whom you would rather not be involved. So do your research and ask as many questions as you see fit. After all, a year is a long time to get caught up in a deal that you later realize doesn’t quite work out for you. Not only would a bad deal cause you a lot of frustration about your limitations, it could also undermine your confidence to participate in future marketing opportunities.