Tag Archives: Distribution


Distribution is king in any industry. Musicians seldom pay attention to how their music gets distributed, and that holds back many a career. We can talk about DIY methods and how you can now sell music yourself and how great those profit margins are. The truth, though, is people like to go to the stores they like to go to. If you’re there, they will consume. If you’re not, they will move on. If you’re halfway in, it could be even more damaging.

I’m reminded of how important this is not from a mistake an indie artist made, but actually one made by a major label. This week, Rhino Records tried something new that seems very intriguing. They created Single Notes, which are short, quick e-books on music subjects. As an avid reader on all things music, I was ready to jump in. To get things started, they offered a free book on a musician during CBGB’s heyday who didn’t quite make it. A forthcoming book on Duran Duran written by my former co-worker Lyndsey Parker was also one I would avidly read. So I fired up my Kindle app and was ready to download.
Except for one problem…when I clicked to buy my free book, it told me my Kindle wasn’t registered. Funny, it was registered last week. While the book is technically available on the Kindle, it turns out it’s only available for the Kindle Fire and their Android App. The other books in the series suffer from the same shortcoming. While I have the iBooks app and can just as easily get it there, I don’t use that app. So what do I do? I abandon the idea of getting this book, I retain a negative connotation to the whole series, and I’m telling you about this shortcoming.

But it’s not just me. As of this writing, on the free book’s Amazon page, the book’s reviewers give it 1 1/2 stars in only 24 hours. It was coming from 88% of the reviews giving the book 1 star. The thing was…none of those one star reviews were from people who read the book. They were people frustrated that they couldn’t get the book on their particular Kindle. As one reviewer put it, “This is the rare double bank shot in annoying your customers. Rhino and Amazon deserve all the negative comments.”

Plausible explanations don’t matter. This series now has a deep hole to dig out of, even if they rectify the problem immediately. And the problem is simply that they are not distributing the content in the format that the consumer desires it in.

At least we have to give them credit for having it in the Kindle platform, albeit in a restricted form. Musicians and labels are routinely withholding their music from various platforms. All that means is that you have exponentially decreased the odds your music would be discovered, and you have completely eliminated your chance of collecting royalties from that service. I’ve started a new weekly blog/playlist of the top new singles released that week. I found that people want to hear all the new tracks, but want to listen in the background instead of actively spending time clicking play on each one.

But here’s the problem. I use Rdio as my guide to find the new singles. When I go to recreate the playlist on Spotify or on YouTube, only 75% of the titles are available. That means, 25% of the artists who could’ve had some exposure get none.

So when you consider your distribution service, look to who has the most outlets, not who’s the cheapest. When you’re uploading a track to YouTube, think of all the other services you should also upload it to and take the time to do it. When you’re taking music off of Spotify because you don’t like the royalty, consider that unless you’re Adele, you need the distribution more than you need the money.

Distribution is a pain, but it’s a necessary mountain to conquer if you want to hack your hit. If you can take the time and make sure you’ve got your music in every corner you can put it in, your chances of getting your song to success will increase dramatically.


Who is more powerful:

A food manufacturer or the supermarket that shelves the food?

A clothing designer or the department store that decides to carry the clothes?

A musician or the store that carries the music?

The distributor carries the power. You may not like it, but it’s a fact of any business. If you don’t want to accept that this is the order of the world, then don’t go into business.

A story a friend once told me. Around 1994, Pepsi wants to enter the bottled water market. Everyone said they’d never succeed because the market was dominated by Evian and Perrier. Also, nobody would want purified tap water over spring water. They entered the market anyway. Within a few short years, they owned the market. Coca-Cola belatedly launches their water brand in 1999 to catch up. As of 2009, Pepsi’s water brand, Aquafina, was still the #1 selling bottled water in the US.

How did Pepsi succeed with arguably a product that is not as “high end” as spring water brands? The answer was distribution. They leveraged every supermarket and convenience store to make sure their water was available. If they’re not in the store, they can’t sell. If they can’t sell, they don’t lead the market.

Another story. I was working with a musician who was slowly building up DIY success. Steady increases of download sales every week. In one week they sold the equivalent of what they had sold the previous 26 weeks combined. Why? A store featured them on the front page. Distribution wins.

Distributors are more successful because there are less of them and it’s harder to create. He who offers something of high demand that is hard to find will win. One can fight to get more money from a distributor, but only when one has the leverage. Only 3 companies really have that leverage in the music space. Only a few dozen artists really have that leverage in the music space. But even then, you can only get a bit more money. The distributor will always get bigger bucks.

If you’re in this to make money, realize the distributor will be more successful than you no matter who it is and move forward.