Start by asking questions. Here are the nine questions to ask before you get started.
- What is the distributor’s upload/joining fee?
- How much of a cut of your royalties is the distributor going to take? This is crucial. Remember, a royalty is a royalty forever. If you sell a hundred or a thousand songs, do you want the distributor keeping 9%/12%/30% of the money you earn for each sale?
- Is there a renewal fee per album? How is the renewal fee charged? Is it per album or per year?
- Is there a weekly, monthly or yearly subscription fee?
- Is the distribution deal exclusive? Does it allow you to distribute your music to additional regions or outlets or are you bound to a single distributor?
- Do you retain all of your rights in the music? If the answer to this question is no – tread carefully.
- Are you locked into the contract for a fixed period? Keep in mind that a label isn’t going to want to touch you if someone else owns your digital rights for an extended period.
- Does the distributor respond to emails/questions? If something goes wrong with the upload, like a track name misspelt or the track order jumbled, is the distributor going to be responsive? Can you call them? Do real people reply to your emails?
- Where will your music be distributed? Is the distribution worldwide or limited to a particular region? In which outlets will your music be available? Make sure you cover the biggest outlets like iTunes and Amazon mp3.
Once you answer all of the above, you can start weighing up the options. At this point, it pays to do the maths. Work out how much the distribution is going to cost you. Taking into account the royalty cut the distributor takes, work out how many songs you’ll need to sell to break even. It’s likely that the best model for artists with very low sales will be different to the best model for an artist selling in the thousands.
Digital Distribution allows you to build fan bases in places that you couldn’t have reached previously. It allows you to reinvigorate your back catalogue cost-effectively. It gives you instant feedback on your most popular songs, the countries that like your music most and it’s an entirely new income stream for independent artists.
If your dream is to get signed, digital distribution is a great way to prove your worth to a label. Digital sales are one of the all important ‘indicators’ that a label will look at when they are thinking about signing you. Good digital sales can be a great way to leverage a better deal.
Digital Distribution does not replace physical CDs, it does not replace the live show, and it does not replace the value of a great song.
Digital Distribution is a smart move. But it’s not enough to distribute digitally, you need to be promoting digitally too.