How to choose the right one – Billboard


Thus, your single or album has been mixed and mastered. It’s time to figure out who will distribute your music – digitally, as a physical product, or both. But with dozens of options available, it can be difficult to know which service is best for you. Billboard spoke with managers working with freelance talent to determine some of the most important factors to consider when establishing a relationship with a distributor.

Know your needs.

Before you begin your search, it’s crucial to know what you expect from the relationship. “Distributors work best when you come in with a full plan, a full set of music and a story and you can tell them, ‘Hey, that’s what we did. What can you bring to the table? says Alex Valenti, founder of 3V Method, a management, recording and publishing company. “‘What excites you based on your connection to music and what are you working on so we can blast this and win together?'”

The answer often begins with what the artist is trying to do. “Indie artists these days often behave like entrepreneurs, having to manage many aspects of their careers beyond just music on their own,” says Andreea Gleeson, CEO of TuneCore. This, she adds, “can be daunting and difficult to navigate, especially when it comes to understanding and using data.”

Choose a level of service based on your needs.

Not all distributors are created equal. Ben Locke, head of A&R at Capitol Records and partner at Hot Management, which guides the careers of Ella Jane and Cece Coakley, among others, explains that there are basically three different levels of service.

The first is a basic distribution platform like DistroKid, CD Baby and TuneCore; services that upload your music to streaming sites like Spotify, Apple Music, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube for a nominal fixed price that can be as low as $20 for one act per year.

The second tier includes distributors like Stem, Level, and Sparta, who are more selective with which artists they take on as customers. Some require deeds to request distribution via an online form. If you are considered a good candidate (and a good investment), the service contacts you. In addition to distributing your music to streaming services and digital radio providers like Pandora, these companies will feature your music for editorial playlists, which is one of the reasons they are pickier about customers. . They might also provide you with a small initial advance; however, they will ask you for a percentage of your principal royalties, which usually ranges from 7% to 15%, although agreements vary depending on the bargaining power of the act relative to the distributor. You may also be required to agree a period of exclusivity with the distributor.

The third and most involved level of distributors is often referred to as “label services”. These companies are sometimes owned by major labels – Sony owns AWAL and The Orchard; Universal owns Virgin Music Label & Artist Services and InGrooves; and Warner owns Alternative Distribution Alliance (ADA) – or larger companies and have in-house A&R teams that scout for talent themselves. So, unlike the second tier of distributors, they rarely accept applications from artists. The menu of services offered by these distributors approximates that provided by labels, but in return they will want a much larger cut of royalties. Advances vary from 10% to 25% of the main royalties, although some enter into a joint venture agreement for, say, five years in which the distributor shares the profits with the artist or label.

In reality, the second and third tiers are quite fluid, with companies like AWAL offering a mix of both tiers of service depending on the act. Locke says artists should start their search for a distributor “by knowing what your goals are and what you need to get there.” If you don’t think you need an advance, don’t commit to a large sum of money at the start of your career. If you need an advance for living expenses or other expenses, go with a partner who can give you that.

Hannah Peale, who manages Ambar Lucid and DJ_Dave through her company Night Media, urges newcomers to remember that “the more services and money you get up front, the more you have to do to recover.” If you already have a manager who handles many tasks themselves, consider asking second- or third-tier distributors to throw out specific departments — like marketing, syncing, and advertising — that are redundant or unnecessary.

Consider a partner that specializes in your genre.

Although many distributors work with a wide range of genres, some specialize – and artists creating in that genre should consider them. EMPIRE, for example, is known for its expertise in rap music. ADA hosts a Latin music division, providing its acts with specialized global support in Spanish-speaking countries. TikTok’s SoundOn and SoundCloud’s Repost distribution divisions are also options if you’re doing particularly well on one of those platforms and want to focus on growing your audience there.

Sean Lewow, A&R of label, music management and publishing company S10 Entertainment and manager of independent artists Katherine Li, Austin George and Kate Peytavin, says his experience with SoundOn has been fruitful. “They understand TikTok trends better than anyone,” he says. “We do most of our content strategy in-house, but SoundOn gives us advice here and there and explains broader patterns on TikTok. This helps us guide artists in the right direction with content. Additionally, with SoundOn, Lewow and his team have access to a dashboard that provides key insights into how music is performing on the app.

Avoid cold submissions.

Many distributors, especially second-tier ones, offer submission pages for new artists to share their work, but Hannah Hicks, who co-manages DJ_Dave with Peale and is on the management teams of Take a Daytrip, Grimes, Michael Uzowuru and other acts, suggests a more personalized approach: “Find someone who works in the business and seems to like your gender and contact them via email or social media. With LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram, it’s easy to find people,” she says. “It helps you ignore the general pool of people and find someone who might potentially be interested in your project.”

Go with the distributor who cares.

If you’re in the position of having multiple options for second- and third-tier distribution, Lewow says the best partner is often one who is “proactive and responsive.” “The reason you go for a high distribution service is that there is a human being there for you when you have a question, when you want to swap the cover at the last minute, when something goes wrong,” he said. “They can hold your hand through the process.”

Hicks adds that it’s also key to make sure the company is keen on the project, especially if you’re signing a longer-term deal with a higher advance. Because employees come and go, Hicks says it’s important to know if there are multiple champions for you at the distributor. “See if you can meet more than one person in the business before signing on to gauge their enthusiasm for your music,” she says.

“I feel like distributors are all doing the same thing; the only thing that makes them different is the people within the building and within the teams,” says Kei Henderson, president of label and management company Third & Hayden. “It’s important for young artists and young managers to seek and find all possible leads. And once you find that person who really cares about you and your music, make sure they have the power to help you get your shit moving.

Request payments directly from employees.

Some distributors, like Stem, have systems in place to send royalty payments directly to collaborators for their share of the track, while others do not. If your music has additional collaborators on the recording side, such as producers or featured artists, consider finding a partner who can do this. Bryce Sexton, manager of indie trio Hablot Brown, says that “if you don’t get a distributor to automate the [royalty-splitting] process, it creates a lot of work for the artist or manager to go through each royalty statement to figure out who gets paid what.

Sharing royalties is further complicated when the artist attempts to pay royalties to producers and/or star artists at the same time as they collect their distribution advance. “It’s very easy to make mistakes if you handle it yourself and it causes a bigger headache,” he says.

Get an advance? Get a lawyer.

Although distribution deals are often considerably shorter than label deals (because they do not involve ownership of copyright and other stipulations found in the latter types of deals), it is still important that a lawyer reviews the documents if an advance is involved. “Music lawyers have probably done 40 or more of these deals,” Peale says. “They will know what is normal and what you can ask for.”

Additional reporting by Dan Rys.


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