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Finding Distribution: Online, Retail and Other Outlets for your Music

Aug 17, 2007
Finding a distributor is hard. It can take months and months before you find and secure a distributor, which is not an easy process for independent labels or individuals.

Don't give up or get discouraged; keep plugging away, even if you can't find a distributor after months of searching. Distributors get a lot of packages on their desks every week, so it's imperative that you contact them first before you send them a package. When calling a distributor, you may get them on the first try, or it may take you weeks before you get a live person to talk to.

If you don't contact them first, and send a package to them unsolicited, it might get tossed or sent back unopened. But you may think, 'My product is awesome! They would never do that with mine.' Sorry to bring you bad news, but your package may never get opened. As a matter of fact, it may never get past the receptionist's desk without prior clearance. So why not make sure that your product has a much better chance of getting heard by getting permission first?

For those of you who feel you could never make any cold calls, you will have to get over it, or have a friend do the calling for you. Getting through the first phone call is always tough, but then you will see, as you make more and more calls, that it gets easier every time. You are in competition with a lot of people who are making the calls. If you don't call, the chances are very slim that you will ever be heard.

If, after the first time you call, you still feel that you are just too embarrassed, try making up a character and make your call as that character. Become "Jicki Wicki" from "Nagawicki." (You never know; it could lead to an additional career of acting!) Make it a game.

It is important that you submit your CD to a distributor that distributes your kind of music. The person you send it to is not necessarily the person in charge of final decisions. From the time you start contacting them, it may take you six to eight months to get the actual product in their hands and get them to finally listen to it, before you find the right distributor. Once you finally get one, it can take an additional few months to get added to their database. Here are few words of advice on finding a distributor:

* On your first call, tell them your name and label. If you haven't picked a name yet, make one up.
* Ask about their submission and distribution policies.
* Ask if being the only act on an indie label is going to cause a problem. Many distributors will not take products from Indie labels unless they have at least three to fifteen CDs in their 'stable.' Additionally, many distributors will not take you on unless you already have established airplay. The catch-22 is that many radio stations, while they may play an independent artist, will only do so if they have national distribution.
* Ask what they want in the press kit. Some want an entire press kit with a CD (forego sending a headshot unless specifically asked for one), while others just need a letter of summary which contains recent happenings, targeting ideas, and review excerpts, if you have any. It's important to find out this information beforehand. We found out, after much wasted time and money, that several distributors only wanted the letter. They had opened the package, read the tear sheet, and thrown the rest away. Once we started calling frequently, they asked for the whole package again. What a waste of resources!
* In your letter/press kit they will want to know your "SRP," which is your Suggested Retail Price. For those of you who are unfamiliar with retail versus wholesale, retail is the price the consumer would pay in a music store and wholesale is the price the distributor pays to the product owner.

My suggestion for SRP is $11.98 - $12.98. You don't want to price yourself out of the market. When you look in a music store, most major-label artists' CDs are "on sale" for $11.98. Distributors will typically take 40-60% of your SRP as their cut (which at 40% x $11.98 gives you $7.19 per CD), and the music stores will typically mark up your SRP by $1.00 - $4.00. If you set your SRP at $11.98, and the store adds an additional $2.00 to the price of your CD, the cost to the consumer would be $13.98. However, if you set your SRP at $13.98 and the store adds $2.00, the price to the consumer would be $15.98. Which price do you think a consumer who had never heard of you would be more likely to pay?

* Double-check what style of music they currently distribute.
* Ask if they require your music to be played on a particular radio station.

There are some distributors that require you to be played on specific stations before they will distribute you. If that station does not play your genre of music, you have wasted your product, money, and time. Let me give you an example of why this is another key question. We had asked all of the above questions, with the exception of this particular one. Then we shipped off the package. When we contacted them later, they asked us if we were playing on a certain radio station. We said no.

It turned out that the station only played alternative music, while our CD is Country/Jazz. You can see the problem. When we approached them about this fact, they said they did not distribute Country Music. We asked when they stopped distributing Country Music. The gentleman we spoke with during our initial call said he was considering presenting Country Music to the company, but hadn't had the chance. He realized that we would never be played on the station on which they require airplay, so he dropped it. A great example of wasted time, effort, and money!

* Inquire where their distribution arm reaches. Ask for specific states and regions. Some distributors only distribute in certain states. If your radio airplay, live gigs, and promotion are not in those regions, they cannot help you.
* When is the best time to reach them?
* Who are some of the major stores they distribute too, and in what areas? Call several of the stores and double-check their references. If the stores have never heard of them, they may not be a legitimate distributor. Save your product from an unscrupulous person who may be trying to rip you off.

This is just a sampling of things you must do in order to obtain a distributor. Don't forget to get your music listed with iTunes, Sonymusic and all the other online distributors. Once you actually obtain a distributor it's an entirely different playing field, and a lot of work, but well worth it.
About the Author
Jaci Rae is a #1 Best Selling author of The Indie Guide to Music, Marketing and Money and Winning Points with the Woman in Your Life One Touchdown at a Time. Tune in for "The Jaci Rae Show" heard live around the world every Thursday: Click on the weekly show link
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