Distribution is the way that recorded music gets in the hands of consumers. Traditionally, distribution companies sign deals with record labels which give them the right to sell that label’s products. The distributor takes a cut of income from each unit sold and then pays the label the remaining balance. Most distributors expect record labels to provide them with finished, ready-to-market, products, but sometimes distributors offer “M&D” deals.
M&D stands for manufacturing and distribution. With this set up, the distributor pays the manufacturing costs of an album up front and keeps all the income from album sales until that initial investment is paid off.

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Music Distribution Basics
In the 20th century, distribution companies were the links between record labels and retail outlets, which included music-only stores, big box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy, and bookstores. It is helpful to think of music distributors as wholesalers to better understand their role in the music industry.

Record labels signed — and still sign — contracts with music artists. They oversaw music recording, marketing and promotion. Consumers bought their favorite music on vinyl records, cassette tapes and CDs and, in most cases, it was the record labels that paid to have these products manufactured. To get album copies in the hands of fans, record labels signed deals with distribution companies that in turn signed deals with retail stores to sell the albums.

Some distributors bought albums from record labels outright, while others distributed albums on consignment. Retailers did the same thing — some bought albums outright and others agreed to put the products on their shelves on consignment.

Radical Industry Changes
Downloading brought radical changes to the music industry at the turn of 21st century.
Before crackdowns, fans downloaded millions of tracks from a wide range of artists at no charge through companies such as Napster. Although consumers now pay to download music legally from outlets such as iTunes and Amazon, sales of vinyl records, cassette tapes and CDs have plummeted, and the music industry has lost billions of dollars. Subscription services such as Pandora and Spotify have further decreased music industry revenue. With hundreds of music distributor businesses folding, only a few affiliated with the largest record labels remained. Sony, Capitol, Universal Music Group and Warner own the largest music distribution companies.

The Future of Music Distribution
There is still a role for music distributors in the digital age, even in the face of radical industry changes. After all, not every record label and musician wants to take on the task of distributing their work. For this reason, the music distributors that remain still work closely with record labels to bring music to fans; some retail stores continue to sell physical album copies.

They also distribute music to digital download outlets, even though such businesses also offer distribution deals directly to artists.

Opportunities for growth remain for music distributors that specialize in certain types of music such as classical, Latin and jazz. Some distributors have found success by focusing on certain regions and distributing music locally.

In the old days, consumers of music were able to flip through liner notes of an album in order to ascertain precisely who was behind their favorite tracks. Now, after a digital hiatus, new technology could once again make this information, plus more, easily accessible once again.


Until about fifteen years ago, it was fairly easy to tell who had produced, recorded, and mastered an album — just flip through the gatefold or booklet and you’d be able to find all the information you needed. Granted, not all that many fans took this step, but plenty of artists found the producer who changed their careers or the recording engineer who defined their sound through this old-school method. Since the rise of digital distribution, this information has been harder to come by — and while in some cases it can be found on artist websites or Wikipedia pages, it’s often nearly impossible to track down.

That’s a shame, because making that information readily available to the public is vitally important for the creatives who shape albums behind the scenes. Sure, those producers and engineers, as well as the studio musicians, are still getting paid for their time, but they’re missing out on the recognition they deserve. Not only that, the lack of a public record makes it harder for them to build careers and connect with other artists – some recording engineers have made the jump to LinkedIn to share the projects they’ve worked on, but it’s by no means standard practice.

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“Much of the music data currently available is incomplete or incorrect”

New technology that allows users to see all this information has the power to change this. Not only can it make this data more widely available to fans and other artists, but it can also help keep track of items that the old liner notes of yore could only imagine. For instance, there are programs that allow data about recording and production to be entered and uploaded to a database directly from the studio, potentially averting conflicts over royalty splits and disagreements over who exactly did that behind the console.

Cleaner production data will also help those producers and studio musicians get paid on time, no small matter in an era when studios are closing their doors and musicians are having a hard time making ends meet. While so much of the music data currently available is incomplete or incorrect, better information about everyone who was involved with a piece of music means that they can all share in the spoils of success, and no one is left out due to a missing piece of data.

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Creating A System That Works

The first part of making all this happen is creating a system that works for everyone and ensures a clean flow of information into the database. Once something is in place that can be widely used, then it’s up to the artists and producers to make sure everything is entered correctly so the right people can be credited. It’s not a foolproof system and never can be — there will always be disagreements over creative vision or hazy late nights that lead to data never making it into the system. But as long as there is something good in place that has buy-in from everyone, from engineers to artists to labels to streaming services, that’s a great start. Future generations might never know how much fun it was to flip through a booklet and decode liner notes, but they’ll at least have complete access to the information about the people who made the music happen.

So many artists fail to send me music correctly. This can be an annoyance to DJ’s, bloggers, podcasters, or anyone else on the receiving end of your delivery. You need to make the process of downloading and listening to your music require the least amount of effort. If this becomes difficult for the receiver, you may very well miss an opportunity to have it heard. Here a are a few dos and don’ts to take note of when sending your music out.

1. Label your mp3′s properly. Artists who rip their music from CD’s, end up with files that look like this, “01 Track 1“. I don’t know what the name of this song, and if I can’t connect it to the original email, I won’t know who the artist is either. Always rename your files so that they can be properly identified by the recipient or if they happen to be passed around.
The name of your mp3 files should look something like this. ..(Name of the song_Artist name.mp3). You should also tag your music. Tagging encodes additional information into your mp3 files like, the album, year and genre of music. You can do this without additional software but there are a few out there that make this process easier if you’re dealing with multiple files. Here are a few.Image
2. Unless you’re asked, don’t send send your entire album or mixtape. Dj’s and bloggers usually get a large number of submissions. And they don’t have time to wait for large files to download then sort through a number of songs to decide which one to play. Send your strongest single first. Only send the download link of your entire project as an option. If the receiver likes your single, then they can then chose to hear more.
3. Don’t send links that expire. I get this all the time. An artist sends me a link to their music and once I click on it, I receive a message that the download link has expired. Because of the large volume of submissions, it may take several days until your intended receiver gets the chance to download your file. Please avoid doing this unless you’re absolutely certain that the recipient will download the file within a few days.