3 Key Things to Look for in a Music Distributor

In our last piece, “A Beginners Guide to Music Distribution for Independent Artists” we covered the basics of music distribution in the digital age. However, we know that a beginners guide is only the beginning and not enough to get to work.

The next natural step for you as an independent artist is to now choose a music distributor to get your music out there and in front of a large audience. With that in mind, that is our goal here today. We will talk about three key things to look for in a music distributor to help you simplify this decision process and protect your self-interests in the process.

The three keys will help you along your way and they will help you expand the reach of your music. As always, if you have any follow up questions, reach out to us on Twitter, @denovoagency_.

Key 1: Understanding Fees

Whether you’re starting a business or beginning a career as a musician, understanding the fees you enter into with every business decision is crucial to sustained long term success.

That’s the simple high-level staring point, understanding fees is crucial, and you should never rush into an agreement. Outside of that, understanding fees can be a complicated task.

As you begin you will notice that there is no shortage of distributors or plans. Many will offer low-cost entry plans and then lay out an abundance of other options for you. A few best practices here are to have a second set of eyes review the plans, seek legal counsel and advice, and crunch the numbers on what you can afford to pay.

Key 2: Understand Termination Clauses

Many musicians will just focus on the positive attributes of an agreement. This includes, what they are getting, how much they can make, how long do they get to work with this distributor etc. However, it’s always best to also consider the end of a relationship.

Music Distribution Strategy

Most likely, at some point in your career, you will look to end this specific partnership. When you do, what does it mean for you and your music? This is where the understanding the Termination Clause comes into play.

Whether you are now signing with a record label or just looking for a new opportunity when it comes to the distributor you are working with, being able to remain mobile and terminate quickly will be beneficial. As you are looking to sign with a distributor, understand the the termination clause and what your exit process will be.

No matter what area of your career you are entering into an agreement in, make sure you have the control to terminate when you need to.

Key 3: Understanding Digital Performance Royalties

Making music and being a musician is not all about making money. That said, if you want music to be your career, making money is how you accomplish that goal. Digital performance royalties are one way for you to make money, and keeping that money for yourself is very important.

All of the major platforms are required by law to pay fees for their streaming content. These fees are then divided up and paid out.

According to SoundExchange, a typical split looks like this.

“Under the law, 45 percent of performance royalties are paid directly to the featured artists on a recording, and 5 percent are paid to a fund for non-featured artists. The other 50 percent of the performance royalties are paid to the rights owner of the sound recording.”

This sounds straight forward, but that may not be the case. In this article by Heroic Academy, they explain how you need to make sure that your distribution agreement does not turn over the right to these royalties to them. Again, we advise that you seek legal counsel before you ever sign a binding agreement. This scenario is another example of why you will want to do that.

Moving Forward with Music Distribution

These three key things are a solid place to start when examining and ultimately choosing a music distributor. Now, they are not the only things you need to consider but they are a starting line. Here they are again:

  • Understand the fees in the deal
  • Understand the termination clauses and what they mean for you
  • Understand Digital Performance Royalties, specifically, if you are giving them up

Save these, print them out, write them down, or memorize them. Do what you have to, to make them stick.

If you are looking for a high-level takeaway, these three key points can be boiled down to this. Yes, you have to play to pay (to steal a phrase) in the world of music distribution. With that said, some distributors are interested in fair deals that work for both sides, others are looking to take advantage of artists who aren’t looking out for themselves.

We understand that contract law and going over agreements in detail is not what you probably dreamed off when you decided to pursue a career in music. However, whether you dreamed of it or not, it’s a crucial part. Have people in your corner who have your back and can help you in these areas, and do your research before you make legally binding decisions. In short, protect yourself.

Armed with this information you are ready to start shopping for a distributor and soon you can have your music on the largest digital music platforms out there.

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