Frustrated because your distributor isn’t doing enough to promote your music? The problem isn’t your distributor, it’s your expectations and understanding of who is responsible for driving demand for your product.
There was one question I heard a few times at the recent CD Baby DIY Musician Conference in Austin (which was awesome, BTW) that has stuck with me. It’s a question I’ve heard many times from independent artists over the years.
The question was some version of, “Why won’t CD Baby promote my music?” Or “How am I supposed to get noticed if CD Baby won’t promote my music?” Or “I’m not getting any streams — CD Baby sucks. They won’t promote my music. What am I paying them for?”
Of course, this question does not just apply to CD Baby. I’m sure the good folks at Distrokid and Tunecore and every other distributor hear the same complaint. Heck, back when I was pressing physical records with my band before streaming, I asked the same thing: “How will we ever be able to sell any records if our distributor won’t push them into stores?”
I imagine you may have asked exactly the questions. Am I right?
What is the role of a music distributor?
Let’s get clear on the role of a music distributor — for digital and physical product.
With digital distribution, the distributor’s main role is to get your music to the marketplace and make it available to people who want to buy it or stream it on the hundreds of streaming and download services around the world.
For physical distribution, that means making it available to retailers. Those could be physical record stores, of course, but nowadays, that mostly means the retail platforms in their online network.
Your distributor is also responsible for sales and royalty reporting and for paying you in a timely manner. That’s it. That’s all a distributor is responsible for.
Your distributor won’t promote you
Now let’s discuss what a distributor is not responsible for. The distributor is not responsible for creating demand for your music.
The distributor provides the infrastructure — let’s call it the “pipeline network” — to get your music from you to the streaming sites. But it is not responsible for making sure that people stream your music once they’ve delivered it to those sites. Guess whose responsibility that is? That responsibility, my dear friend, the responsibility for creating demand for your music, lies with only one person — and you can find that person when you look in the mirror.
You need to create demand for your music
That’s right. You are responsible for creating demand for your music. And if you happen to be on a label, you are lucky that they will also assume partial responsibility for creating that demand. But mostly, it’s you. You have to create songs so great that people will want to listen to them over and over again. You have to perform shows so awesome that people will talk about them and will want to see you again in the future.
You have to do the blocking and tackling and networking to build a fan list one person at a time through social media, email, your website, and your live shows. You have to hit the road and perform with other bands so their fans get to know you. You have to submit your songs for playlist consideration.
You are the ultimate stakeholder
And yes, you probably need to spend some money on marketing and PR and online advertising. It’s all you. Your distributor — Tunecore, Distrokid, CD Baby — couldn’t possibly do that for you. At last count, CD Baby and Distrokid each were distributing over a million artists. On a scale like that, how could they possibly do effective promotion? Impossible.
So don’t hate them for not doing something they are not in the business to do in the first place. If you are looking to put blame on someone for not promoting your music, you can put that blame on the same person responsible for creating demand for your music. Remember that person in the mirror?
Now, I realize some people hearing this message won’t like it. They’ll find excuses or reasons why they are not responsible for promoting their music. They’ll criticize me, maybe, for being so blunt about it. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Here’s the thing, nobody has more at stake with your music than you do. You are ultimately responsible for everything.
Research and promote!
Creating demand for your music is quite possibly the most important of these responsibilities. Unless, of course, you do music just for the creative expression and you don’t care about streams or sales or commercial success. And that’s totally okay. But if you want commercial success as a musician, creating that demand is your responsibility. It does not lie with the good folks at CD Baby, Tunecore, or Distrokid.
And if you don’t know how to create that demand, there are lots of resources out there. Those include blogs, where you can learn how to do this yourself (like this one!), industry newsletters, music conferences, other musicians, and even companies you pay to do your marketing and PR to help grow your fanbase and create additional demand for your music.
Watch more great videos on the Disc Makers YouTube channel.
Tony van Veen is the CEO of DIY Media Group, the parent company of Disc Makers and BookBaby. As a college student, he played in indie bands, created his own LPs, cassettes, and t-shirts, and sold them at shows. Today, he collects CDs, vinyl LPs, and concert t-shirts to support the artists he loves.
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