What will a distributor do to market your music? It depends on YOU.

The premise of this piece is simple – an artist/label CREATES demand for music, and the distributor FULFILLS demand for that music. If you’re wondering what that really means, read on.

By Nick Gordon, Chief Partnership Officer at Symphonic and 2022 Billboard Indie Power Player

Nick Gordon

Are you new to working with a music distributor that doesn’t function like a Distrokid or Tunecore? With so many distributors with varying business models, and so many bold, vague claims about marketing, it might be hard to pinpoint what your responsibilities are vs. theirs and what to expect. Here’s a handy guide. 

Self Service vs. Tiered Service Distributors

There are 2 “basic” types of music distributors – self-service distributors like Distrokid and Tunecore (and dozens of others), who charge a flat fee to make your music available, and Tiered Service Distributors who offer distribution, playlist pitching, and other marketing services for a share of the revenue. It’s the latter we’re here to discuss today.

Tiered Service Distributors

These are distributors like Symphonic, ADA, The Orchard, Virgin, Believe, OneRPM, and the list goes on and on. These types of distributors work for a small share of your revenue, and only make money when you make money. Each of these companies have lots of services available, are ready to market your music, and have different capabilities to execute retail marketing and audience growth marketing strategies on your behalf, but, here’s what you need to know:

What distributors like this will actually do for you, depends 100% on what you’re doing on your own behalf. 

Why? Because an artist/label CREATES demand for music, and the distributor FULFILLS demand for your music. Or, to put it another way, an artist/label CREATES a story, and the distributor TELLS that story to “retail.” 

But isn’t that what I’m paying these distributors for? For a distributor to help me find new fans and sell more music? Not really.. A distributor might have consumer marketing services AVAILABLE, but, they’re only worth doing / they will only be successful if you have a strong campaign already planned.

“figure out how to separate the ART from the PRODUCT”

What does this look like? What should I be doing? 

If you’re an artist, figure out how to separate the ART from the PRODUCT. You need to think about your releases as a product (containing amazing musical art), with an existing as well as potential consumer base. Sorry if that sounds like we don’t care about the music. We do. But, music is sold as either a product or experience to a consumer that wants to buy it. Plain and simple. You make the product, market the product to consumers, and we market that product to retail, just like every other industry. Your release is no different than a Nike sneaker or an independent coffee brand in the same way that Apple and Spotify are no different than Target or Amazon.

Here’s what you need to be doing, and how you need to be communicating it to a distributor:

  1. Develop a brand campaign for each release. What does it sound like? What does it look like? How does it feel? How does it look/sound/feel in comparison to other artists like you? Why is yours different, how is it the same?  
  2. Develop a marketing strategy. Who are your consumers, how many of them do you have, and what will you be doing to attract interest from existing and potential consumers? What other marketing professionals are on your team? What is your social media strategy, what is your press/radio/touring/advertising strategy? How will consumers find out about it? All of these components are called MARKETING DRIVERS. If your answer to any of these is that you’re hoping PLAYLISTS will do this work, you have no plan. Why? Because retailers only want to program products they know are already going to have consumer interest. Do they sometimes program unknown music just because it’s awesome? Yes. Can you count on that? Absolutely not. 
  3. Communicate the initial marketing strategy. Your distributor will expect you to send them a comprehensive email with a plan included, and, it will also expect you to upload the components of that plan into a form, typically called a Marketing Drivers Form. Why do I need to do that in two different formats? Because the email is the one we’re going to read, and the form is the one we’re going to pass along to retail, digitally. Can’t we just read the form? We could and might, but, your job is to capture our attention, and make your campaign stand out from the pack. 
  4. Update that campaign as it changes and as you find success. Did your fanbase grow by 15% or more? Have you gotten several radio ads? Did you get added to an exciting tour? At least bi-weekly, you should be updating marketing drivers and sending us a comprehensive email telling us what you’ve DONE, what is WORKING, and what is COMING UP. 

“you are competing with every other artist trying to capture the attention of your distributor”

Are you working with the right distributor?

Now that you know what distributors expect and need, here’s how to pick the right one. Unless you are at the very top of your genre, you are competing with every other artist trying to capture the attention of your distributor, so, you should pick the distributor that you believe is going to be easiest to communicate with.

At Symphonic, we believe in a quality over quantity approach, and maintain a much smaller roster than our competitors – meaning, your releases are going to have less competition for attention, without sacrificing available services or influence with retail. Because we are not associated with a major corporation, do not have expensive offices, or corporate overhead, we focus our resources and 100 employees on our clients.]

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