Master your Craft: Understanding Music Distribution

By Andile Nkosi & Christopher Knab

Music Distribution is how records (Albums; CDs; DVDs; Cassettes; Vinyl etc.) get into shops. Distribution companies like EMI, IRIS, Soul Candi, Electromode, and Independent Music Distributors sign deals with Record Labels (e.g. 999 Music; Kalawa Jazmee; Cashtime; Native Rhythms; etc.) to gives them the right to sell that label's products to record stores that have a relationship with that distributor. The distributor takes a cut (around 25%) of income from each album sold and then pays the label the remaining balance. It is important to realize that Music Distributors deal with Record Labels and not artists directly; as such, for you to enter into any deal with a distributor you will need to establish yourself as a record label.
This means a registered company, tax clearance, and proof that you have the infrastructure and resources to manage and run a productive record label. Most important is evidence that you can run your accounts/books as a professional label.

Off late, most distributors only offer P&D (Pressing and Distribution) deals which only focus on ensuring the product (album) is on the store shelves and the record label is expected to do any other functions such as promoting, marketing and PR. It is advisable to only approach a distributor once you have finished your product and have completed a full Album Release Plan. Companies like 034 Music can aid you in completing album release plans for a fee should you be unsure of completing one yourself.

Music Business Consultant, Christopher Knab outlines 10 important facts to note about Music Distribution:

1. Music distributors prefer to work with record labels that have been in business for at least 3 years, or have at least 3 previous releases that have sold several thousand copies each.

2. Approach distributors well researched. Prove there is a market for your style of music and give evidence of your fanbase. Show them how many records you have sold through live sales, internet sales, and other alternative methods.

3. When searching for a distributor find out what labels they represent, and talk to some of those labels to find out how well the distributor did getting records into retailers. Also investigate the distributor's financial status. You cannot afford to get attached to a distributor that may not be able to pay its invoices. Also, you do not want to get into an exclusive long-term contract with a distributor that cannot deliver. Further investigate if the music distributor truly a national distributor, as many large chain stores will only work with national distributors.

4. Expect the distributor to request that you remove any music you have on consignment in stores so that they can be the one to service retailers. Remember, most distributors insist on exclusivity clauses.

5. Ensure you are well financed. Trying to work with distributors without a realistic budget to participate in promotional opportunities is a fatal mistake.

6. Prepare to bear all the costs of any distribution and retail promotions. This includes coop advertising (where you must be prepared to pay the costs of media ads for select retailers), in-store artist appearances, in-store listening station programs, and furnishing POP's (point of purchase posters and other graphics).

7. Distributors may ask for hundreds of free promotional copies of your music to give to the buyers at the retail stores.

8. Make sure all promotional copies have a hole punched in the barcode, and that they are not shrink-wrapped. This will prevent any unnecessary returns of your product.

9. Don't expect a distributor to pay your invoices in full or on time. You will always be owed something by the distributor because of the delay between orders sent, invoices received, time payment schedules (50-120 days per invoice) and whether or not your product has sold through, or returns are pending.

10. Keep the distributor updated on any and all promotion and marketing plans and results, as they develop.

Remember, your distributor will only be as good as your marketing plans to sell the record. Don't expect them to do your work for you, remember all they do is get records into the stores. So, work your product relentlessly on as many fronts as possible (e.g. Commercial Radio airplay; Community Radio airplay, Internet airplay; Sales campaigns; On and Offline Publicity; Touring; etc.).

Christopher Knab is a USA based Music Business Consultant, Author and Lecturer. Visit Email
Andile Nkosi is a Johannesburg (South Africa) based Music Business Consultant, Visit Email  


  1. Nice post, thanks a lot for sharing. Cryptex Technologies developed a music distribution application for Label which allows labels, artists and owners of various musical contents to promote, distribute and market contents across different types of digital stores, tastemaker blogs, social media platforms and keep a proper track on results. We distribute musical collections to varieties of digital contents stores, including YouTube and iTunes. If you need any help from us email at:

  2. Wow! That's really great information guys.I know lot of new things here. Really great contribution.Thank you ...

    Accounting Firms in Sandton

  3. If you want your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend to come crawling back to you on their knees (even if they're dating somebody else now) you got to watch this video
    right away...

    (VIDEO) Text Your Ex Back?


    Professional trading signals sent to your cell phone daily.

    Start following our trades NOW & gain up to 270% per day.

  5. Considering to join more affiliate programs?
    Visit this affiliate directory to get the ultimate list of affiliate programs.

  6. It's a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more enjoyable for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a designer to create your theme? Fantastic work!
    Music distribution

  7. I think this article will fully complement you. Please continue publishing helpful topics like this. Regards, from
    online distribution spotify

    digital music online

    digital music distribution