A music distributor is a company that helps musicians (and record labels) get their music into iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, and other online music stores & streaming services.
There are lot of distributors. (I happen to run one called DistroKid. But this article isn’t an ad for us.)
One of my responsibilities is to help identify & root-out baddies that prey on musicians. Every week, some new company asks us to partner with them. They want us to offer their services to our artists.
Some companies are legit. For example, we love working with the excellent Loudr (they’re great!) to get cover licenses for our artists.
But most of the time we pass on partnerships. That’s because too many companies are driven by taking money from artists, rather than helping them.
Sometimes, sadly, this applies to distribution companies, too.
Here’s a secret: Distribution isn’t that hard.
I run a large distributor. We put your music in stores. Then our work is mostly done.
We pay you every month, but that’s about as difficult as sending a PayPal.
Based on the above, you should understand that rule #1 is don’t ever give a percentage of your earnings to a distributor.
Giving your distributor 5% means that if you manage to make $20,000 from your music, you’re paying $1,000 to your distributor— for a thing they helped you with on day-one (which wasn’t very hard in the first place).
That is insane.
It’s even more insane when you realize your distributor does the same amount of work whether an artist earns 1 dollar or 1 million. So you shouldn’t have to pay more if you happen to be more successful.
You’re the one marketing, gigging, & clawing your way to success. Not your distributor. If you don’t use DistroKid, that’s okay (even tho we’re great and don’t take a cut!) — but please don’t willingly pay a tax to your distributor.
That’s just silly.
But it’s easier said than done. The weird thing is that a lot of (most?) distributors will try to trick you into thinking their service is free.
“What?” you ask.
I don’t want to name names. Because I don’t want to give them attention. But here are some examples of what the internet calls “dark patterns” — web design that’s intended to trick users into agreeing to things they wouldn’t normally agree to.
Below are actual screenshots from various distributors. If you’re reading this and you work at one of the companies depicted below, please respect artists and… just… stop it.
“CREATE MY FREE ACCOUNT”
This is one of the largest distributors in the world. There is nothing “free” about it. Once you sign up, it’s $29.99/year to distribute an album. To their credit, they don’t take a cut of your earnings. But they make up for that with extraordinarily high per-album yearly fees. But however you slice it, it is not free.
“FREE MUSIC DISTRIBUTION… PAY $0…”
Buried in the fine print, you’ll discover this company takes a massive 15% (higher than anyone else) from all of your earnings, for life. So if you manage to earn $5,000 over a few years, you’ve just paid these guys $750. It is not free.
“SIGN UP FOR A FREE ACCOUNT”
This well-known distributor is anything but free. They charge $49 to distribute an album and take 9% of your earnings. Forever. It is not free.
“WE BELIEVE THAT DISTRIBUTION SHOULD BE FREE”
This is a new distributor. They take 5% of your earnings. In this interview, the CEO says their distribution service is “free” but the money they do take is for their “payment solution” (i.e. paying out artists, which every distributor does). Lol. It is not free.
“KEEP 100% OF YOUR RIGHTS AND OWNERSHIP”
That’s there to mislead you into thinking you get to keep 100% of your earnings. You don’t. In reality, they keep around 10% of your earnings. I can’t find anywhere on their site where they disclose this. They don’t even have relationships with stores — they use InGrooves (another music distributor) in the backend, and it’s InGrooves who takes the ~10% before earnings even get to these guys. It is not free.
Bonus: What’s with mentioning Lady Gaga, One Republic, Maroon 5 and Eminem? That’s there to make potential customers think those artists use this distribution service. They don’t. And neither should you.
They take 10%. It is not free.
I could go on. But this is depressing so imma stop.
I’ll add more screenshots to this post over time. But you get the idea.
Why write this post? To help. But also because my company is playing in a field where almost all of my competitors are happy to say “free” even though they’re not. And I’m over here saying “$20 a year” like some jerk. We don’t take a cut of earnings and our price includes unlimited uploads. But what does that matter when everyone else is all “free! woooo! omg!!!!!!!”
One more thing. If I can defend streaming services for a moment. You sometimes hear streaming services get a bad rap for paying not very much to artists. They actually pay a lot, relatively speaking. But there are so many hands in the artist’s cookie jar that streaming services end up taking the fall. Just my opinion, but be nicer to streaming services. And less nice to the other folks taking your money.
Want to read more?
- Read about DistroKid’s “Teams” feature. It lets you automatically split earnings with your collaborators.
- Read about DistroKid’s new marketing features. It helps you get the word out about your music.
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How to tell if your music distributor is ripping you off was originally published in DistroKid News on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.