have hot beats. Distributors want to know that you have a plan to market your music, the financing and manpower to carry it out, and a track record of making some sales on your own. In short, you have to prove to them that your music will sell.
“Too many labels fall into the habit of saying ‘well you’re the distributor. You’re going to do everything,’” says Clay Pasternack, owner of Clay Pasternack Inc., an Ohio-based consulting firm that negotiates distribution deals. “The distributor is there to make sure the records are in the stores when there is demand. Creating that demand is incumbent upon the label,” he says.
Start by building some awareness at home. Sell your music at flea markets, barbershops, beauty salons, birthday parties, car washes, and any place you think people will buy it.
Some experts say major distributors won’t be interested in your label until you’ve sold 20,000 to 50,000 records, so consider no place off limits. “You can’t say ‘I’m going to press up 20,000 CDs and I’m going to sit here and wait for Sony Records to call me up.’ It’s not going to happen,” Lassiter says. “You have to get out there and hustle. You have to have that Girl Scout mentality and sell your CDs like they are Girl Scout cookies.”
Once you’ve built a modicum of success, research the distributors that handle the type of music you make. Also consider what stores you would like to carry your music and note the distributors that handle those accounts. Ask other labels they distribute for feedback on their experiences. Then, write up Distributor One Sheets, one-page reports that include your label’s contact information, promotion and marketing plans for your artists, a brief description of your talent, and the CD list price, release date, catalog number, and U.P.C. Bar Code. Distributors will want to see these.
After locating a distributor, Pasternack says expect to pay a distribution fee between 20% and 35% of retail sales. These companies will also keep a reserve of at least 25% against monies due the label to offset any store returns.
“Starting a record label takes preparation and hard work. There is also a certain amount of luck involved because success in this industry is often about having the right artist, the right record, and the right promotion,” Lassiter says. “But if you start small, build your business slowly, and are persistent and patient, you can make it.”
Resources for Breaking into the Biz
- National Association of Recording Merchandisers (www.narm.com) is a trade organization that consists of music retailers, wholesalers, distributors, content suppliers, consultants, and many other industry players. Among other things, the organization maintains a distributor database, previews upcoming industry conferences, and lists the latest music news.
- Music Distribution: Selling Music in the New Entertainment Marketplace by C. Michael Brae with Dameon V. Russell (Hitman Records; $14.99) is a guide to marketing, promotions, distribution, and other aspects of selling music.
- National Association of Record Industry Professionals (www.narip.com) is a membership organization that provides educational programs, seminars,