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Independent Record Distribution

Music Managers


Independent Record Distribution

Record Distribution is the 'process' of getting records into retail stores. Most major labels use their own distribution, and Indie labels usually use regional independent distributors and sometimes, national independent distributors - depending on the product popularity and the label's promotional dollars.


This is how it works - Distributors buy CDs from the labels and then sell the CDs to the retailers. This is done usually by PO (Purchase Order) or on a consignment basis. The retailers then sell the CDs to the public. If you are running your own indie label, normally you will sell your CDs to a distributor for 50% of whatever your retail list price is.  The distributor will add a fee on (around $2.00), and then make the CDs available for purchase to retailers.  Some smaller retailers may also purchase through 'one-stops'.


One Stop? Retailers can also buy through 'one-stops', which is to some extent like a centralized store that sells product from different distributors to retailers. One-stops make a way for retailers to purchase all of the different CDs they want to order or stock... all through 'one' store & one account - as opposed to having many different accounts through many different distributors.


Consignment? A condition that payment is expected only on completed sales and that unsold items may be returned to the one consigning. Purchase Order? A commercial document used to request someone to supply something in return for payment.   (Courtesy of


Now getting Distribution as an Indie can be pretty difficult... but it's important.  In the beginning, you can sell a lot of your product directly to the retailers your own area, but when it comes to getting your record into the larger chains and to the masses, you will need distribution.  One of the last things you want to happen is to have your song finally being played on the radio or getting lots of street attention from your promotional campaign... but people can't find it!  This means that the consumers don't know where to buy it, and the retailers won't know how to buy it.  So getting a distributor at some point should be something every Indie Label should seriously consider.


Marketing & Promotion


Now it may not be so easy to convince a distributor that your CD is going to sell, or that your company is the next Def Jam. Depending on your market and audience, one of the major influences in getting distribution is having some radio play (radio play article).  It's radio that will normally make a demand at retailers and the retail orders for your CD.


You should also be aware that many distributors won't even touch your project unless you've been in business for a while or have made some impact on your own at first.  This means that you've had success selling your CD at your live shows, on the Internet (this means 'selling' - NOT how many people downloaded your song for free), and also selling direct to retailers on your own (probably by consignment).  You will need to be out working your street team and doing live dates as much as possible.  You will have to make certain you get the distributor a very clear picture of your promotional campaign, along with whatever positive reviews and "independent" success you've had. If you've got some hustle in you, a great plan, $ and a little luck, you'll stand a shot of having the distributor take on your project.  Oops, almost forgot... you may also be required to send the distributor any past SoundScan information.




Nielsen SoundScan is an information system that tracks the sales of music and music video products throughout the United States and Canada. Sales data from point-of-sale cash registers is collected weekly from over 14,000 retail, mass merchant and non-traditional (on-line stores, venues, etc.) outlets. Weekly data is compiled and made available every Wednesday. Nielsen SoundScan is the sales source for the Billboard music charts.  (Courtesy of


Important! - Please make sure you contact someone at the distributor before sending anything. This will mean getting on the telephone and selling yourself! If the distributor is not looking for your package, then they will probably not see it! If you don't take this advice, you may be in for a very disappointing experience about the laws of correspondence (By the way...this is a rule for any company solicitation)


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