Mysteries of Distribution Dispelled
copyright 1997 by Monte Nordstrom
from issue # 45 - Cosmic Debris Musicians Magazine - Oct '97
The concept of CD distribution is largely misunderstood by
neophytes of the independant music scene. Many times I've
heard the gleeful announcement, "We've got distribution
for our new CD!", to which I usually reply, "That's nice, but what
does that mean?" More often than not, the response is
Some of the misconceptions are quite
common. Having a "distribution agreement" does
not mean that the Distributor will promote,
advertise or pitch a new release. It does not
mean that the Distributor will place (or "rackjob")
your CD in stores from one end of the country to
the other. They will not get your opus to radio
stations or newspaper writers. It does not mean
that you will actually sell product to the public.
Well what the Hooey does it mean, dude?
If you are a independant artist with a CD that
you are trying to market, having a distributor can
a very useful thing, depending on the company
you align yourself with and the amount of time,
effort & money you put into promotion & publicity.
If you don't establish a strong & ongoing profile in
the music business by constantly performing &
getting airplay or some kind of notoriety, a
distributor won't be able to help you.
You can also handcuff yourself by choosing a
distributor that can't get your CD in stores in
Prince George or Thunder Bay in time for your
big gig there, or doesn't have the organization to
cover the country should you develop a " Hit" . So
shop around. One of the Distibutors on the list
below didn't answer their phone at all, so do your
These days retailers want to see artists
develop their own BUZZ and the big chain stores
such as HMV, Sam's, A&B, Futureshop and
Musicworld may only test market an indie artist's
Cd in a select location, to see if it gets "legs"
before placing it in their other outlets.
When you come to an agreement with your
chosen Distributor they will ask you to provide
them with X number of units. Some will be for
"free in-store play copies", some for select
placement and the rest for warehousing. Some
kind of renumeration system (for them) will be
installed either upfront per unit handled, or after
point of sale. This last method takes 30 to 90+
days before you get paid for units sold. Nobody
pays upfront. There may be a nominal
maintainace fee or in the case of a co-op system,
a membership charge. It's not a free service.
The Distributor basically provides you with an
introductory service to the people who purchase
or order product by the unit to sell in their retail
outlets. More often than not, this means you are
simply included in a catalogue of product that
your distributor handles and the in-store product
purchaser may or may not want to stock your
album. Its sort of a passive consignment system
with a middleman.
If someone knows about your fabulous group
and wants to buy your new CD they will be able
to look you up in the distributors catalogue at the
store and thereby order your CD. Some time later
when they are broke or have lost interest, your
product will make it to the store and they will have
to come back to buy it... hmmm. Should have sold
it to them at the gig.
You may have a certain amount of product
tied up in a warehouse situation which is okay if
have a stack of CD boxes that are taking up living
space. On the other hand if you only have 200
units left & you have 100 tied up...well.
Don't get me wrong. I think that distributors
provide a very important service to artists and
small record companies that need to have
product in place for their audiences. For instance,
if you have a song or video that is generating
rotation on certain stations in the country and you
have an up-coming tour, you can let your
distributor know where you will be performing and
they will make sure you have product available in
those particular cities. They may even liase
in-store appearances and if you provide them
with posters, will include them in orders delivered
to these appropriate outlets.
When dealing with a prospective distributor, it
is wise to ask to see a sample catalogue and find
out how frequently they maintain placements.
Make sure they service all the areas that you are
targeting and if they don't, make sure your
arrangement is non-exclusive for those other
regions. Don't double up distributors because you
will get flamed if they call up a store to place your
CD & "Brand X" has already jobbed it.
It is also important to retain the right to sell
off-stage because that is where you might make
90% of your sales.
Hint: Find out if the distributor wants
bar-codes on your product. If you haven't already
put a barcode on your CD cover, you can
purchase stick-on barcodes from a CD
manufacturer to apply to the outside of your
shrinkwrap. This will cost about $50 and will help
retailers scan you in to their computer systems.
Make sure your artwork includes the MAPL
Cancon symbol and the words "Made in
Canada". Also make sure you have a valid
contact number or address visible on the
packaging. Good Luck!
Here is a modest list of Distributors that you
may wish to contact if you are in the market for
one. Ask them to send you their information
package. Contact several. There are many more.
Try to be professional, polite & prepared.
-Roblans (Sam's Toronto): 416-977-6490
-Cargo (Montreal): 514-495-1212
-BDC (Portland): 503-231-0876
If you are a distributor and wish to comment
on this article feel free to write the magazine (and
if you want to advertise with us, we have
Note: Monte Nordstrom has produced over 75 demos and has recorded 8 albums to
date (Nov '99). He performs regularly at numerous venues on Canada's West Coast.
Email Monte at:
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