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Choosing a Digital Music Distributor

Digital Music Distributors Indie digital Music salesThere are so many companies indie artists can pick from when it comes to choosing a digital music distributor. Some of the more popular music distributors include CDBaby, TuneCore and SongCast. Notice I did not say itunes. Why? itunes is an online store not an online distributor.

A distributor is a company that distributes your music to online stores so you don’t have to. However, distributors are also unconventional record labels. What? Yes, although you’re not signed to them as an exclusive artist, they are distributing your music, taking a percentage of each sale (they do not get royalties) and they catalog it on their servers.

Record labels function exactly the same except they help with the music production process (sometimes), catalog your music with their publishing companies so they can recoup royalties and labels add marketing.

Be Careful
I discussed the importance of tracking your sales through UPC barcodes. All of the above distributors provide barcodes. The question is are they taking credit for your sales as a label? What do I mean? Let’s use J records and Alicia Keys as an example. Alicia Keys sells 2,000,000 albums as a J records artists. J records gets credit with Nielsen SoundScan for selling 2,000,000 units because it is their UPC barcode on Alicia Keys’ CD.

Now lets put you in the example with SongCast. You sell 8,000 copies of your music using a SongCast barcode. You may make a good amount of money, but it is Songcasts’ barcode on your music. To record labels and Nielsen SoundScan, it looks like SongCast moved 8,000 units not you. They don’t know who you are or what the name of the song is unless SongCast registered the barcode with your music on Nielsen SoundSCan. In essense you have to trust SongCast to tell Nielsen SoundScan it’s your barcode.

Protect Yourself
You can protect yourself by downloading your sales reports monthly from each retailer that sells your music. Also check with your digital music distributor to see if they properly registered your UPC barcode with Nielsen SoundScan. A proper registration would mean that your name and song titles are registered with the barcode on Nielsen SoundScan. If so, you can follow your sales through Nielsen SoundScan yourself. If not, chances are your digital music distributor did not register your name and music with the barcode.

To date CDBaby appears to be the only site that addresses this issue. They state on their web page that they register each artists and song with the appropriate barcode through Nielsen SoundScan (read CDBaby’s statement here). To protect yourself further, I recommend printing this page and saving it for your records. Why? Let’s say you have no numbers reported to Nielsen SoundScan, but itunes and Rhapsody have reported selling 375 copies of your album. Well there is your proof! Mail those itunes and Rhapsody numbers to CDBaby call them up and ask them where are my Nielsen SoundScan numbers itunes and Rhapsody have me at 375 sales! Also send them a copy of their (CDbaby’s) policy, you just printed out, stating they properly registered your barcode with your music.

Learn More About Barcodes
For more on barcode registration I recommend reading my article Got Barcodes? Got Registered? It cover the basics, the history of Nielsen SoundScan and use of barcodes to track singles sales as well as album sales.

Till next time,

Jamille Luney The Music Analyst
By Jamille Luney

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One Response

  1. I just found out your blog!!
    This article is really interesting and useful!
    Thank you very much!!

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