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The Whats & The Hows of Distribution

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“The only person who thinks you’re rad is the person behind the counter at the record store” says the Apple Beats 1 Radio Host, Zane Lowe while conversing with Tyler, The Creator about how the rapper on his 9th birthday went to a record store to purchase ‘Infinite Possibilities’, Amel Larrieux’s debut studio album. But gone are the days where young music aficionados like Tyler will get to purchase CDs with their birthday money, courtesy of the massive transformations in the distribution business. You see, distribution refers to the process of making music available for purchase/streaming to the fans by the artist. And ever since the Internet came around, just like a lot of other physical shops, record stores were the ones that gradually went out of business. But contrary to what you might be thinking right now, in the initial stages, it wasn’t really the streaming services that caused the downfall of the record industry, as a matter of fact, it was Music Piracy. But soon after that, streaming services like Spotify & Apple Music came around which ended up becoming the face of music consumption in the 21st century. Now, although, a lot of things have changed and by a lot, I mean almost everything, Distribution still remains a fundamental aspect of a musician’s career. In the old days, once the musician had the album ready, the record label which oftentimes was itself the distributor would either distribute the album itself or it will do that via a distributor. Which means CDs/Vinyls/Cassettes of the latest music would be supplied to all of the record shops around the country. This aspect of distribution is now called Physical Distribution and the parent term ‘Distribution’ now also includes ‘Digitial Distribution’ which essentially is the same process but online. Now, the music, once it’s ready, is supplied to all of the digital streaming services through record labels, distributors or aggregators.

Now, let’s break down some of these terms –

Distributor – A distributor is a company/website/tool that allows a musician to upload their tracks, provide the metadata information and then choose the desired release date for their music in exchange for either a fixed charge or a percentage stake in the revenue generated from the record sales. The most common examples of online distributors are CDBaby & Tunecore.

Aggregator – An online aggregator offers all the same services that a distributor provides but with additional label-type-services without actually involving a label and also at a less cost than a label would charge. Some of these label-type-services are marketing, analytics, tour planning, and budgeting. AWAL by Kobalt and Absolute are examples of Aggregators.

Now, whether an artist should go with an aggregator a distributor depends on a lot of factors. While a deal with an aggregator does fetch you a lot of benefits, most aggregators have an entry barrier which means they select the artists which they work with. Amuse is one such aggregator that uses an Artificial Intelligence tool to determine the success rate of an artist based on which the company decides whether or not they want to work with them. So even if you decide that you want to work with an aggregator, you might not get to. In which case, you could probably go with a distributor, as a matter of fact, if you’re the kind of artist who wants to retain control over the music and doesn’t want any label-type business happening around you, you’re better off signing to a distributor.Coming back to Physical Distribution, even though the percentages are really low, there are some stores like Walmart & Target that still sell physical CDs and in recent years, Vinyl has also made a come back giving yet a little more boost to physical sales. Although we are not there yet, it’s important that we’re at least headed in the right direction. Physical record shops have a lot of sentimental & cultural value attached to them for a lot of people and it’s crucial that even if they don’t come back, they stay relevant in one way or the other because, at the end of the day, places like record stores play a big role in being the home to good music, provide a community feeling around the music scene and most importantly, inspire artists.

If you’re an artist in India, you would preferably want your distributor in the same time zone and also a phone call away. So, here’s a list of all the Indian distributors that are absolutely dominating the Indian Music Scene.

Horus – Horus Music India is a music distribution and label services company that was established in 2006. They offer distribution services at an amazing price of £20 (1700 INR) per year. Along with that, they provide additional marketing packages and label services. According to the Horus Music Website, they allow you to be creative with your distribution choices allowing you to choose how much of your royalties you would like to receive. Additionally, you retain ownership of your music including your masters and your copyrights. On top of that, you get detailed statistics from all of the top stores and platforms.

OkListen – This one is a little different than the rest. From the looks of it, it might seem like a music store but there’s more to it than that. Depending on what plan the artist chooses, their music can either be only available on OkListen for purchase or on all other music platforms along with OkListen. Essentially, they double as a music store and a distributor. The basic plans can be bought at Rs 1199 and publishes your music on OkListen, while the pro plan costs Rs 2899 and puts your music on all major streaming platforms along with OkListen.

As for physical distribution, Amarrass Records is the only company pressing records in India and that too in a very limited physical quantity.

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