( I currently keep all my music on MarkDKBerry.bandcamp.com )
Article last updated: 7th Jan 2020
It’s a nightmare out there currently, trying to find a good distribution deal as an independant, dont-want-to-be-signed-ever-again-thanks, artist.
There are literally hundreds of distributors offering immensely varied options to artists, but the truth is that very few are offering a good deal.
I have been trawling through posts like the brilliant one from Ari’s Take site and though it is already out-of-date information, there is plenty of guidance and warnings for the unwary, enough to get you started and the comments are full and still active.
Another blog post with info on the distributors and a bit more current is at Mastrng.com
Who do I use to distribute my Indie Genres?
I am currently with RouteNote for all my Indie, Rock, Acoustic, Neo-classical or Alternative genre releases (Everything except my EDM, basically) and its a good enough deal, but it is far from perfect, and it surprises me that it is now 2020 and musicians are still not able to get a decent deal for the distribution of their music.
With RouteNote it is free to join, you get free ISRC and UPC codes, so you can log that with your country’s PRS (assuming you have one). With RouteNote I get 85% of all my streams and sales, and it was by far the best of the bunch back when I was first looking in 2012.
Their site is slow and their reporting is not great, you can’t drill down to find out much info, but you can see where it was sold, or streamed, and when and through whom. There is a monthly report download option and that breaks it down a bit further into costs by country and play or download.
Their support is slow to respond, it is based on a ticket system that you can check back on, but they do always respond eventually.
New uploads take a few weeks to get accepted, but I am not in a rush. When I needed to pull a release off the shelves it took a long time, but they did it for free, and I have done that twice.
I have been with RouteNote since 2012, and I have made hardly anything through them, but neither do I put much effort into marketing myself or my music. I have been pretty lazy about it. All I care about for now, is that my work is out there. I am not trying to make it big, I am not looking for that record company contract, been there, done that, and it just isn’t worth it.
Read my post On Being A Musician for a bit of history on my getting signed for record deals and why I probably would not bother again.
But paying 15% to a Distributor when they do nothing after the track is distributed, that is ridiculous. It’s worse than the rip-off band managers back in the 1970s who charged 20% but still had to do the work to get you gigs, riders, paid, and generally sort the boring admin stuff out.
This is money for nothing that the distributors are making, and they tell me a 15% cut is good compared to the others. The others want yearly fees and even larger % cuts. Its rubbish! It’s a rip-off. There is no other word for it.
As someone pointed out to me, if I suddenly have a track go viral then I wont be able to pull it off a distributor in time to stop the $$ leak, and if it made $500K, then at 15%, $75K of that goes to the distributor for doing absolutely nothing. That sucks when you think about it. Of course it wont happen to you or me, but it will happen to someone.
So, based on that, I have now made 100% royalties an absolute must in my criteria for future distribution options. But I am not willing to pay a yearly fee to get that 100% either, fk that noise!
For now, there is nothing out there worth changing to, so I will have to wait.
EDM Distribution is slightly more challenging
I am currently looking for someone to distribute my EDM work and that is what started this research. RouteNote does not reach the right outlets for my EDM requirements.
My work is mostly going to be Deep House and Progressive House, with maybe some Drum & Bass later on. It’s mostly future projects that are in the pipeline, but I am looking to line it all up now, so that I can get back to the creative work and away from this boring research and admin stuff.
Why is EDM more difficult as a genre to distribute at the current time? Because it’s got to be aimed at the DJ’s, and they tend to hunt in their own ponds. Beatport, JunoDownload, and TraxSource are essential outlets for my kind of EDM music, and almost NONE of the current distributors offer access to those places.
Bizarrely, if you go onto Reddit in the r/EDMProduction subreddit, people there will tell you to use DistroKid or Amuse for EDM release. But Distrokid & Amuse dont even service those outlets, and the Beatport connection is messy at best!
So I quickly realised that I can’t trust the advice of every-day users, most of them don’t have a clue what they are doing, and virtually NONE of them read the contracts they sign.
It’s actually good that it is difficult to get EDM out there, otherwise those three outlets would be flooded with crap, low-quality, badly made, poop doof. But so far the only way in is via the label-only distributors, and I have no interest in becoming a label. I want to make music, not run a business.
Bandcamp for selling EDM
I have got one thing right. I am on MarkDKBerry.Bandcamp.com, in fact ALL my music is stored there. Bandcamp is one pond that I know DJ’s hunt in because it is cheaper, so that’s good. But still, it’s 15% to Bandcamp for each and every download and I don’t like it, but I can accept it for now because it is better than what any of the distributors are offering.
…and if more people used it then we could push the middle-men distributors into the ocean, never to be seen again. Can we do that please, my fellow musicians!
What are my current royalties getting me?
A recent sale in Japan on I-Tunes of one of my neo-classical tracks through Routenote netted me 53% return on sale-price after everyone had a bite of the pie. Whether more were sold that I was not told about I have no way of knowing. CD Baby did that to me back in 2008, never again will I use them.
If it had been sold from Bandcamp I would have known it was sold, and pocketed 85%, and I can set my own price there too.
So in theory, it would behoove us musicians to try to drive all our fans to our own distribution points, like Bandcamp, and away from the bigger outlets that can hide the truth of sales with ease.
Then there is the cock-dribble of micro-cents for the streaming royalties which is even sadder to see each month. But there is no other way for us all right now.
I have logged a ticket with RouteNote to explain why their records said no Soundcloud plays for my monetized track in October, while Soundcloud says 450 plays in that month alone. No rush though guys, I mean I am only paying you 15% of everything to do nothing.
Signing a Record Deal is not the answer
Signing a record deal will not make it better, but worse. Though they will get you exposure, you will have to give away your copyright in exchange, and long-term that makes no sense.
I have co-authored a track called All My Life with Royalston that we sold to a large UK record label in 2011, and its still getting good traction. It has well over 100K plays on Spotify, was put out on Vinyl, did well, and has seen another 200K on YouTube plays, and god knows how many streams elsewhere, and though we should have been getting 50/50 split of something vaguely decent, we have seen nothing in return in all that time. That’s why I wont sign record deals any more.
Lesson #101 – The Music industry is not there to help you, it is there to milk you.
Back to the problem of self distribution…
The EDM Distributors
AWAL, Labelworx, Leveldistribution, FUGA, Dancephonic, Horus Music, Symphonic Distribution, MixNauten.
Those are the only names I have found so far that potentially can get my EDM onto the big three outlets Beatport, JunoDownload, and TraxSource, but all of those distributors have down sides – they want bigger % cuts of the royalties, they have hidden fees in the contracts listed as pre-royalty expenses, they dont do any work for you at all though their websites say they do, and your tracks will get listed in their iffy looking monthly album releases, and in the DJ’s eyes your name is then associated to them, and if you actually bother to read some of the contracts, they are so bad you would be better off doing a deal with Del Boy.
Next let’s look at some of the stuff I found in a cursory look at the contract from MixNauten. I checked them out a bit more thoroughly because everyone I found using them said that they were great, they were free, and they were very happy with their service. After reading the contract, I have to believe that none of those people actually have a clue, nor bother to read what they sign up for…
An example of a shitty contract (it even had spelling errors!)
The first red flag, after all the spelling mistakes, is below… it means they can take a random undisclosed chunk of your earnings without being accountable for it, and then work out your % cut after that. So you wont even know what you aren’t getting, which also explains why no one realises they are on a bum deal. Have a look for yourself if you want, the PDF contract link is here, but this looks to me like a Muppet’s deal and here is why…
“A5) MixNauten grants to Musicians/Producers/Labels that all royalty payments, are net payments to Musicians/Producers/Labels. MixNauten can deduct some fees for technology, administration, transactions, mechanical payments or any other processes involved that partner stores may charge for storage and mechanical processes”
The above is basically giving them caveat to take money off the income and not tell you about it, then give you x% of whatever is left, they will tell you about that.
But next is where another >20% is taken off the total income before you even get to talk about the “up to” 80% they might pass on to you (but wont), after the initial “some fees” have been taken.
B1) MixNauten shall pay to Musicians/Producers/Labels up to 80%(1) of all royalties received by digital music service provider, net of DRM (digital rights management (2) store rate, digital music service provider rate, taxes contribution (1-15%), administrative fees (1-5%) and gross of bank transaction cost, deriving from the sales of all stores and streaming services, including MixNauten compilation and VA .
Then next, I fell over when I found out that it says they wont pay out unless your royalties are over 200 euros!!! On what fkin planet is that a good deal?
B2) The Payment will be handled quarterly. MixNauten must pay when the sum of the percentages of royalties owed to the Musician/Producer/Musicians/Producers/Labels is not less than € 200.00. If payment lower will be retained until the next quarterly payment period.
and then I stopped reading altogether when I found the super-small print where it says you get paid max 70% until your earnings are over 3,000 EUROS per quarter.
but is printed about this big
So, all the people raving about MixNauten, clearly havent a fkin clue what they are getting from them, and never read the contract, and so have no idea they are being milked for >20% plus “some fees” before they even get their suggested 80%, which is actually less than 70% of the net that is left after all that “some fees” is taken off.
Are musicians really this desperate? Yes, of course we are.
So what now? Best of the worst?
There are some free distributors coming through for everything but EDM genre, like Amuse.io who offer 100% royalties and it is free to join.
I am probably going to give them a go, but I am hearing bad reports about their customer service and constant mistakes being made with the publications to outlets having errors or even cut-off sound files being published.
They are no good for EDM because they don’t reach the big three outlets that I need to reach, but 100% is certainly better than RouteNote offer, so I have to check them out for my other genres and decide if it is worth migrating over to them.
The Amuse.io angle is that they are fishing for the bright lights that will come through their doors, and they want to hitch a ride on those rare, and glittering, potential unicorn winners, with a 50/50 record deal offer when they find them. That is the gamble they are taking on, picking up some gold from the raging torrent of free-entry shit that must come through their portals.
There is always going to be a catch, but really with distribution so big as it is now, it SHOULD be free and with no tricks!
For my Indie and other Genres
I may trial Amuse.io with a single release, as 100% return beats RouteNote’s 85%, but if there are problems and no support, then you may as well just shoot yourself in the foot. And what are the guarantees that they collect and distribute properly anyway? I am not sure that any of them do.
I havent read their terms yet and I plan to next.
For my EDM
I have no fkin idea! I guess I stick to Bandcamp for now but its hardly pro-active marketing. But while I wait for the eco-system to improve out there in distribution world, I think it is better than signing up to these dodgy distribution deals.
I am already on Beatport, JunoDownload, and TraxSource as an artist from when I got signed to Hospital Records and Bad Taste Recordings but it doesnt help me get any of my own work up there, and I have no intention of selling my copyright to a record label again.
Maybe I will have to become a label myself, but I read somewhere it costs over 800 USD a year in fees to be acknowledged as one, and then Beatport et al still might not open their doors for me without some proof of value and business sales.
I just want to make music not run a business!!!
UPDATE: I checked out Amuse.io Contract
Here is what I found. It looks a lot more professional than the one I mentioned in the above post. It has sensible, acceptable items, and interestingly they even allow you to check their accounting books once a year at their offices if you take a lawyer. That seems pretty transparent to me. I have pasted the relevant sections below. (Obviously don’t sign up coz I said it looks okay, but I am going to test them out now.)
Amuse.io contract on 7th Jan 2020: https://www.amuse.io/music-distribution-agreement
Amuse will pay Content Distributor one-hundred percent (100%) of any Net Royalties received from the authorized Third Party Music Services. “Net Royalties” as used herein means Amuse’s actual receipts from the Third Party Music Services for the sale, distribution or other use of your Catalog, less any (a) tax, bank transfer and PayPal or other payment services transaction fees (if any); (b) marketplace costs, including without limitation any fees, payments, royalties or other consideration payable by Amuse to song aggregators and digital retail stores; and (c) licensing fees and royalties payable to song publishing licensors and compulsory mechanical licensors, as applicable.
Your balance must exceed a minimum of USD 10 to withdraw money from your account.
Content Distributor shall have the right to appoint a certified public accountant who has signed confidentiality agreement with respect to Amuse’s books, to audit Amuse’s books and records to verify the accuracy of such statements, once with respect to any statement, once in each year, at Content Distributor’s expense, at the place where Amuse maintains such records, during Amuse’s normal business hours and on at least thirty (30) days’ prior notice.
Post what you think in the comments. Anything helps, and every day we all learn a bit more from each other’s experiences out there in the wilds.