Traditional Music Distribution

As you have learned from our entry on music distribution, there are two kinds: traditional music distribution and digital one. Even if the latter has taken hold of most of the music promotion nowadays, you cannot lose sight of the former. Whereas the digital type focuses on the Internet and social media, the traditional narrows its scope towards record labels. In this entry we will explain its essential characteristics.

Traditional Music Distribution: the Basics

Before the technologies of today’s world were accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, artists used to sign a contract with record labels. These labels, in turn, devoted their efforts to sell the musician’s products. As a part of the process, the company with which the artist combined efforts made the connection to a distributor. The deal was that these companies, as well as the distributor and the creator, benefited from a portion of the total income of the units that were to be sold.

    This was the most common practice throughout the last century, which is why today we call it traditional music distribution. Distribution companies functioned as the mediators between the label and the retail outlets. The retail outlets, of course, were the businesses that sold the music albums. Some examples of these are music-only stores, big-box retailers, and bookstores. Additionally, the standard products were vinyl records, cassette tapes, and, as technology advanced, CDs.

How It All Went Down: the Record Labels

Record labels were the key feature in all of these transactions. In traditional music distribution, the first step was posed by the musician reaching out to a record label. The most important element was that the record label signed the contract with the artist. In this way, artists became signed, which simply means they had a label record that supported their merchandise and brand. Afterwards, they took charge of the music recording, its marketing, and its promotion. The labels were, most usually, in charge of the money behind the production of the albums. Once this was done, then came the distribution company, which finally made the music available to the public.

And Just Like That?

From this brief account on traditional music distribution everything seems easy, right? It wasn’t all fine and dandy, though. Regardless, it wasn’t as competitive as it is today. One of the many efforts that need to be taken into consideration is that some labels expected a consignment. That is, a taste of your music given to the label (usually in the form of a music demo). And this did not guarantee a contract. And the same thing happened with distribution companies and retailers: everyone needed a sample to see if the deal was getting somewhere. It’s just how the business works.

A Final Note on Traditional Music Distribution

It takes weeks or months to get your music to listeners in this way due to manufacturing and shipping processes. Plus, there are a lot of upfront costs. These reasons are why so many artists today are moving into the digital realm.