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The Distribution Maze: Bring a Compass, Part I
By Phil Sommerich
October 31, 2013
No longer in the hands of a few, recording is anyone’s game—for better or worse
Making a recording has never been easier. But the distribution options have never been more varied, complex, or in flux. Recordings can be a great marketing tool and/or revenue provider, but either way, you still have to get your music to market.
A Few Good Stats
Some countries—mainly China, Korea, and German-speaking territories—are also seeing a slight resurgence in classical LPs. Signs that classical enthusiasts in other markets are also returning to vinyl, which offers higher profit margins, may be a lifeline for the
Digital growth allowed the global industry to show an increase of 0.2% lst year, but the classical sector’s traditional heartlands of North America and Europe continue to see declines. In the top four markets, figures were -0.5% i the U.S., 4% i Japan, -6.1% i the U.K., and -4.6% i Germany. For classical in particular, distribution is not just about new technologies but also understanding local markets and their consumers.
Source: IFPI Digital Music Report 2013
The Many Routes to Retail: Options for the Artist
I. Signing with a record label
Scale: Commercial labels—especially the larger ones—often have the size and release stream to strike marketing deals with retailers, including special in-store or web site displays, discount offers, or advertising campaigns. Additional royalties may come from reissues and compilations.
Impact: Being signed by an A&R department impresses some concert promoters and presenters more than issuing your own recording does.
Insecurity: The contract may say it’s a five-record deal, but if your first release doesn’t sell, the label may well pass on the option for further recordings.
When pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel (Musical America’s 2012 Musicians of the Year) decided they wanted to record the Beethoven sonatas, labels they approached suggested Martino and Hindemith instead. “They were catalogue building,” says Wu Han. So in 1997 they set up ArtistLed and their double-disc set of the Beethoven sonatas has turned out to be among the best sellers in their 16-disc catalog, frequently re-pressed in batches of 3,000. Available in CD only, recordings are sold exclusively through the ArtistLed web site and at concerts.
Control: You decide what to record, when, and where.
Brand loyalty: Your fans may feel invested in your recordings—sometimes literally. The Coro label of British group The Sixteen financed its recording of Handel’s Saul by getting ten backers to invest $16,000 each and is looking to finance further recordings by tapping its 7,500-strong fan base.
Distraction: Grappling with myriad territories, currencies, and istribution platforms can take focus away from your artistic input.
Australian-born, U.K. resident Phillip Sommerich has been writing about the entertainment and media sectors for nearly 35 years with an emphasis on classical music. He is the recording industry correspondent for Classical Music magazine and has written for Billboard, Music Week, Music & Musicians, BBC Music magazine, the Guardian newspaper, and others.
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