While you build your artistic career, whether you decide to stay independent or not, you will have to surround yourself with a professional team. Because let’s say this now : surrounding yourself does not mean you’re not independent anymore ! And among the members of the team that you will want to surround yourself with, you will want to have a music distributor. 

A music distributor, unlike aggregators such as TuneCore, Spinnup or Distrokid, not only takes care of getting your music on streaming platforms, but also – and above all – takes care of digital marketing campaigns, as well as pitching your music to the editorial teams – those curators you’re trying to get in touch with when you’re about to release a track !

I don’t know if you’ve ever considered signing a distribution deal, but the process is very similar to that of signing with a record label, as there are a number of “conditions” you need to meet in order to benefit from the wide range of services a music distributor can offer.

And, weirdly enough… signing with a distributor doesn’t have much to do with your statistics at the very beginning, but rather with your image and your fanbase.

Want to know more ? Then keep reading !

What this article covers :

Before we start : what is a music distribution and what do they do for artists ?
The very first thing to do is to define your artistic & visual identity.
Build your online presence in order to grow your fanbase.
Communicate to your audience like a pro
By all means : keep going even if you don’t succeed immediately, you’ll end up signing with a music distributor don’t worry !
It is worth checking if you need to build your own company before you sign to a music distributor.

Before we start : what is a music distribution and what do they do for artists ?

A music distributor is a company that gets your music on streaming platforms, pitches your tracks to them and takes care of online marketing campaigns for you. Sylvain Morton, the head of distribution of IDOL, explained it to me in better details when I interviewed him for hauméa :

The job of a music distributor is to get in touch with music stores – aka digital streaming platforms and physical stores. And if we refer only to the activity of a digital distributor and of IDOL, we have 3 types of missions. Its primary mission is to deliver the labels’ catalog to the streaming platforms and ensure that the catalog is available on as many platforms as possible.

Then comes everything related to what we call label relations. It has to do with how we support, as a distributor, a label in its music release strategy. So we talk to them about timing, planning, we can even help him choose what would be the best first single to release, etc. We talk about the marketing plan with the label and we suggest ideas to them.

And finally, our last mission is to use key informations as selling points – like an artist’s profile – to promote a release to the platforms.” Sylvain Morton for hauméa magazine

Which means that when you release your music with an aggregator such as TuneCore or Distrokid, the last two expertises mentioned by Sylvain Morton – label relations and the streaming platform relations – are services that are no being offered to artists. You only release your music on the platforms, and then, it’s up to you in a way to do the rest. But keep in mind that building relationships with the playlists curators of Spotify or Apple Music is very difficult for a solo artist as these people are not as easy as journalists to reach, for example (which says a lot !).

The very first thing to do is to define your artistic & visual identity.

And this is a piece of advice that you should follow for your entire music career, since it is the first thing you should start working on as an emerging artist, even before you think of releasing music. Why ? Because besides your music, this is what will make your audience follow you, and above all support you & be your personal ambassador. The more professional you appear on social media, in your music videos, on your album covers and in the way you carry your marketing campaigns, the more your target audience will know who you are and will want to follow you & your future releases !

But in order to do this correctly – i.e for you to introduce yourself the most authentic way – you must first ask yourself questions about what makes your music unique (yes, it is, I don’t have to listen to it to tell you that is it !).

Start with questions like this : what inspires you on a daily basis ? What images, sounds, atmospheres come to your mind when you compose ? When you imagine yourself performing live, do you see yourself wearing a specific outfit ? Your artist name, does it inspire a specific scenery ?

Making a moodboard will greatly help you define your visual identity. Having the images in mind is good, having the images in front of you is a lot better. Visualizing and materializing your visual identity will always be beneficial in the short and long term – and it’s an exercise you can also repeat when creating the sceneries of your music videos, your album covers, your styling, for everything really !

Build your online presence in order to grow your fanbase.

That said, your artistic identity alone won’t be enough to sign with a music distributor.

When I was a communication student, my marketing teacher asked us a question in an exam and it went as follows : “what is the most important element of the marketing mix ?”.

The marketing mix is the 4 core elements of a marketing strategy. There are the ​​product, the price, the promotion and the placement, aka the distribution. Many have said that the product is the most important element – I personally did – but in reality, nothing will be sold without promotion, therefore without communication !

Your music may sound professional, be distributed everywhere and be sold on vinyl for example, it will not reach the ears of anyone if you do not tell anyone you’re making music. And before you say “I can’t communicate if my music isn’t ready”, sure you can : that is called a “teaser”, and anticipated releases build momentum and are more often rewarded with success than if you didn’t do so !

That’s why it’s important to build your online presence, because a music distributor isn’t going to chase an audience for you, they’re going to help you grow it. But it’s up to you and you alone to attract your very first supporters. To quote again the words of Sylvain Morton, “if an artist has no audience, and they put out stuff that nobody listens to, and then go to a distributor, frankly nothing is going to happen or change”

It is necessary that artists who decide to be entrepreneurs […] develop their image first. That’s very important. It’s important that they develop their image, that they release things, that they try to promote themselves in order to develop a fanbase. There is an huge value in an artist’s fanbase today. So it is necessary that there is a good development dynamic going on around the project so that they can then go see a distributor, and move on to the next step. If an artist has no audience, and they put out stuff that nobody listens to, and then go to a distributor, frankly nothing is going to happen or change” – Sylvain Morton for hauméa magazine.

Communicate to your audience like a pro

Reaching a target audience is a job in itself – and trust me I know what it is, that’s what I do on a daily basis for hauméa ! Although there is no magic recipe for reaching your target audience, there is a sentence that I’ve heard more than once in the world of marketing : “there is an audience for everything”. Your audience is already out there, you just have to communicate the way they want to be spoken to.

How to do so ? By – quite literally – writing out who your ideal listener is. Who listens to your music genre ? What are this person’s listening habits ? And do they listen to your music style in this way for specific reasons and if so, what are they ? And this person, do they prefer to watch music videos, livestreams, or maybe to listen to mixtapes ?

By defining who your target listener is and who is your “biggest fan”, you will be able to create the content that they are looking for. If the person listening to you is most likely spending a lot of time on TikTok and you so far only have a Twitter page, maybe you’re not looking for your audience where you should. Likewise, if your target is always spending time by the closest live venue, and you haven’t considered performing live yet, maybe it’s something you should add into your development strategy !

Then, once your communication strategy is all shaped and set, you have to start putting it into action. For that, you probably already know that the music industry has been reaching increasingly high standards in terms of visual communication : let’s take music videos for example, even those of emerging artists are getting more and more polished ; album and EP covers are undergoing a drastic aesthetic change as well. Having all of your communication platforms set and polished from the start is essential, and I’d go all the way to saying that even your Spotify profile, your email signature or your Linktree link have to look professional.

You may be wondering what that has to do with looking for a music distribution deal : a music distributor will want to sign an emerging artist that acts like a pro, whose image is polished and whose audience, no matter how small it may be at first, is faithful and supports the project it is following. And since your audience won’t follow you if you don’t communicate… that’s where a communication strategy comes into play !

By all means : keep going even if you don’t succeed immediately, you’ll end up signing with a music distributor don’t worry !

Patience is a virtue. Things will start happening when they are meant to happen, and as long as you persevere and give your all in your music project, good thing will be headed your way.

Pursuing a music career in general is a long-term thing. It can be disheartening not to see your stream rates go up. It can also be disheartening to see that the label you’ve been wanting to work with has declined your demos. But please, don’t tell yourself it’s because your music isn’t worth it ! Keep working on it : you will end up gathering the right team around your releases and your target audience by putting in the work.

There’s no magic recipe for success, but let me assure you that consistency is key.

I’ll say it right away : stop trying to release a track every six weeks ! It’s better to release a song every three months and have a slow yet steady communication strategy running rather than rushing your releases because the music industry tells you to do so. Seems counter-productive ? Not really, because releasing a track every six weeks requires good music industry knowledge and a whole team around it – and above all, there’s no “one size fits all” strategy when it comes to releasing music.

The most important thing however is to be consistent and professional when you promote your music online. If your community is mainly on Instagram : use all the features the platform offers in order to find out what works with your audience the most. Do your followers react the most to your reels ? to your stories ? to your feed ? By analyzing your audience’s behavior and by using all of the functionalities of the social platform you’re on, you will be able to adapt your strategy and give your audience what is it that they are following you for.

Let’s take the example of Thérèse, a French artist I particularly like : she uses Instagram a lot, and talks to the people who follow her as if they were her friends. She involves them in her daily life, by asking them questions, by doing polls, by including them in her speeches and even by making them participate in online challenges that she organizes for them ! By using Instagram to its full potential, she was able to determine what her audience likes. And her fanbase is one of the most supportive fanbase I’ve ever encountered.

And, to quote this time around the words of David Raimbaud who works for the digital aggregator and music distributor Wiseband, your music deserves more attention !

“So I think it’s up to an artist to tell themselves if they wants to take their career to the next level. Do they want to live up to the potential of their music ? I think that’s what determines the right moment to step up, because when you start to break through, as an artist, then of course you have to get in touch with a distributor, since you’re starting to grow and when you start to grow you need to have a team around you. But when it comes to the “moment” to do so, I think it is the artist themselves who trigger it in their head. If they tell themselves that they want to go further, if they feel like music is their thing, their passion, and if they want to push it further.” – David Raimbaud for hauméa magazine.

It is worth checking if you need to build your own company before you sign to a music distributor.

I don’t know exactly how it works in your country, but I do know that in France – where I’m from and I’m based – it is necessary to have your own company in order to sign a deal with a music distributor, and that is because, among other things, you need a structure that collects royalties for you.

Now, I’m not qualified to help you with such questions – even if you’re based in France ! – but it is worth asking bigger artists around you, or labels if you know some, in order to have a better understanding of the admin work that might come up when signing such a deal. And don’t be shy to ask ! You’ll only show more drive and passion if you ask such questions to people around you, since it’ll show them you want to live off your music eventually !

And as always, I’m available if you have any question regarding all sorts of subjects related to the development of your music career. I’m about to launch consulting sessions soon, so give Proxima a follow on Instagram or contact me directly for more info !

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