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Music Sales Knowledge
by Christopher Knab 

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Test your knowledge of music sales in the industry...

Record distributors and retail stores are constantly searching out new product by recruiting the record labels and independent recording artists, trying to convince them to use their outlets to get CD's and Tapes to the public.
True or false?

False. Nothing could be farther from the truth. At the mid-point of the 1990's, there has never been a time in music business history when there has been such a glut of CD's and Tapes feeding into the food chain of music distributing and retailing. It is the job of the artist and their record label to convince the distributors and the stores that there is a viable market for their music.

Being an artist or record label that has a track record of sales matters little to distributors and retailers. True or false?

False. The most influential factor that can help convince distributors and stores to carry a particular record is actual sales figures. If the artist has sold 1,000 or 5,000 CD's/Tapes at live shows, and/or through mail order, or on the Internet, that is the kind of information that is music to their ears.

It is the job of the distributor and their sales staff to promote an artist or band to their retail accounts. True or false?

False. The job of promoting a band or artist to distributors and retailers, as well as to radio stations, and the print media, is the job of the record label. There is a term used in music marketing known as "selling the seller". This term refers to the technique of convincing key players in the music business (radio, print publications, stores, distributors, and live music venues) to support a particular record because of the plans, successes, and various other merits of the record that will simultaneously benefit each key player in the food chain. As far as distributors go, once convinced to carry the product, they simply inform their retail clients of it's availability, and leave it to the label to do most of the promotion.

Current radio airplay is a strong negotiating factor in securing the services of a record distributor, and makes their job of working with retailers much easier. True or false?

True. Radio airplay is the most effective, yet most difficult promotion to obtain. If a record label has secured airplay in any particular region of the company, the distributors of product will be more inclined to carry the CD/Tape.

An artist or band that is currently on tour in support of their record helps a distributor sell records to their retail accounts. True or false?

True. Next to airplay, and perhaps even more important over the long haul, is live performance. It is very important and very effective in helping popularize the music of a band or artist. Any and all successes at playing the club and concert circuit should be monitored carefully, and the reports of the successes on the road, passed on to the distributors and stores. Labels make up "Distributor One Sheets" that list any and all information about a record that may help convince the distributors and stores to carry the product. Put tour info, radio airplay, print support, and any promotion or marketing plans on the sheet, along with the list price, the Barcode, the catalog number, and a brief Bio summary describing the genre of music.

Start-up record labels get support from distributors when they need to re-press a CD/Tape because the record is selling well. True or false?

False. One of the biggest mistakes start-up labels make is being under financed. If a record label secures distribution, and the stores end up selling the product (due to a successful promotion and marketing campaign), the distributor calls the label to re-order the CD/Tape. If the young label has not anticipated the sales, and set aside the funds to re-press, there is a strong likelihood that the record will die a swift death. Distributors are not banks.

The most important selling point a record label has when talking to a distributor is that they have a recording artist that makes really good music. True or false?

False. The most over-used word in the music business is the word "good". Remember, the music industry is a business. "Good" is taken for granted. (Why else would a band or artist even record?). Success facts, plans, and strategies geared toward the benefits of the product for the particular business that a label is dealing with, is the way to go.

Without a back catalog of consistent sellers, a start-up label will have a difficult time convincing distributors and stores to carry their product. True or false?

True. The music business is an insecure business. Artists, musical trends, and fads come and go. A distributor or store takes a chance every time they plunk down their cash to purchase product. Will it sell? Anything that the label or artist can do to prove that it will sell, enhances the possibility of linking up with distributors.

Getting paid by a distributor is the easiest part of dealing with a distributor. True or false?

False. It is the hardest part of dealing with a distributor. Not because they are dishonest--some are, some aren't--but because they are very cautious. Again, the volume of product they deal with is mind boggling. If the record sold from the distributor to the store, will the store sell it? Will it be returned? Are there other distributors selling the product? Be consistent, honest, and in constant communication with distributors and stores. Develop relationships and friendships along the way. Plan and execute your marketing strategies. By the way, Distributors purchase product based on the retail list price. Their cost is usually around 50% of the list price. Discounts are offered in various forms to entice the distributors to buy more product.

Distributors help retail accounts get advertising in the print and broadcast media. True or false?

True. The way they can help is through what is known as "co-op " advertising. Arrangements are made between retail accounts and the record labels to share in the cost of media advertising. The labels provide product in exchange for a store purchasing a set amount of product to be available in-store. The ad mentions the label's product, and the store's logo and location, and price. The retailer buys the ad and deducts their share of the ads cost from their invoice.


9 or 10: Sales HipMeister
7 or 8: Sassy and Savvy
5 or 6: Mild Mannered Mogul
3 or 4: Neophyte
2 or less: Sucker


Christopher Knab is an independent music business consultant based in Seattle, Washington. He is available for private consultations on promoting and marketing independent music, and can be reached by email at: chris@chrisknab.net

Chris Knab's book,
'Music Is Your Business' is available from the Music Biz Academy bookstore.

Visit the
FourFront Media and Music website for more information on the business of music from Christopher Knab.

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