Distribution is the means by which material gets from the artist to the fans. When a band sells their albums at shows they are distributing them directly. When they sell downloads from their website they are distributing digitally. Many bands are eager to obtain national distribution in major retailers nationwide. National distribution is not a means to increase record sales but a way to accommodate an existing trend of growth.
Consider what type of distribution is appropriate for your act. For acts with a strong local following but no significant national following online and digital distribution is sufficient. Online and digital distribution consists of direct sales of physical products through the Internet and MP3 and digital distribution through third party aggregates such as iTunes, eMusic and Rhapsody. However, acts with a significant national following should consider large-scale physical distribution in addition to online and digital distribution. Physical distribution means having your CD in large chain stores such as Target, Best Buy and Walmart.
Secure your own digital distribution through CD Baby (cdbaby.com) and Tunecore (tunecore.com) services. CD Baby is a free Internet service, though they do retain a portion of your sales, which processes credit card and PayPal payments for physical products and ships the products upon payment. To use CD Baby's services, sign up at the website and snail-mail them at least five copies of your physical disk. Tunecore is a service which distributes your album as a digital download or ringtone to all major services. Tunecore charges an initial sign-up fee for their services but does not take a portion of your sales. To use Tunecore services, simply sign up at their website, pay the initial fee and upload your music, art and artist information.
Select a national distribution company to represent your act to major chains. The majority of physical music is purchased in major chains such as Best Buy, Target and Walmart, and these major chains purchase their music from only a few major distribution warehouses such as Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and BMI.
Create a national marketing campaign before pitching a distribution company. Before a distribution company will make your music available in its catalogs for major retailers, you must convince them that your act has national selling power. A national campaign can include print and Internet advertising, a national tour, interviews in major print publications such as Rolling Stone, and licensing of your songs for commercials, television or film.
Contact a national music distributor by submitting a demo and press package per their submission guidelines. While each distributor has a different structure and submission process, its best to highlight your national appeal. If you're an established artist, cite your previous sales, appearances, awards and career highlights. If you're a developing artist, cite your affiliation with national management agencies, your marketing campaign for the album, any notable festival performance or celebrity collaborations. Distribution companies want to know that when they include you in their catalog that their clients will already have heard of your album.
If you're a band on the verge of breaking nationally, the most important thing is to develop your national marketing campaign. Touring is the best way to create a national following. Now more than ever a social network presence is paramount in every field of music marketing and sales.
Having your CD in every store across the country does not guarantee sales. Only seek national distribution when you already have a fan-base to buy the CDs.